Carbon removal frenzy

There’s fresh info on something we explored in April — growing support for tech that sucks CO2 from the atmosphere alongside fears the love fest will delay emissions cuts, Ben writes.

Driving the news: Two key people working on removal with Stripe — a big corporate player — have penned an MIT Technology Review essay that puts removal’s potential and limits into context.

The big picture: It’s worth reading in full! But here are a few big points from the piece on what the authors acknowledge is a “touchy topic”…

  • It warns against the idea that removal can be a “silver bullet” and avoids the need for fast and steep cuts from fossil fuels to keep Paris Agreement goals within reach.
  • But removal is a badly needed tool in the toolkit, even as mitigation — that is, preventing emissions — does by far the most work in climate-friendly energy pathways.
  • It’s needed for a suite of reasons including the difficulty of fully decarbonizing some industrial sectors, even over decades; CO2 isn’t the only planet-warming gas to worry about;even zeroing-out emissions can prevent more warming but “the only way to permanently reverse warming is through carbon removal.”
  • So the authors — Zeke Hausfather and Jane Flegal — warn against “stigmatizing” removal over fears it takes the pressure off emissions cutting. This could delay needed investment.

Why it matters: Moves to demonstrate and scale removal, especially direct air capture, have intensified since our story in April. A few examples…

  • Frontier — the nearly $1 billion initiative backed by Stripe, Alphabet and Meta — unveiled an initial$2.4 million in removal purchases on June 29. Stripe is the buyer.
  • The direct air capture (DAC) player Climeworks in late June broke ground on a facility in Iceland. The Verge has more.
  • Companies, nonprofits and other stakeholders launched a newDAC coalition.
  • Companies in the U.S.-led First Movers Coalition — a public-private effort to shove early-stage tech into the market — unveilednew removal purchase commitments.
  • The Energy Department announcedinitial steps in a $3.5 billion initiative to create regional DAC hubs to demonstrate the tech.

What we’re watching: Right now, removal volumes are minuscule compared to gigatons worth of annual CO2-sucking from multiple methods envisioned in various pathways to zeroing out emissions.

  • And costs are high as startups are atop the learning curve. Stripe’s recent $2.4 million purchase from a handful of companies is at $500-$1,800 per ton.
  • A big thing to watch now is the pace of scale-up and how quickly companies can cut costs, a key goal of initial investments.


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