Aug 19, 2019 - Energy & Environment

Stripe's plan to fund direct CO2 removal

illustration of light bulb surrounded by foliage

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The payment tech company Stripe plans to fund direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and its long-term storage.

Why it matters: Experts in carbon removal methods, such as direct air capture and large-scale forest creation, call the announcement a milestone in corporate climate initiatives.

The big picture: A UN-led scientific report in 2018 concluded that pathways for holding temperature rise to 1.5°C require some level of carbon removal — not just steeply cutting and preventing emissions.

Driving the news: Late last week Stripe said it's soliciting information from parties looking to commercialize various techniques. There's at least 3 types of ongoing projects they might fund...

  • Improving natural carbon sinks with forestry, soil and farmland management techniques.
  • Direct air capture.
  • Carbon uptake in mineral formations.

By the numbers: "We expect that the best price will initially be very high: almost certainly more than $100 per tCO2, as compared to the $8 per tCO2 we pay for offsets," Stripe's Christian Anderson said in his post announcing the plan.

  • The company plans to spend at least $1 million per year to fund the carbon-sucking efforts, per Anderson, an engineering exec with Stripe.

What's next: Anderson said Stripe planned to select an "initial solution to purchase" in the third quarter.

  • He also urged other companies to follow suit and participate in joint-purchasing with Stripe.
  • "If a broad coalition of buyers commits substantial investment, we’re optimistic that the price curve will start to move," he writes.

What they're saying: "It's breathtaking and audacious, and very much worth doing," says Julio Friedmann, a former DOE official now with a Columbia University energy think tank.

  • "While Stripe is the first company to make this pledge, I certainly hope and expect they won't be the last," he tells Axios.
  • "I hope and expect this to be the first domino in a series — that's really what the CO2 removal market needs," adds Friedmann, who also is CEO of the firm Carbon Wrangler.
  • Stripe "is the first tech company I've seen talk publicly about going beyond net zero emissions to achieve net 'negative' emissions in order to be a climate leader," says Noah Deich, executive director of the group Carbon180, via Twitter.

One level deeper: I asked Deich about whether a $1 million annual commitment really matters. His reply...

  • "[I]t's roughly the commitment I would expect a software company of Stripe's size and emissions profile to pay for voluntary offsets today."
  • He calls it a "great start" that will "make a difference" in the nascent space, while noting it's still a drop in the bucket in terms of what's needed to drive down technology costs.

The bottom line: "If every tech company over $1 billion in valuation joined Stripe at this $1 million/year level, it would make an enormous difference in the pace of negative emissions technology innovation and development," Deich says.

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