Jul 19, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Carbon management companies form trade group in push for more influence

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A new trade group is advocating for early-stage companies seeking to commercialize technology for pulling CO2 from the atmosphere and making sure it doesn't return.

Why it matters: The Carbon Business Council's launch Tuesday signals the growing prominence of efforts to scale-up carbon removal as a tool against global warming.

Driving the news: It has over 40 members with an array of technologies for removing CO2, keeping it geologically trapped or embedded in useful products like cement, or creating marketplaces for removal transactions.

  • Executive director Ben Rubin tells Axios that one goal is "bringing startups to the policy table." The group is registering to lobby, and Rubin argues there's potential bipartisan backing for greater federal support.
  • Rubin cited a recent bill from Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) that would expand federal programs to research and demonstrate removal and sequestration tech.

The big picture: Investors and policymakers are increasingly exploring a basket of budding methods for removing previously emitted CO2.

  • One is direct air capture, which is getting lots of attention and investment these days.
  • But it also includes a range of other concepts, such as ways of speeding CO2 uptake in oceans, rock formations and soils.
  • Various pathways for reaching net-zero emissions much later this century envision gigatons worth of annual CO2-sucking from multiple methods.

"That's really one of the value propositions of the Carbon Business Council — bringing together these diverse, important, promising solutions and showing how we can unify together for gigaton-scale carbon management impact," Rubin said.

Yes, but: Even under optimistic scenarios for scaling CO2 removal, analyses of how to keep global warming in check see emissions-cutting — not removal — doing by far the heaviest lifting.

  • Think zero-carbon electric power and industrial energy sources replacing fossil fuels, use of electric vehicles and other steps.
  • The new trade group notes that carbon removal and management should work "in tandem" with emissions cuts.

Zoom in: Board members of the new trade group include Toba Capital partner Susan Su; Maggie Cutts, who is director of partnerships with the Prime Coalition, which helps steer capital to climate-friendly projects and ventures; and Ken Alex, the director of Project Climate at UC Berkeley.

It's also working with outside "observers" to "strengthen connections" between startups and removal investors, buyers and nonprofits, the announcement states.

They include the recently formed Direct Air Capture Coalition, ClearPath, Ocean Visions and investment firm Counteract, they said.

Catch up fast: This year has seen significant new investments and pledges in removal efforts.

For instance, the VC firm Lowercarbon Capital in April launched a $350 million fund dedicated to carbon removal startups.

Separately, Meta, Alphabet and other corporate giants pledged about $1 billion in removal purchases between 2022 and 2030 to help create market demand.

The Energy Department has taken initial steps to launch a program in last year's bipartisan infrastructure law that provides $3.5 billion for creating four regional direct air capture "hubs."

What's next: The group's launch comes a day before an Energy Department summit about DOE efforts to help eventually bring removal costs down steeply into the $100-per-ton of CO2 range.

"We think startups are so fundamental and important to bending the technology cost curve," Rubin said.

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