Nov 16, 2023 - Technology

Big corporate deals bolster efforts to corral carbon

Illustration of a carbon molecule on a fishing hook

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Frontier, the group of business giants trying to juice carbon removal markets, has deals with two companies working to scale direct air capture (DAC) technology.

Why it matters: Contracts with Heirloom and CarbonCapture are Frontier's first major offtake agreements with startups using DAC, a method receiving a growing amount of federal and private sector finance.

Driving the news: They're contracted to remove and sequester 72,000 tons of CO2 on behalf of Frontier founders Stripe, Alphabet, Shopify, Meta, and McKinsey, and affiliated buyers like JPMorgan Chase.

  • It's $20 million for CarbonCapture to snag 45,500 tons by 2028, and $26.6 million with Heirloom for 26,900 tons by 2030.

Between the lines: The deals are noteworthy because Frontier doesn't only cut checks but carefully vets startups with a whole bunch of removal methods; it gives the announcement a tinge of optimism.

State of play: CarbonCapture uses solid sorbents to draw in atmospheric CO2 and release a concentrated stream when heated.

  • Frontier likes the way their system can "swap in best-in-class sorbents as they become available," which doesn't require building new facilities.

Meanwhile, Heirloom takes cheap limestone, which naturally absorbs CO2, crushes it, and heats it to remove carbon.

  • It's then spread out and hydrated, so the now "highly reactive" rock soaks CO2 up vastly more quickly than what occurs in the wild, Frontier notes.
  • It also "doesn't depend on breakthrough sorbent innovation."

Reality check: The deal numbers are tiny compared to the billion-ton annual scale that would make DAC a real weapon against global warming — which is far from assured.

  • It's also really expensive on a per-ton basis, but Frontier sees potential in these firms to change the cost and scale equation.
  • "Frontier looks for DAC companies that are likely to have particularly steep cost curves and fast iteration speeds."

Catch up fast: Heirloom just opened its first commercial-scale plant in California.

  • It's also part of the Energy Department's DAC "hubs" program via a partnership in a Louisiana project that's one of two consortiums slated for up to $1.2 billion in agency awards, and it recently struck a major deal with Microsoft.
  • CarbonCapture is part of a consortium receiving smaller, earlier-stage DOE finance to explore a "hub" in Wyoming, where it's developing a facility.

The bottom line: There's DAC hype to spare, but Frontier looks carefully under the hood and sees potential.

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