Feb 21, 2024 - Technology

How carbon removal might scale up, and what could go wrong

Illustration of a mason jar with carbon dioxide molecules captured inside.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Carbon removal is hardly a sure thing, and a useful new Substack post explores what might cause a failure to launch.

Driving the news: Nan Ransohoff of Frontier — a group of huge corporations building market demand — published highlights of their "red team" exercise to identify and overcome problems.

Why it matters: Carbon removal could complement clean energy and industrial tech and even help bring temperatures back down if the world misses Paris goals.

  • Demand is rising but remains far below what's needed to achieve the multiple gigaton-scale per year envisioned to make removal a viable solution.

The big picture: Getting on track for science-based 2050 targets means (back of the envelope) around 50-100 million tons of removal by 2030. At an average cost of $200/ton (or lower), that's $20 billion annually, vastly more than today's trajectory.

State of play: Among other challenges, "there still probably aren't enough ideas being tried, and there isn't enough redundancy [with] the best ones," Ransohoff writes.

  • Other risks include local backlash to projects and a market that "ends up fraudy/scammy and undifferentiated from low-quality offsets today," she adds.

Zoom out: The European Commission and Parliament unveiled a tentative deal on a system for certifying carbon removals and other CO2 management.

  • Confidence that removal companies are achieving what they claim is important for creating a viable long-term industry.

What they're saying: Via S&P Global, European parliament member Lídia Pereira, a key architect, "said this deal will help prevent greenwashing and foster private investment in carbon removals and develop voluntary carbon markets."

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