1. Support newer CDR solutions coming to market
Currently, there is a small set of solutions that are performing well in the market today with the potential for full market commercialization. Solutions including Charm Industrial’s biomass to bio-oil solution and Occidental’s partnership with Carbon Engineering to build the largest DAC facility in the world would both permanently sequester significant tons of carbon dioxide. However, both of these solutions have one thing in common: they are currently too expensive to be impactful on a per ton basis. Therefore, supporting these technologies through tax incentives, loan programs, competitive grants, and advanced market commitments is important.
2. Strengthen confidence in natural carbon removal solutions
Natural solutions have often taken a backseat due to the lack of certainty in sequestration capacity. Even so, natural solutions are the readiest category of CDR because they are already in use today at a large scale. A 2017 study estimates that, assuming global CO2 emissions continue on a business-as-usual pathway, cost-effective natural solutions can deliver 37% of CO2 reductions needed to align with the Paris Agreement by 2030.7 Therefore in order to strengthen confidence and certainty in this pathway the following solutions are recommended:
- Resolving a lack of measurability in the amount of CO2 absorbed by plants by generating consensus on the method of calculating plant carbon sequestration or transparency of calculation methods used.
- Improving monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) by using satellite imagery, incorporating percentage buffers into sequestration calculations to factor in lost removal potential due to unexpected disturbances, and cataloging offsets or credits through a clearinghouse or database to avoid double counting.
- Improving additionality, which dictates whether the CO2 removal achieved by a project is above “business as usual” by cataloging offsets or credits through a clearinghouse or database to avoid double counting and deprioritizing or eliminating avoided conversion projects, as they are not inherently additional.
Lack of measurability, MRV, and additionality have all been used as reasons not to support natural solutions. However, the science and methodology are evolving, showing that while we cannot be 100% certain of the impact of natural solutions, we can at least try to get close to certainty. There are now various ways to measure plants’ CO2 uptake depending on their size, lifespan, and CO2 needs for photosynthesis. The U.S. Forest Service has a tree carbon calculator and the Carbon OnLine Estimate (COLE) which provide data on CO2 sequestration estimates for a particular forest, region, or state. Some universities even have their own CO2 sequestration calculator through their respective forestry programs.8,9 MRV protocols are also important to ensure natural solutions adhere to the contracts and certificates they are tied to and are able to accurately estimate how long they are able to keep CO2 out of the atmosphere, avoid double counting, and build buffers to account for disruptions due to deforestation, forest damage due to increasing wildfires, and general rot or decay. Building more certainty in additionality of natural solutions by eliminating ambiguous pathways such as “avoided conversion,” which prevents the loss of forest by protecting or conserving it despite not removing any new CO2, would increase confidence in the removal potential of natural solutions.
Cumulative Industry-Wide Engineered Carbon Removal Tonnage Delivered
Though increasing confidence in natural solutions should be a priority, natural-based carbon removal is not a one-stop solution. Even if all recommendations are implemented, there are limits to how much CO2 can be absorbed by plants due to surface area restrictions and long growth periods out of seedling stages, where plants begin to build mass and take in more CO2 for photosynthesis.10 Thankfully, solutions like Charm’s biomass to bio-oil or DAC don’t face these challenges. Instead, Charm only needs waste biomass, which are in large supply in farming states, and DAC, which requires fewer water and land resources and only needs a power switch to start removing significant tons of CO2 from our atmosphere.9 A diverse portfolio of innovative CDR solutions requires support, not only to avoid the valley of death, but provide first-of-a-kind scalable solutions to market as soon as possible.