The US oil industry is full of hypocrites – Heatmap

The US oil industry is full of hypocrites – Heatmap

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says biochar could store around 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. And by some metrics, this ancient method of carbon removal already has a leg up on the others. Last year, biochar accounted for 94% of all carbon dioxide removal credits actually used, according to, which tracks the CO2 elimination market. This means that although corporate buyers purchase carbon credits using a range of different disposal methods, biochar has so far dominated the market when it comes to making these purchases profitable.

Some of the largest corporate buyers of CO2 removal credits have biochar in their portfolio. Microsoft, by far the largest player in this field, has purchased over 200,000 tonnes of biochar credits – as part of its quest to become carbon negative by 2050 – although this is still only a fraction of the more than 6.6 million tonnes of CO2 eliminated by the company in total. JPMorgan Chase, which aims to match every ton of its operational emissions with carbon dioxide removal credits by 2030, has purchased nearly 19,000 tons of biochar credits, representing about 26% of its portfolio CO2 elimination.

But despite its technical maturity, biochar has yet to generate the same level of enthusiasm or venture capital investment as more complex methods of carbon removal, such as direct air capture, which raised $142 million in investment last year. For comparison, biochar companies have raised a cumulative total of $74 million in 2023. While that’s not a small change, it doesn’t compare to the amount of capital that venture capital firms and Other climate technology backers have invested even in other equally basic carbon removal technologies.

For example, Frontier, a collaborative fund for technology companies aimed at catalyzing emerging solutions in this area, recently announced a $58 million deal with Vaulted Deep, a startup that injects wet biomass from food waste to make deep poop. And late last year, Frontier signed a $57 million deal with Lithos Carbon, a company that seeks to improve rock weathering. This involves spreading crushed rocks on fields which react with CO2 in the air to form bicarbonate; this is ultimately transported to the sea, where the carbon remains permanently sequestered on the ocean floor. In other words, it is simply an acceleration of the natural weathering process, which normally takes hundreds of thousands of years. Venture capital firms backing Lithos include traditional names such as Union Square Ventures, Greylock Ventures and Bain Capital Ventures, while major climate tech venture capitalist Lowercarbon Capital led Vaulted Deep’s seed round.

Questions about biochar’s sustainability—that is, how long it can actually hold carbon—are potentially unanswered, which at least partly explains investor reluctance.

“Biochar sits in this very interesting middle ground: You create it, and then it constantly degrades,” Freya Chay, program manager at CarbonPlan, a nonprofit that analyzes different biochar elimination pathways, told me. carbon. She said we simply don’t have the scientific know-how “to predict very clearly how much will still be in your soil 100 years from now or 1,000 years from now.”

Frontier, for its part, only considers carbon removal “permanent” if it can sequester carbon for at least 1,000 years. Some studies indicate that much biochar can achieve this, but it is difficult to prove definitively, and we are far from a scientific consensus. So far, the fund has avoided investing in biochar, noting that detailed protocols need to be developed to measure its durability in various soil and weather conditions.

Measuring, reporting and verifying are often the undoing of nature-based solutions (see: the hype around fake forest carbon credits). And while East simple to measure how much carbon from the biomass ends up being sequestered in the biochar, “that’s where you draw the boundaries of the project in terms of where the MRV breaks down,” Annie Nichols told me, director of operations and project management at Pacific Biochar. For example, one might want to ensure that trees are not being cut down or crops are not being grown solely for the purpose of creating biochar, which is often outside the scope of traditional measurement protocols. Pacific Biochar, for its part, sources its residual biomass from forests located in high fire risk areas of California, where excessive accumulation of woody debris poses a danger.

Pacific biochar ranks third among global suppliers carbon elimination, with more than 28,000 tonnes of credits issued. Biochar “received a lot of attention before it was actually useful,” its CEO, Josiah Hunt, told me, referring to the period in the late 2000s when Al Gore heavily touted its benefits. In his 2009 book “Our Choice,” Gore called biochar “one of the most exciting new strategies for restoring carbon to depleted soils and sequestering significant amounts of CO2 for 1,000 years and beyond.” But at that time, Hunt said, “There weren’t really any carbon markets ready to work with this yet.” »

Prior to 2020, Pacific Biochar’s revenue was based solely on biochar fertilizer sales to farmers. It was only when the carbon credit market recovered that the company was able to expand. Today, Pacific Biochar sells most of its credits directly, rather than on an independent exchange, although it works with carbon credits platform Carbonfuture to provide credits to customers and carry out the necessary verifications to ensure the accuracy of the company carbon removal data.

Pacific Biochar’s credits sell for $180 per metric ton, cheaper than almost all other removal methods and well below the weighted average of $488 for CO2 removal. Indeed, the production of biochar by pyrolysis requires much less energy than direct air capture. It is also a more mature process than most emerging nature-based solutions, such as enhanced rock weathering, meaning comparatively less money needs to be spent to demonstrate that the process works as expected.

A number of biochar companies have told me they believe biochar has been neglected in favor of more innovative technological solutions. “There’s this obsession with finding the high-tech solution, the SaaS application that’s going to solve climate change,” Thor Kallestad, CEO and co-founder of Myno Carbon, told me. In comparison, biochar may seem like a relic from an earlier era that never quite reached its potential.

Myno, founded by oil and gas veterans, is self-financing the construction of a large-scale biocoal and electricity cogeneration facility in Port Angeles, Washington, which will source fuel from abundant wood waste from Washington State. It is still in the initial design phase, but the ultimate goal is to produce around 70,000 tonnes of biochar per year as well as 20 megawatts of power. That’s about 100,000 carbon dioxide removal credits, which Kallestad hopes to sell for less than $100 per metric ton. Ideally, he said, the factory would serve as a proof of concept that would help spur future investment.

Although there have yet to be any major scandals in the world of biochar supply, the BBC published an article in 2022 about a biomass-powered project. power station in the United Kingdom this involved harvesting ancient forests to create wood pellets which were then burned to produce electricity. The Drax company had previously stated that it only sources sawdust and wood waste. While Drax maintains its biomass is “sustainable and legally harvested,” other reports indicate that as of last year, the company was still sourcing from old-growth forests. The worry is that something similar could happen with biochar production as demand increases.

Chay says the cost-benefit analysis of making biochar becomes even trickier when you consider the “counterfactual of how we might otherwise have used biomass.” After all, biomass can also be burned to produce energy, and if emissions are captured and stored, this is also a carbon removal strategy. And with many turning to biomass fuels as a way to decarbonize sectors such as aviation and shipping, demand for biomass waste looks set to rise alongside uncertainty over its best case of use. “In 2050, I’m not sure there’s anything like residual biomass,” Chay told me.

But in the short term at least, there is enough to go around. A recent Ministry of Energy The report notes that “available but unused” biomass such as logging and agricultural residues could contribute around 350 tonnes to the country’s supply each year. This is roughly the amount of biomass the United States uses for bioenergy today.

“Biochar certainly has its place,” Chay said. She’s not convinced, however, that it will ever make sense to conceptualize biochar production as “permanent carbon removal.” “Maybe we just leave that kind of interstitial durability.” We find how to promote this while optimizing agricultural co-benefits.

Investors may remain wary of a solution that occupies that hard-to-define space between near- and long-term CO2 removal, but Hunt isn’t too worried. “I don’t think it’s horribly damaging,” he told me. He sees the strong performance of biochar in the carbon credit market as sufficient to support the industry for now. “I believe the buyer community is the driving force behind our growth. And even if we’re not unicorns, even if we’re just work mules, that’s okay with me. I don’t mind being the mule for climate change action.


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