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Navigating the landscape of carbon removal companies

Discover some of the innovative techniques used by carbon removal companies, equipping us for the future with their approaches to carbon dioxide removal.

Differing approaches to carbon removal

Various players are innovating with distinct approaches to combat climate change in the dynamic landscape of carbon removal. From advanced, cutting-edge carbon removal technology, such as direct air capture, to nature-based strategies that harness the power of nature, such as afforestation — these pioneers aim to support the planet by removing harmful CO₂. But no matter the approach, with a common goal and an eye for innovation, the efforts of carbon removal companies are crucial for driving net zero strategies by providing carbon removal offsets.

The global scientific community, including the IPCC, has stressed that emissions reductions alone will not be enough to meet the 2°C target, let alone 1.5°C. Carbon removal solutions are essential to support emissions reductions by capturing and sequestering CO₂, decreasing the quantity already overwhelming our atmosphere. So, how are some top carbon removal companies leading the charge against climate change? In this article, we’ve selected some of the critical carbon dioxide removal (CDR) pathways used by carbon removal companies. For an overview of all the pathways currently in operation or in their research phase, we’d recommend CarbonPlan’s CDR verification framework for further reading. 

Direct Air Capture and Storage (DAC+S)

At Climeworks, we’re the leading carbon removal company offering our service via direct air capture and storage (DAC+S). With over 120,000 hours of operational experience, we’re experts in our field and recently launched the world’s first large-scale, commercial DAC+S facility in Iceland, named “Orca”.

But what is DAC+S exactly, and how does it work?

Direct air capture refers to the process where CO₂ is captured directly from the air, reducing the overall atmospheric concentration of CO₂. To achieve this, air is drawn into a series of collectors using fans, and once sucked in, it passes through a filter that traps the carbon dioxide particles. Once the filter has reached full capacity, the collector closes, and the CO₂ is heated to be drawn away from the filter and collected. In Iceland, Climeworks partners with Carbfix, and that’s where the “storage” part comes in. Using the Carbfix method, the collected CO₂ is mixed with water and stored safely underground, where it will stay for over 10,000 years. 

Due to Climeworks’ modular technology, our carbon removal solution is highly scalable, land efficient, and can be replicated worldwide — for example; we’re currently investigating a partnership with storage facilitator 44.01 in Oman. Our carbon removal solution is also powered by renewable energy, fully measurable, additional, and third-party verified. We believe carbon removal companies should be held to the highest standards, so we designed the first DAC+S methodology with Carbfix to third-party verify our carbon removal services. 

Enhanced Weathering

Another approach some carbon removal companies use is to remove carbon dioxide via enhanced weathering techniques. This generally involves taking the natural process of rock “weathering,” which removes carbon dioxide over thousands of years, before finding an innovative way to “enhance” the process — perhaps by accelerating carbon removal over decades instead. This technique involves spreading finely crushed rocks, such as basalt or olivine, over a large area of land, where they react with CO₂ to form carbonate minerals. Not only does enhanced weathering sequester carbon dioxide this way, but it can also help replenish soil nutrients, enhance agricultural productivity, and mitigate ocean acidification. The carbon removal companies operating in this area are researching to maximize the carbon-removing potential of this technique. Some focus inland to improve soil health, incentivize sustainable farming practices, and support rural communities. In contrast, others concentrate on coastal habitats and infrastructure threatened by climate change and rising sea levels. As a carbon removal technique, enhanced weathering holds promise as a scalable and sustainable solution in the fight against global warming.

Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)

The carbon removal companies working within BECCS are already in operational stages. BECCS is increasingly being explored and deployed worldwide at heat and power stations, factories, and waste-to-energy plants to reach a global net zero through negative emissions.

But what is BECCS?

BECCS is the process of capturing and permanently storing carbon dioxide that is generated, for example, during the production of electricity from sustainable biomass. Unlike the linear, irreversible process of emitting carbon from fossil fuels, sustainable biomass with carbon capture breaks the cycle. It can provide a stable, renewable electricity source, resulting in negative carbon dioxide emissions. 

Here’s an example of the steps BECCS might use: 

  1. Working forests absorb CO₂ naturally from the atmosphere as they grow.

  2. The harvested wood is used in industries such as construction, while the low-grade waste wood is transformed into biomass pellets.

  3. This biomass is used to generate carbon-neutral electricity. 

  4. The produced CO₂ is captured, transported, and stored, permanently removed from the carbon cycle. 

There are similar carbon removal technologies in the field of BECCS, which use slightly different approaches. Additionally, 26 carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities operate worldwide. CCS is a process that captures carbon dioxide emissions from industrial sources like power plants and stores them to prevent their release into the atmosphere, thus mitigating climate change.

Afforestation Initiatives

Another climate change fighting approach used by carbon removal companies is afforestation. These initiatives restore forests to enhance the earth’s natural carbon sequestration abilities. Trees are natural environmental regulators and naturally take CO₂ from the atmosphere as they grow. They achieve this through photosynthesis, absorbing carbon dioxide and binding it with sugar before releasing oxygen. The carbon is locked away until the tree dies, decays, or is burnt. In contrast, the exact capacity of a tree for carbon sequestration relies on several factors — species, age, size, weather, and soil.

Several carbon removal companies operate within afforestation, each with differing approaches. Here are some examples:

  • Tree planting initiatives — these companies help plant trees in degraded or deforested areas to establish new forests, enhancing biodiversity while sequestering CO₂. 

  • Agroforestry — this is where tree planting is combined with agricultural practices. Trees are integrated with crops and livestock to generate income for farmers and rural communities while promoting carbon storage and soil health.

  • Urban forestry — these initiatives focus on establishing green spaces in urban areas. The benefits include improved air quality, reduced urban heat island effects, and enhanced community well-being, all while sequestering CO₂.

  • Monitoring and maintenance — these companies care for trees by weeding, watering, and pruning to ensure the survival and growth of planted trees, maximizing their carbon sequestration potential over time. 

The environmental benefits of afforestation are wide-reaching, making this carbon removal approach a crucial player in the fight against climate change.

Emerging Technologies and Innovations

While carbon removal companies are operating in a nascent industry, the path to a more hopeful future for climate change becomes clear as we develop approaches and technologies. Alongside the approaches we’ve mentioned here, you can find more within CarbonPlan’s verification framework, which maps the critical uncertainties for each carbon dioxide removal pathway. To address the climate crisis, we’ll need collaboration and a diverse range of approaches, and businesses should bear this in mind when planning their net zero strategies — ensuring a portfolio approach. We’d recommend Mckinsey’s buyer’s perspective guide to help you select carbon removal offsets. Additionally, Shopify’s carbon removal buying guide outlines the non-negotiable criteria to look out for when working with carbon removal companies.

Interested to learn more?

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