A Practical Guide for Investing in Carbon Removal

An overview of nature-based, technological and systems approaches

This is the third in a four-part Climate Series designed to help large emitters chart an achievable path to net zero emissions. Access the full series here.

Adele Barbato
Climate Adaptation Fellow
Feb 4th, 2021
Recapture Carbon

You've analyzed your company's carbon footprint and started reducing your Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions to as close to zero as possible. Now, you're looking to remove your remaining emissions from the atmosphere for as long as possible. This article will outline the carbon removal solutions that enable reaching true net zero emissions, and will show the numerous benefits to choosing a systems-designed solution, such as Recapture, specifically dedicated to removing your company's unavoidable emissions.

What Is Carbon Removal?

Carbon removal is the process of capturing carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the atmosphere through natural or mechanical sequestration methods in order to permanently or semi-permanently store it in plants, soil, rock, or the ocean. Combined with a transition to renewable energy, carbon removal is the only standard for companies to achieve true net zero emissions. Investing in carbon removal provides a measurable way to extract 1 ton of carbon for every 1 ton emitted.

Why Is Carbon Removal the Way Forward?

To mitigate the devastating effects of the climate crisis, the Paris Climate Agreement requires limiting global warming to a 1.5 °C increase from pre-industrial temperatures by 2050, if not earlier. Unlike other methods of carbon offsetting that focus on avoiding or reducing emissions, often with questionable efficacy and ethics, removal-based solutions are the only impactful way to reach this goal. By sequestering CO₂ and other greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, we neutralize the catalyzing agent causing the earth's temperature to rise, thereby mitigating future, fatal, disaster-inducing events. Reducing fossil-fuel reliance and heavy polluting is crucial in this effort, but with time having run out for slower methods of intervention, reduction and avoidance alone will do nothing to alleviate the excess carbon that is at the root of the devastation we are already seeing. Dramatic as it may sound, the fate of humanity truly relies on removal.

Which Carbon Removal Solutions Can Your Company Invest In?

Regardless of which method of sequestration you choose to invest in, carbon removal solutions (CRS) should be dedicated to your company and your company alone. Buying credits from the carbon market via a third-party broker as a way to claim carbon neutrality blurs the efficacy (and the math) of your net zero efforts. Partnering on dedicated carbon removal projects means each ton of carbon removed by a specific CRS is dedicated to offsetting your company’s specific emissions. This offers clarity and insurance for your stakeholders, employees, and sustainability efforts that your company is removing 1 ton of carbon for every 1 ton it emits.

The leading dedicated carbon removal solutions available today are reforestation/afforestation, Direct Air Capture (DACS), and systems-designed CRS. However, not all solutions are built the same. Factors such as cost, rate of deployment and scalability, and availability for future growth need to be taken into consideration when choosing a portfolio of solutions that are right for your company. Here is a breakdown of some of the pros, cons, and costs associated with the dedicated CRS's available today:

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Reforestation/Afforestation

The process of establishing a forest where there was no previous tree cover (afforestation) or replanting trees and seedlings on cleared or degraded forestland (reforestation).

Pros:

  • Lowest barrier to implementation.
  • Room for scaling—the potential for additional forestation is upwards of 900 million hectares worldwide
  • Low in cost with a high return to both local environments and local communities.

Cons:

  • A strict cap on available land, despite current room for scaling.
  • Trees alone will not sequester enough greenhouse gases to reach Paris Agreement goals, even if full potential for scaling is accomplished.
  • Heavy competition for land and resources are needed to scale deployment.
  • Slow rate of sequestration delays reaching negative emissions for many years.
  • Sequestration is semi-permanent, lasting only a few decades.
  • Projects rely on planting a single species of tree, which negatively affects crucial biodiversity worldwide
Providers
Cost
Potential Capture (per hectare)
10 tons of CO₂ per year
10 tons of CO₂ per year
Direct Air Capture and Storage (DACS)

A technology that mimics natural sequestration processes through a system of machinery engineered to extract atmospheric CO₂ and store it deep within the earth as stone.

Pros:

  • Currently receiving significant government and foundation funding for research as the most promising means of reaching Paris Agreement goals.
  • Investments via corporate sustainability programs contribute to funding and scaling.
  • Provides exact measurements for carbon extraction.
  • Low land requirements.
  • Results in permanent carbon storage (in the millions of years).

Cons:

  • The energy needed to power DACS is significant, delaying global carbon reduction until renewable energy sources scale accordingly.
  • Current high costs to implement are prohibitively expensive.
  • Solutions not yet available or scalable.
Providers
Cost
Potential Capture
1M tons of CO₂ per year (per facility)
50 tons of CO₂ per year (increasing)
Silicon Kingdom Holdings (Mechanical Trees)
in development
1 ton of CO₂ per 12 "trees"
Systems-Designed CRS (nature + technology)

Solutions that are systematically designed to maximize sequestration efficacy by integrating as many carbon removal solutions as possible, while taking into account the full spectrum of obstacles preventing global businesses from investing in carbon removal as part of their corporate climate strategy---significant financial expenses, the threat of greenwashing, and low-quality carbon credits.

Pros:

  • Partners receive a return on their investment.
  • The integration of reforestation/afforestation, soil sequestration, and DACS results in a rate of sequestration that is 10 times more efficient than reforestation/afforestation alone.
  • Contributes to the scalability of DACS.
  • Provides permanent carbon storage.
  • Low in cost with a high return to both local environments and local communities.

Cons:

  • Solutions are new to the market so adoption has not been proven.
Providers
Cost
Potential Capture (per hectare)
$7/ton
100 tons of CO₂ per year
Take Action on Climate Now

Want to see how Recapture’s systems-designed, dedicated CRS can impact your net-zero strategy? Our experts are ready to put together a complimentary profit-driven model specific to your business.

Learn more about our profit-driven carbon removal model here

Author
Adele Barbato is a Climate Adaption Fellow at Recapture. She has degrees in anthropology and world history from Harvard, Northeastern, and Monmouth universities. Adele has been studying and writing on the intersections of climate and human movement for nearly 20 years, and is the founder of an online publication and advocacy project dedicated to supporting practical preparations for climate migration. In a parallel life, she also leads digital transformation and change management initiatives within large, global museums. This work has allowed her the privilege of becoming intimately familiar with the fascinating, preeminent collections of notable institutions such as the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts, and Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography.
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