There’s a New Science Platform to Vet Carbon Removal Companies

Startup Isometric is pulling back the hood on some of the biggest carbon removal businesses for anyone who wants to take a look.

(Bloomberg) — On Monday, climate tech startup Isometric launched a publicly accessible platform to vet the science behind the growing number of startups pulling carbon from the atmosphere.

Carbon removal will be key to staving off catastrophic global warming in the coming decades. It also has the potential to be a $1 trillion industry, according to BloombergNEF estimates.

But while a growing number of startups are promising to do so, the emerging industry has no widely agreed upon standards or shared protocols, or methodology for assessing how much CO2 was removed by their processes. Isometric is one of a number of companies attempting to change that. As the industry attempts to scale and commercialize, experts agree that it’s critical that startups selling carbon removal services establish robust measuring, reporting and verification techniques to prevent greenwashing. 

The London- and New York-based startup, which also announced on Monday that it raised a $25 million seed round led by Lowercarbon Capital and Plural, is launching its carbon registry later this year that will list only fully verified, delivered credits from what it deems long-duration carbon removal suppliers. 

As a precursor, Isometric released an online science platform, which is free and available to anyone who wants to review or contribute. On the site, scientists and researchers are able to view and comment on data provided by carbon removal startups, which could range from early test results to a visualization of their removal processes. The goal of the platform is to accelerate early carbon removal science in part by making it easier for scientists to collaborate, according to founder and chief executive officer Eamon Jubbawy.

“The thing about academia is there’s a very rigorous way of doing things. The peer review process and things like that are decades old and work pretty well, but they are slow,” Jubbawy said. “It’s a months-long cycle of getting to answers or getting to some kind of consensus versus what we want to do is get that cycle down to days or even hours.”

The science platform has launched with six carbon removal companies that are providing data: Charm, Eion, Mission Zero, Planetary, Brilliant Planet and Andes. Jubbawy said others are lined up to join in the coming months. By sharing early versions of their protocols for review, these startups are able to gather feedback from the wider scientific community as well as help buyers understand their processes.  

“[Isometric’s work is] important because we need to know if the money that we are spending on carbon removal is having an effect on the carbon cycle or not,” said Ryan Orbuch, a partner at Lowercarbon who leads the firm’s carbon removal work. “That’s the reason that any of this is worth doing.” 

He compared creating a registry to providing buyers a receipt saying the tons of carbon they paid to have removed from the atmosphere were actually grabbed and stored.

Currently, no such registry is equipped to support the young industry, Orbuch said. Traditional carbon offset registries like Verra and Gold Standard have not only been plagued by controversy around over-crediting projects and generating junk offsets that don’t contribute to emissions reductions, they’ve also not yet embraced carbon credits for newer forms of removal like direct air capture and enhanced rock weathering. To date, most carbon removal purchases of this variety have through been private agreements between buyers and suppliers, with the suppliers only beginning to provide third-party verified CDR services to their first corporate buyers. 

“We see [Isometric] as an accelerant to the trajectory of high-quality, durable carbon removal,” Orbuch said, while calling the firm a potential “referee of the industry.” 

A role like that will be increasingly important as the carbon removal industry attempts to scale up. Limiting warming to 1.5C will likely require removing billions of tons of carbon from the air, but that only makes a difference if it actually happens. 

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