01 Reducing emissions isn’t enough. We also need to remove carbon from the sky.
02 There are now officially ten figures of spend looking for carbon removal.
03 That demand vastly outstrips supply.
04 We’ve raised a $350 million fund to back companies that will remove billions of tons of CO2.1
05 Hit up our CO2 removal lead, Ryan Orbuch, and let’s build your startup together.
In less short:
Since 1850, humanity’s put a metric shit-ton of CO2 pollution into the atmosphere. Back then, CO2 in the air was 280 parts per million. Today? 420 ppm. An increase of 50%, and most within just the last few decades.
You see, humans excel at lighting stuff on fire. Torching oil, coal, forests, and farmland are our superpowers and every year we go bigger. Unfortunately, with each and every flame, a bunch of chemicals never intended to be in our air are set free to float around in relative perpetuity. Some are greenhouse gasses like CO2, N2O, O3, and CH4. Whereas others like SO2, CO, and all kinds of nasty PM2.5 to 10 are optimized for killing people and wreaking havoc. We are indeed the great liberators… of airborne pollutants.
The problem is, as long as those molecules are lingering around in the sky, Earth is going to keep getting hotter and with that comes all of the ugliness. Since this pyro-party kicked off, the planet has warmed about 1.2 °C. A couple degrees might sound small (especially if you’re used to seeing temperatures displayed in Fahrenheit), but lost in the average is that certain corners of the world are getting a serious sunburn. The North Pole, for example, seems to be warming 3x as fast as the rest of the planet: parts of the Arctic were 10 °F warmer last December than their 1981-2010 average. Temperature increases over the next 50 years could leave between one and three billion people stranded in places that are hotter than just about anywhere on Earth today — and far outside the band of temperatures that humans have weathered for at least the past 6,000 years. Ugh.
Whoa. That’s heavy. Anything we can do about it?
There is some good news on the horizon: We can, and will, zero out new emissions, even in industries like steel and fertilizer that are notoriously hard to decarbonize. Our current Lowercarbon portfolio leaves us confident. Carbon is expensive and removing it from energy, services, goods, and the like ultimately translates to profits. Businesses like profits. So, that’s all working. It’s just going to take time. Sadly, we spent most of the last 50 years running out the clock while gorging ourselves at an all-you-can-eat petrochemical buffet.
One option is to not do anything. But left to its own devices, Earth could take up to 100,000 years to cool back down to safe levels. It’s going to be hard to watch season 37 of Succession from underwater, so we need a better option.
Thus, in addition to dramatic emissions reductions, we need to suck CO2 back out of the sky and put it back into the ground. Let’s be clear, we aren’t talking about offsets like paying someone to not chop down their trees. Those can be helpful, but they’re not going to put a dent in the problem.
Removal means removal. It means mopping up the 170 years of extractive sludge milk we’ve already spilled. Removal means we grab CO2 pollution already out there and sock it away permanently. As it has been described quite eloquently by others: When you only have one swimming pool, you gotta fish out the turds already floating around while simultaneously convincing people to stop dropping new turds.
New shit has come to light.
Lowercarbon has been investing in carbon removal founders since our inception. We also contribute to some of the leading non-profit research and advocacy orgs in the space.
Frankly, we’ve known that CO2 removal was going to be big. However, we didn’t realize how damn big and how very soon until, just recently, two forces changed everything for demand and supply.
When it comes to demand for carbon removal, consider that two years ago, the amount of money trying to buy it rounded down to $0. The few companies attempting removal were basically small demonstrations with no clear path to scaled commercialization.
Fast forward to today, and we see major buyers across the spectrum who just plain get it. This isn’t merely lip service. We are talking call your bluff, show me the f’ing money, cash on the barrel lined up to buy carbon removal. How much?
[Insert pinky in corner of mouth] One. Billion. Dollars.
No seriously. This week, Frontier, an Advance Market Commitment led by Nan Ransohoff, with backing from Stripe, Alphabet, Shopify, Meta, and McKinsey, announced nearly $1 billion to buy durable carbon removal. Add to that, commits from the likes of Microsoft and Airbus, and a growing slate of marketplaces all over the world for carbon removal.That’s a pretty fat stack.
So why hasn’t all of this demand already translated into a large market? Well, there’s been nothing to buy. Although scrubbing CO2 from submarines and spacecraft is a 70-year-old technology, removing CO2 directly from Earth’s atmosphere was ignored for decades. People only seriously started working on CO2 removal about a few years ago, and it’s hard to do right. CO2 is super dilute, making up only 0.04% of air. So, capturing it has typically required a lot of energy and expense. For years, without customers willing to pay up, investors weren’t backing novel solutions.
Today? Innovation on the supply side is bonkers. Breakthroughs in electrochemistry, engineered fungi in soils, and accelerated rock formation to permanently store carbon as minerals are all inverting the cost curve. Critical advances in renewable energy, gene sequencing, automation, simulation technology, nanomaterials, catalyst synthesis, and related areas are driving massive advances in carbon removal that, in many cases, had never even been contemplated by the leading researchers in the space. Newly identified or improved chemical structures like guanidines, metal organic frameworks, and ionic liquids can bind to CO2 better than any materials used before, enabling dramatically more efficient approaches to direct air capture. There are multiple teams working on cell-free enzymatic systems that convert CO2 the way you do when you breathe, and others are leveraging recent developments in synthetic biology to accelerate removal. Other groups are adding alkalinity to the ocean to increase its natural ability to absorb CO2, relying on ocean chemistry to do the heavy lifting for us. Speaking of relying on nature, teams are finding novel ways to engineer biomass growth at massive scale to accelerate the planet’s natural ability to move gigatons of CO2. The pace of progress in the science of carbon removal is blistering.
So, let’s recap: There is at least a billion dollars and growing desperately trying to buy technologies that have just recently become capable of massive scale.
By any chance did reading all that make you itch to start a company?
Yeah, us too. Good news: Today we are taking the covers off a new $350 million fund (you can do the pinky finger thing again if you want) dedicated exclusively to carbon removal startups.
While our work is supported by a broad range of investors, I want to highlight one in particular. Stripe itself has invested in our fund with all proceeds from their investment being recycled into buying more carbon removal. I’ve known Patrick & John since they were, I believe the official Irish term is “wee lads.” I’m so proud of their work to push the envelope of climate solutions and grateful for yet another chance to collaborate with them and their whole team.
In addition to the loot for your startup, more importantly, we’ve got a kickass team whose credentials and network are unparalleled. Leading the removal charge for us is Ryan Orbuch. Ryan was most recently at Stripe where he helped kick off the carbon removal procurement program. Now he’s a partner at Lowercarbon. Make no mistake: Carbon fears him.
There has never been a better time to start a carbon removal company. So, come to us with your wildest ideas. They don’t have to be fully baked, and we have no preconceived notions about what might work.
Biologically enhanced rock weathering and manipulating aquifer brines? Hit us up. Electrochemically generating alkalinity in the ocean? We’re your team. Engineering new materials for CO2 scrubbing from the air, accelerating geologic storage, new ways of breaking carbon and oxygen bonds, or growing plants that don’t decompose? Right over here. There are entire categories of carbon removal approaches with massive potential that haven’t even been discovered yet. If this paragraph is your love language, drop us a line.
It’s an absolute privilege to work on solving a planetary Code Red while making money doing it. The situation is bad, and it will get worse before it gets better. Some tough days remain ahead, yet this work fills me with optimism. It’s empowering. We aren’t sitting on our hands and you don’t want to be either.
Lowercarbon is having a direct, material impact and it feels so good to be a real, measurable, and accountable part of the solution. When you work with us to shave entire parts per million off of atmospheric CO2, you will undoubtedly have earned the right to sleep well at night knowing you’re doing more than your part. Time to suck it up. (You see what I did there?)
Get in touch with Ryan, the honcho for all of this giddyup, and together let’s build stuff that saves millions of lives all while making a lot of money,
1 Technically, we’re speaking about metric tons here and throughout this document, but you will catch me skiing in jeans before you see me spell out “tonnes.”