What to expect from carbon removal in 2022

Count on fast growth, but keep expectations in check

I think carbon removal today might be where solar was in the early 1980s. It’s hyped, and we had some breakthroughs, but it’s still very, very small. Solar in 1983 was worth 250 million USD in sales (700 million USD in today’s value). Known sales of durable carbon removal are only 20–30 million USD for the last two years. Most of that is payments for future removals, with some of it being commitments to buy in the future and not money paid out today. This number doesn’t include all purchases since not all of them are public, but definitely the biggest ones.

Much of the near-term volume growth is going to come from biochar.

Biochar providers can scale up quickly once they get pre-commitments for purchases. There is also a lot of biochar already being produced where the carbon removal benefit is not sold as a credit. This means there is an easily accessible supply, but it also raises questions on additionality [1]. Providers will need to show that the income from CDR credits leads to an equivalent rise in tons of CO2 removed through increased production. Puro and Carbonfuture are the leading aggregators of biochar credits, but some providers are doing the selling themselves.

Look for new carbon removal methods getting out of the garage

Many new CDR solutions will get tried outside the lab/ prototype stage for the first time in 2022/2023, going from kilograms to tons. We will see DAC companies like Heirloom, Sustaera, Mission Zero, and Noya test out their tech at larger scales. And ocean CO2 removers like Planetary Hydrogen do the same. There are also exciting corporate developments around enhanced weathering to look out for in the coming year.

Action-enabling research being published

In all the hype, it can be easy to forget that there are a lot of unknowns in CDR left to work out before many of the solutions can be scaled up. A lot of research and development is taking place in startups, especially for Direct air capture, but there are many exciting CDR research programs ongoing too. These are some of the scientific projects I am keeping a close eye on in 2022:

Applying minerals to soils is an exciting carbon removal method from which more scientific results are coming out in 2022 Photo by Red Zeppelin on Unsplash

And more. Much more

This is far from everything to look out for. What will the new EU Taxonomy on removals look like? How will the carbon market evolve, will more companies shift to buying permanent removals in 2022? (See this list of all known purchases.) Will the trend of VCs funding carbon removal projects continue? What will come out of the accelerators on carbon removal (like The ClimAccelerator, Build a climate startup, Activate CDR). Who will win the Xprize milestone awards? How will the US Carbon Negative earth shot and support to DAC hubs evolve? And much more.

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Robert Höglund

Robert Höglund

Advising companies and organizations on carbon removal and climate.