This Is CDR is an ongoing series of online events to explore the range of carbon dioxide removal solutions that are currently in development. Most weeks, we visit with scientists and entrepreneurs working in the CDR space, but this week, we hear from OpenAir’s own Chris Neidl and Na’im Merchant about some of the “metastrategy” of CDR – not how to make the scientific processes work, but how to get CDR to the global gigaton scale we need. Having thought about this question a lot, Chris and Na’im argue that the main thing we need to do is develop niche markets for CDR.
Eventually, CDR will have to be bought on a massive scale by governments and corporations. We’re not there yet, but when we get there, we need to be ready; we can’t go from zero to gigaton instantly. Niche markets can help us bridge that gap. In other words, while they wait for those governments and corporations, CDR startups can survive, evolve, and grow by supplying carbon capture (and captured carbon) to other buyers. Coming from a solar background, Chris notes that solar itself was, until quite recently, considered a niche technology, and relied on smaller markets to develop. Then, suddenly, it was the cheapest form of energy in the world, being generated on a global, industrial scale.
For solar, niche markets included everything from residential rooftops to marijuana farms. For CDR, the equivalents could be beverage bottlers (who pay a lot already for high-quality, food-grade CO2), greenhouses (whose crops can benefit from additional carbon in the air), and even offices (high CO2 levels in crowded office environments actually makes people slower and sleepier, so systems to remove it are a good idea). But the main CDR market Na’im and Chris cover in their talk is construction. As long-time OpenAir members probably know, concrete production for construction accounts for 8% of global CO2 emissions, and construction companies face growing pressure (and growing incentives!) to lower their emissions. CDR startups could help them do it. And with increased research in modular CDR technology, carbon-removal units could be placed right in concrete manufacturing sites.
There are a lot of really exciting possibilities for scaling CDR, and Chris and Na’im’s talk is full of interesting details. Check it out to learn more! And watch the whole series on our resources page.