Within CUR8’s mission to scale carbon removals and help save the planet

Most of us have heard of carbon offsetting by now. However, the average person may not give it much thought when an airline directs them to “offset the CO2 of your trip” (for a suspiciously small amount). But how familiar are you with carbon removals?

Offsetting and carbon credits (a sort of emissions consent forms) are not only big business, but part of a new climate reality that companies will sooner or later have to adapt to as they embark on a net-zero roadmap.

Compensation as a practice has gotten a pretty bad reputation, and not unjustly. If joked John Oliver “If the idea that you can just invest a little money and make your carbon footprint disappear sounds too good to be true, that’s because it absolutely is.”

At times, carbon offsetting projects have even been proven to do more harm than good. Whether through well-intentioned incompetence or unscrupulous greed, the problems ranged from biodiversity loss to land grabbing.

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However, a different approach to reducing – and removing – CO2 emissions evolve. A growing number of carbon removal technologies and projects could well help clean up the mess we’ve made for ourselves in a more efficient and, importantly, equitable way.

Mediating hope

Carbon removals are also referred to as carbon dioxide removal (CDR), carbon uptake, or negative emissions. Where CO2 offsets are simply intended to offset emissions by investing in emission reduction projects elsewhere, CO2 removals are aimed at capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and trap it for decades or even centuries.

And cleaning up the atmosphere is exactly what the London-based startup is doing CUR8 wants to help facilitate. The company, which is building what it calls a carbon removal market maker platform, was founded in 2022 and recently raised £5.3m (€6.15m) in a pre-seed round led by GV (Google Ventures ) and included financing from CapitalT.

CUR8 co-founder and serial fintech entrepreneur Marta Krupinska says when she first heard about carbon removals in December 2020, it stunned her and gave her an “out of the ordinary feeling” for anyone who works in climate: hope.

“I certainly feel that there is all the scientific evidence that we left it too late. So to suddenly think that there are ways that we can build these time machines that will undo the damage we’ve done, that was just absolutely mind-blowing,” Krupinska told TNW.

“It’s going to be a trillion-dollar industry, and we need to build it faster than any industry we’ve ever built before. So obviously that’s very enticing for an entrepreneur,” she continued. The problem was that she didn’t know much about climate science at the time.

Krupinska, who has led Google for Startups in the UK and is a co-founder of international money transfer platform Azimo, was introduced by a friend in 2021 to Dr Gabrielle Walker, the former climate editor at the prestigious journal Nature and editor-in-chief at New Scientist .

Dr. Walker, who has taught at Cambridge and Princeton Universities and founded a non-profit organization Rethink moves, decided to turn her attention to relocation after asking people from the IPCC if it would be possible to achieve the Paris Agreement without them. In fact, the answer she got was “Are you laughing?”

Dedicated warm up

Why they are so adamant is due to what is called committed warming. This means that even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, the warming effects of what we’ve already emitted won’t just stop; they are already baked into the system (hence the need to remove them).

Indeed, predicts the IPCC we will have to delete 10 billion tons CO2 have some chance of it by 2050 keep global warming below 2°C by 2100.

In the beginning Dr. Walker skeptical of the technology because, as she says, “it’s hard to get CO2 off the air again.” But after visiting a small-scale direct air capture pilot facility in British Columbia and feeling empowered by the technology’s promise, she said to herself, “Okay, that could work. We’ve got to make it happen.”

But in turn, she knew nothing about running a business. As such, Krupinska and Dr. Walker credits “tremendously complementary skills” to the startup they co-founded with their third partner, Mark Stevenson.

Stevenson has served as an advisor to the UK Ministry of Defense on peace, security and climate change and to Doctors Without Borders, and is an ambassador for Client Earth and chair of the Impact Board for Climate.vc. The three have teamed up with their team to achieve CUR8’s ambition to enable 10% of all global carbon removals over the next 25+ years.

Direct aerial shot

There are several ways to remove carbon, both technological and nature-based. On the technological side, there is direct air capture or DAC. Essentially, this sucks carbon out of the air using chemical reactions. Then it pumps the CO2 deep underground for storage. It can also end up in other hydrocarbon products, such as (more) sustainable fuels, but then it will of course immediately go back into the atmosphere.

According to the IEA, DAC is “an important part of the carbon removal portfolio.” However, it is categorized as “technology readiness level” 6 (on a scale of 1 to 9). This means that it is in the large-scale and prototype phase, but is not yet ready for commercial deployment. As such, the cost was previously prohibitive for everyone except Microsoft. But CUR8’s approach of including it in a portfolio will help achieve economies of scale and make it accessible to a wider range of companies.

Spectrum of recording speed

Other pathways include something referred to as enhanced rock weathering (ERW). Some rocks with a high silica content, such as basalt, sequester CO₂ from the air as part of a chemical reaction caused by rainwater. This process can be accelerated by spreading large quantities of selected and finely ground rock material on land areas, beaches or the sea surface.

Other forms of negative emissions approaches include afforestation (while respecting biodiversity), soil sequestration, and converting crop and forestry residues into biochar – storing carbon for millennia, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. Making buildings from wood also keeps the carbon trapped in the wood and replaces more polluting materials like concrete.

The oceans also offer numerous opportunities to remove carbon, including photosynthesis-enhanced seaweed farming and oyster reef restoration and alkalinity improvement. All of these methods have their own advantages and challenges.

“When you buy moves, you always have to invest in all the methods out there, because none of them will scale up to 10 billion tons by 2050,” says Krupinska.

“Our portfolio will always include methods from across the spectrum,” she continues. “We aim to achieve maximum sustainability with maximum biodiversity and social benefits brought together in one portfolio that is significantly cheaper than the top end of the relocation price range.”

CUR8 has provided CO2 removals for, among other things The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Pageant and The State Funeral of HM Queen Elizabeth II and large scale events including British Summer Time and All Points East. The portfolio included technologies including direct air capture (1 point five), enhanced rock weathering (UNDO) and sustainable soil carbon (Loam Bio).

The cost of carbon

Carbon credits vary in price depending on the type, location and availability of the projects they generate. They can cost anything from $0.30 to $300. (Remember the questionably low cost of your air travel compensation?)

Carbon offset credits represent one ton of avoided or reduced carbon dioxide. Carbon removal credits (CRCs), on the other hand, represent a ton of carbon dioxide equivalent removed from the atmosphere.

CUR8 has set the cost of its CRCs at £150. This is pegged at $185 – which has been calculated as the “social cost of carbon”, or the economic cost to society of emitting one ton of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Speaking of social costs and impact, 40% of CUR8’s portfolio will be located in the South. “If we can help establish a greater carbon removal offering in the South, we can really turn climate change victims into beneficiaries of this new economy,” says Krupinska.

“There are credits that we have to get money for, that transform infrastructure, from fossil infrastructure to clean, especially in the South, because that is where the money is not available,” adds Dr. walker. “That’s a part of the climate system that might otherwise be more difficult to solve.”

Build confidence in the process

The company says it conducts all vendor due diligence in-house, tracking more than 100 data points in terms of impact, integrity and scalability. And scaling up the needs of the industry, and fast.

The benefits of a portfolio approach, says CUR8, is that by working with a range of suppliers, it also helps to grow the entire industry so that there is sufficient supply in 1, 5, 10 and 25 years. In addition, it balances benefits and challenges with the rate of withdrawal and reduces risks.

“We are a market maker, so we go beyond the brokerage model. The brokerage model is how we start. But we are also in constant dialogue, both with suppliers and in the demand market, to understand what is really needed to accelerate this,” says Dr Walker.

“And the goal isn’t just to see a market develop and take a piece of the pie, or even make it a little bit easier for some people who would otherwise have to do something that’s a bit more difficult. This market should go from a few hundred thousand tons of sustainable relocations now to somewhere between 10 and 15 billion per year in 2050.”

Not to be overly dramatic, but the fate of the world may depend on it.