Creating an Ecosystem for a Carbon Balanced Planet

Last week, Sustainable Silicon Valley and the Center for Carbon Removal (CCR) hosted “Creating an Ecosystem for a Carbon Balanced Planet.” Nancy Pfund, Founder and Managing Partner of DBL Partners, gave the keynote speech at the evening workshop. The event took place at DLA Piper’s beautiful office overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Half Moon Bay Brewing Co., Golden Vineyards, and Terra Sávia graciously donated beer and wine.

The workshop brought together more than 80 participants representing major companies, the cleantech sector, startups, local government, and nonprofits to explore strategies for carbon removal. Carbon removal includes biological and chemical solutions such as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), carbon-negative materials, mineral capture, carbon farming, biochar, and sustainable forestry practices.

The event also kicked off SSV and CCR’s joint effort to build a coalition around carbon removal that will bring together government, industry, municipalities, the building sector, and education. Eventually, we would like to see carbon removal as commonplace as recycling. Right now, our goal is to galvanize a community.

Globally, we are emitting 38 gigatons of carbon every year and that amount is rising. Even if we stopped emitting carbon tomorrow, what we’ve already put into the atmosphere will linger, further increasing average temperatures. At this rate, just slowing down our emissions isn’t enough—we need to embrace strategies to actually remove carbon from the atmosphere, in order to avert the worst effects of climate change.

The Center for Carbon Removal, a nonprofit founded last year by Noah Deich, is dedicated to this principle.

“What we think of today as climate solutions are really just the tip of the iceberg,” Deich said in his introduction. “We’re on the frontier for carbon removal.”

Noah Deich of the Center for Carbon Removal kicks off the event. Photo Credit: Joel Puliatti
Noah Deich of the Center for Carbon Removal kicks off the event. Photo Credit: Joel Puliatti

In her keynote, Nancy Pfund highlighted her company’s unique “double bottom line” approach to venture capital—investing in mission-oriented companies to both generate top-tier returns and create positive social change. In the cleantech sector, the company’s portfolio includes Tesla, Advanced Microgrid Solutions, Off Grid Electric, and other familiar names.

As she summed up, “A lot of companies are more successful today because they do have an environmental mission.”

Nancy Pfund of DBL Partners discusses carbon removal and clean tech in her keynote. Photo Credit: Joel Puliatti
Nancy Pfund of DBL Partners discusses carbon removal and cleantech in her keynote. Photo Credit: Joel Puliatti

Pfund noted that carbon removal is critical to the development of the 21st century economy, but challenging to deploy. The CCS market, for example, is extremely sensitive to changes in policy. Meanwhile, a lack of historical data makes it difficult for financial institutions to assess and monetize risk.

The solution? Get creative. Investments in carbon farming, for example, can be profitable. Conservation and sustainable forestry initiatives can also play a role.

Our four presenters at the event represented companies at the forefront of the emerging carbon removal field. They are successful businesses that are tapping into a new market for carbon removal solutions, carbon-negative technologies, and products that utilize waste carbon.

Jim Mason of All Power Labs. Photo Credit: Joel Puliatti
Jim Mason of All Power Labs. Photo Credit: Joel Puliatti

All Power Labs – Founder and CEO Jim Mason spoke of APL’s technology, which has allowed it to become the global leader in small-scale biomass gasification. Their generators run on wood chips and other organic matter and produce a biochar byproduct that sequesters carbon. The overall result is carbon-negative power generation.

Dr. Graciela Chichilnisky of Global Thermostat. Photo Credit: Joel Puliatti
Dr. Graciela Chichilnisky of Global Thermostat. Photo Credit: Joel Puliatti

Global Thermostat – CEO and Co-Founder Dr. Graciela Chichilnisky explained her company’s carbon capture technology, which can be fitted to power plants and factories to capture CO2, even at low concentrations. Dr. Chichilnisky helpfully compared it to a “giant humidifier” that removes CO2 molecules from the air. Currently, the company is working with four commercial plants to implement the technology.

Dr. Brent Constantz of Blue Planet. Photo Credit: Joel Puliatti
Dr. Brent Constantz of Blue Planet. Photo Credit: Joel Puliatti

Blue Planet – CEO and Founder Dr. Brent Constantz described how the company captures carbon from raw flue gas emitted by coal plants, steel mills, cement plants, and other industrial facilities, and converts it into high-value building materials, including an aggregate that is a sustainable alternative to cement. (Cement production is a major source of carbon.) Blue Planet products are being used in a $2.2 billion upgrade project at SFO and have also been used at Levi’s Stadium and the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Heyward Robinson of Oakbio Inc. Photo Credit: Joel Puliatti
Heyward Robinson of Oakbio Inc. Photo Credit: Joel Puliatti

Oakbio Inc. – VP of Business Development Heyward Robinson spoke of Oakbio’s process of creating high-value products from waste carbon. Their products include bioplastics that can be mixed with traditional plastics or used on their own—this market is expected to grow to $50 billion by 2030. Oakbio also produces an animal feed, tapping into a $400 billion market. Their process relies on a bioreactor with proprietary microbes.

Jim Mason leads a small group discussion on biochar. Photo Credit: Joel Puliatti
Jim Mason leads a small group discussion on biochar. Photo Credit: Joel Puliatti

After we heard from the presenters, attendees broke into four groups centered around each company’s particular field: cement alternatives, biochar, direct air capture, and biomaterials. The goal was to discuss, “What would make this a transformative technology?” and produce ideas for regional projects to advance each technology. With a “no wrong answers” approach, the rapid-fire discussion generated both questions and solutions, touching on the need to develop standards, secure financing, and put a price on carbon.

We hope this event will be one of many to follow—the start of a real community around carbon!