”Since there is already too much CO2 in the atmosphere and there are ways to remove it, why not develop a business model to stimulate removals?”
This was the initial vision of the project now named Puro.earth. In the autumn of 2018 Marianne and Antti started working on the CO2 Removal Certificate Exchange in the Fortum Innovation and Venturing team. We analyzed at least 20 different ways to sequester CO2. Examples included polyols (plastics) that replaced some of the carbon with atmospheric CO2, fuels made from CO2 and various fascinating scenarios about the use of CO2 in graphene.
Quite soon we realized that most of these processes were reducing the emissions but not really removing and storing CO2 from the atmosphere as we envisioned. We also understood that it is rather trivial to create a device to capture CO2 from the atmosphere or from industrial processes, but the tricky part is in making use of it in a way that is commercially viable. Since CO2 is very reluctant to react with anything else, using it as an ingredient for materials requires a lot of energy and is thus costly. Alternatively storing it as such under the seabed is definitely an option but very expensive since there’s no “product” to sell - apart from the CO2 storage.
We chose to concentrate on operations that are storing more CO2 than their production emits. We also decided to eliminate the discussion about baselines by only placing value to the net negative part of the production process.
But when is the CO2 removal secured? Is it when the CO2 has been captured and stored in a bottle or in biomass? Or is it when it makes no economic sense to let it escape back into the atmosphere? The latter seemed reasonable. We went through the value chains of processes with net negative carbon footprint. We chose the earliest point in the value chain where the only economically viable option is to keep the CO2 away from circulation for long-term. This is what we call ”the First-Point-of-No-Return principle.”
In the case of wooden building elements, the first point of no return is the facility where the logs are cut-to-measure to the elements of right size for a specific house. Again, after this point it would be unwise to use the resulting elements for anything else than creating a long term carbon storage aka. a home.
In the case of biochar, before wooden biomass has been pyrolyzed, it would still be possible to turn the biomass into pulp or burn it for energy. The first-point-of-no-return is the facility where wood is refined to biochar and its price is tens of times higher than coal or the original biomass. Therefore it makes no sense to burn it for energy.
This principle of first-point-of-no-return is reflected in the methodologies Puro has published. We intend to add more of them, just as long as the CO2 sequestration can be measured, verified and the storage is at least 50 years.
It doesn’t matter where in the value chain the extra income from Puro certificates enters. It makes the whole value chain more competitive against others that do not have a net-negative carbon footprint. As it becomes more competitive, it is also possible to invest to growth. And that matches with the original vision of Puro – to accelerate CO2 removal from circulation.