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The Need for Speed

Barclay Rogers, CEO, Graphyte

The world understands the need to reduce atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases and increasingly, the critical role that carbon dioxide removal (CDR) will play. Hardly a day goes by without a publication calling for action, a new government program being announced, or a new corporate pledge being set. But the stark reality is that we're not making nearly enough progress. If we had unlimited time to combat climate change, then focusing on innovative but expensive technologies which might eventually deliver big results would be reasonable – but we don’t.  When it comes to CDR, we need to prioritize investment in approaches that are ready to deliver now. Because if we don’t scale fast, we are going to fail slow. 

To understand the best path forward, we can look back at the sector in which we have made the most progress: electricity generation. In the United States, electricity generation grew by 25% from 1990 to 2022 while emissions fell by nearly 40% from their peak over that same period. We did this by deploying renewables and replacing carbon-intensive coal power with natural gas.  


In parallel, we have continued to research and develop new technologies to decarbonize the power sector: fusion, advanced nuclear reactors, energy storage, enhanced geothermal, hydrogen, and more. These technologies may have a huge impact in 5, 10, or 20 years. But our focus has rightfully been on deploying the solutions that we know can scale now. We’ve passed policies, made investments, and established purchasing programs to scale wind and solar, and they now play a meaningful role reducing greenhouse gas emissions. From renewables in Uruguay to electric vehicles in China, investing in deployable technologies is leading to climate positive outcomes.  


When it comes to CDR, a different dynamic has emerged. Investors, buyers, and policymakers have focused most of their efforts on innovative but early-stage approaches like direct air capture (DAC).  Back in 2021, Congress provided the US Department of Energy (DOE) with $3.5 billion to deploy to DAC projects through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. In contrast, only $100M has been made available for DOE to fund projects for other CDR approaches. The challenge with these highly engineered solutions is that they are expensive, energy intensive, and slow to develop. They cannot scale quickly enough to achieve climate goals in the precious time we have left to do so.   


A paradigm has emerged where investors and buyers deploy capital toward costly yet small-scale pilots and demonstrations with the prospect of future cost declines and the ability to scale decades down the line. We have only delivered 260,000 tCO2e of carbon removal to date, less than 0.001% of global annual emissions. If we don’t demonstrate that CDR can be delivered at low cost and in meaningful volumes, we may lose critical support for the industry as a tool to reach net zero emissions.  


Carbon Removal Method 

Credit Deliveries to Date (tCO2e) 



Biomass Carbon Removal 




Enhanced Weathering 




Direct Air Capture 




Other approaches (e.g., marine CDR) 

Source: Snapshot of data as of April 2024  


According to the Systems Change Lab, we need on-the-order of 350 million tons of CO2 removal per year by 2030 to keep warming under 1.5OC above pre-industrial levels. That requires the CDR market to scale by 3000x over current annual capacity... in the next 7 years. To put that in context, that is 3x faster than the growth rate of electric vehicles over the past 7 years. It's a tall order.  


The only viable way to get there in the time we have available is to focus efforts and investments in  carbon removal solutions that can scale today. Graphyte’s Carbon Casting is one, and there will be more.  In just 14 months since the company's founding, we have built a project that will remove 15,000 tCO2e in 2024 at a cost of under $100 per ton. That is 15 times larger than the biggest DAC plant in the US. By 2025, the project will deliver 50,000 tCO2e and be one of the largest carbon removal projects in the world.   


As we embark on tackling this massive challenge, we can’t get sidetracked by concerns around whether CDR enables greenwashing or delays ‘real’ action while greenhouse gases continue to climb. We must have safeguards to responsibly grow the industry, but the need for speed is paramount.   


The U.S. government has spent $34B on fusion over the last 75 years. We still don't have a single operating fusion energy plant and won't for some time. Over the same period, we've grown renewables from virtually zero to provide over 20% of US electricity supply. I hope long-term technology investments have a huge pay-off down the line, but they should never come at the cost of scaling what works now. There's a lesson in there for the CDR market.  


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