Cleantech innovators lay out proposals for an innovation-friendly EU carbon removals framework
Beamline Accelerator and Cleantech for Europe’s joint response to the EU consultation on the Certification of Carbon Removals.
Here we make recommendations for the EU’s carbon removals certification framework. The recommendations are informed directly by some of the EU’s top innovative SMEs specialised in software and hardware-based decarbonisation technologies for enhanced measurement and more effective natural and industrial carbon removals.
This paper is a collaboration between Cleantech for Europe and Beamline Accelerator, a Cleantech for Europe affiliate. Cleantech for Europe represents the vibrant ecosystem of EU cleantech innovators and investors who are developing technologies and business models to take the EU to net zero. Beamline Accelerator is Central Eastern Europe’s uniquely positioned early-stage startup companies accelerator, investing in impactful hardware and software companies.
Findings are based exclusively on the voices of startups actively working with carbon removal solutions and inform recommendations to help the EU develop an innovation-friendly carbon removals framework to help cleantech companies lead the race to net zero. Although efforts to eliminate the release of new production-related greenhouse gases are of course important in reaching that goal, we now know that this is not enough - we also must physically remove already emitted carbon from the atmosphere.
Carbon can be actively removed from the atmosphere naturally. Some of the main methods include carbon farming, blue carbon economy, reforestation and afforestation. It can also be indirectly removed by using more biobased products (bioeconomy) and using already existing products more efficiently (e.g. energy efficiency of buildings). When it comes to industrial removals, there are two processes which remove carbon from the air. The first is called carbon capture and storage (CCS). In this process, CO2 is captured at its source and stored permanently underground. The second removal process is called carbon capture and utilisation (CCU), where the carbon is recycled for further usage. Both of these need rapid innovation since right now the removal capacity is lacking. Achieving the EU climate-neutrality objective would require the capture of between 300Mt and 500 Mt of carbon dioxide from those sources by 2050.
Innovative SMEs based in the EU are developing a range of solutions to directly or indirectly impact decarbonisation via carbon removals. These include examples like:
Software-based remote sensing product for climate-smart agriculture with CO2 sequestration calculations and modelling (Agrieye)
Nanocarbon materials producer from CO2 direct air capture and biomass (UP Catalyst)
Carbon capture hardware system for air quality increase (nuotwo)
Electrochemical carbon capture and conversion into green formic acid for industrial applications (RedoxNRG)
Realtime assessment and monitoring platform for carbon removal via sustainable land use (Single.Earth)
The companies underlined that establishing a robust and credible certification system for carbon removals is the first essential stepping stone towards achieving a net contribution from carbon removals in line with the EU climate-neutrality objective.
Team of UP Catalyst
Standards are essential
Proposal 1: The EU should set robust minimum standards for removals
The EU should set clear definitions and robust minimum standard requirements for MRV, baseline and additionality etc, including assessment and disclosure of the non-carbon, notably environmental benefits. The rules should also enable and encourage science-based innovation and improvement in e.g. land monitoring and verification with the integration of Earth observation data, machine learning and digital solutions. This would greatly benefit the accuracy of measurements while reducing costs and provide an opening to develop methodologies to better account for benefits to biodiversity and ecosystem integrity. Furthermore, the framework should encourage transparency of removals and market transactions and allow for innovation through digital tools, such as times tamping through blockchain technology.
Today, we rely on nature
Proposal 2: Carbon removals certification must take into account the non-carbon benefits of projects
Innovative SMEs working in this sector strongly support prioritising nature-based solution sover yet immature and unproven industrial solutions, especially in the run-up to 2030. Restoration of forests and wetlands, reforestation and improved sustainable forest management are all already existing, ready to use low-cost solutions that bring about a variety of benefits to biodiversity, water and soil.
Carbon removal processes only work when approached holistically. Since industrial carbon removal always requires nature's input in the form of energy, we should be interested in achieving the maximum natural carbon removal capacity. Natural carbon removal is supported by thriving natural ecosystems. When corals are being fed healthy water, vitamins and minerals, their power to deposit CO2 is at times higher. The same goes for forests, fields and other bioresources. So a robust certification and credit system should also reward solutions that support viable ecosystems that optimise natural removal. When these ecosystems are not supported, natural removal doesn’t reach the efficiency it could reach in healthy ecosystems and is in danger of getting less attention than industrial removal systems. Since industrial removal requires long investment lead times and regulatory structures to reach the required scale, natural solutions supported by robust MRV, assurance of durability and management of reversals should be developed in parallel.
All in all, with such massive scale structural changes as the European-level carbon removal system will bring, there is a need for using carbon certifications in parallel with a similar certification system tracking projects' influence on natural ecosystems. Otherwise, carbon removals could start harming ecosystems and bringing about the loop where natural removal also cannot compete with the industrial one because of the reasons mentioned earlier.
Minimising emissions comes first
Proposal 3: Prioritise emissions reduction where possible
Ambition for removal should not detract from decarbonising whatever is possible. Due to increasing attention to and focus on finding solutions to capture carbon and utilise or store it, the need to find and support solutions and technologies that minimise emissions still remains. While the carbon certification system is long-awaited by larger (and higher emitting) companies, it must stay clearly stated that compensating for one’s emissions is not the primary goal. The goal should be to decrease the emissions via improved processes, and novel technologies, not to have an accepted mechanism to pay for the harm being done and continuously do so.
Beamline Accelerator and Cleantech Estonia team (photo credit: Silver Gutmann)