Carbon dioxide removal has a new club
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Climate. We’re here to build a pillow fort. Errr, wait, we’re here to deliver the climate news. Ah, that’s more like it. Today, we’re talking big news in direct air capture, eBay’s open-source move and lithium’s big price jump. And stay tuned for Thursday, when we’ll have a big update from Davos. For now, though, read on!
DAC is growing up
In the high school that is climate tech, direct air capture companies are the freshmen: shiny-cheeked, eager and barely able to picture adulthood.
Right now, the technology’s future remains a little hazy: Will it succeed, crash and burn, or something in between? Like any crop of freshmen, these DAC companies could use some strength in numbers to find their way in the world. Or at least that’s the idea behind the Direct Air Capture Coalition, a new organization launching today that aims to get the technology deployed at the speed and scale that climate science demands.
The coalition is not a trade association, its founders maintain. Instead it’s intended to “educate, engage and mobilize” society — rather than politicos — around DAC.
- The group wouldn’t be able to lobby for any particular policy outcome even if it wanted to: It’s registered as a 501(c)(3) in the U.S., though it has ambitions to be international in scope.
- Jason Hochman, the organization’s co-founder and senior director, told me that “there is no single nonprofit organization that is focused on accelerating deployment and doing so in a way that is effective, that is sustainable and that is equitable. So we’re trying to change that.”
- Think of the coalition as the “connective tissue” of the DAC market, he added.
It’s kind of a DAC clubhouse. Membership on launch day includes 22 companies in the DAC sector, with “partners and observers” that include nonprofits (such as the Clean Air Task Force and the World Resources Institute) and several academic institutions.
- Hochman said the goal is to be a resource both for policymakers and policy-implementers at the Department of Energy and its state and local equivalents, as well as for DAC companies themselves.
This comes at an important moment for DAC. As Brian wrote earlier this month, the DOE is sitting on $3.5 billion in funds for the technology, which will be devoted to DAC “hubs” between now and 2026.
- “We want to play a role in helping make that a success, and one that can be replicable,” Hochman said of the hubs.
- Hochman emphasized that DAC is by no means a substitute for decarbonization more broadly; it’s an additional tool. But the IPCC itself said in April that absorbing some of the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide will be essential if we want to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and DAC is potentially an option for doing so.
On the horizon: the coalition’s inaugural conference. While the group has already held a few small gatherings (such as a recent policy roundtable), it plans to host a larger one in the fall where members will work on sketching out a plan for the industry’s progress through 2030, on track for release in the next year.
- “We’re really building an entire new sector from scratch here, and there isn’t really a game plan or playbook to look at,” said Hochman.
EBay opens its gently used books
I’m old enough to remember when “reduce, reuse, recycle” was going to save us all. While we can’t reuse our way out of the climate crisis, the used-goods trade is one way to blunt some of the worst impacts.
Determining just how much carbon pollution we can avoid with each used iPhone, suit and vintage Cranberries CD (they’re out there!) is a fraught process, but one that eBay is attempting to make a little more transparent. The company dropped its methodology for how it determines the avoided emissions for a number of product categories last week. It did so alongside its impact report for last year, which shows users avoided 1.5 million tons of carbon emissions in 2021 thanks to reselling goods.
“Transparency is very important,” Renee Morin, eBay’s chief sustainability officer, told Protocol. “We want to be transparent to help engender trust that we are doing what we're saying, and this is how we're doing it.”
- EBay is showing what data sets it uses to make its calculations. The company has done this for years with electronics and fashion, but it expanded to look at auto parts, lifestyle products and media, which, in addition to CDs, includes LaserDiscs. (They’re out there, too!)
- Those data sets include Ecovent 3.71 — which Morin said is a “really robust data set, and one that a lot of life cycle assessment professionals use” — for things like LaserDiscs. The company also uses retailer estimates for emissions tied to products that are still being manufactured, like iPhones.
- The company also considers whether buying used would displace other purchases. “We understand through surveys that for certain goods like a laptop, you likely won't buy a new one as well, because you have a laptop that works that's used now,” Morin said. “For clothing, you likely will go ahead and still buy a sweater or a pair of jeans or whatever, even though what you did buy is good.”
This could encourage transparency elsewhere. Emissions from both used and new ecommerce companies can be incredibly opaque. For the fashion industry, it’s basically a black box. Electronics are somewhat better, but there’s still work to do to add transparency to supply chains — and clean them up.
- The fact that eBay shows its methodology isn’t going to singlehandedly change the world, just like “reduce, reuse, recycle” didn’t. But it’s a lot more of a nudge when a tech giant does something than it is when I toss my milk carton in the recycling bin.
- “Ideally, we'd like to all be singing from the same sheet of music,” Morin said, referring to other online retailers.
A MESSAGE FROM STELLAR DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATION
Blockchain must be scalable and sustainable. The Stellar network has processed millions of payments in an energy efficient manner – generating CO2 emissions equivalent to those produced by 33.7 U.S. homes’ electricity use for one year. This is thanks to the unique Proof-of-Agreement consensus mechanism - the Stellar Consensus Protocol.
One big number: Lithium prices are up 738% so far this year
Ring the alarm: Mineral and metal prices are going up (and up and up). According to a new report from the International Energy Agency, a maelstrom of rising demand and tattered supply chains have caused prices for the materials needed for clean energy technologies to surge.
Most dramatic is the case of lithium, which has seen prices increase 738% between January 2021 and March of this year. It’s hardly alone as a critical mineral in critical price territory: Prices for cobalt have more than doubled (a 156% increase) in that time. Meanwhile, prices of copper, nickel and aluminum rose by roughly 25% to 40% in 2021, and have continued to increase in 2022.
Should these jumps continue, they could cast a major shadow over the renewables sector, which has flourished amid a period of relatively stable materials prices throughout the last decade. Prices for technologies like solar PV cells and batteries have fallen steadily, as both innovation and economies of scale have made building them more efficient while the cost of raw materials only ticked up slightly. Alas, all good things must come to an end: The IEA said that trend could reverse course as demand increases and critical materials become pricier.
A version of this story previously appeared on Protocol.com. Read it here.— Lisa Martine Jenkins
Electric vehicles are starting to dent oil use. That’s the big takeaway from BloombergNEF’s new report, which found that EV adoption — especially of two- and three-wheelers — displaced roughly 1.5 million barrels of oil per day in 2021.
Filed to: chilling. The average American fridge consumes more electricity each year than the average person does in dozens of other countries.
More domestic EV production is on the horizon. Hyundai is building its first U.S.-based production plant exclusively for EVs in Georgia. Production is slated to begin early 2025.
The EPA needs to help the oil industry clean up its act. The federal government’s watchdog said in a report that the EPA needs to ease the approval process for new technologies to help oil and gas companies mitigate methane emissions.
The key to speeding home electrification? Maybe it’s the Senate’s new HEATR Act, which would encourage HVAC manufacturers to convert traditional AC units into heat pumps.
Another coalition, this time for batteries. A collection of battery companies, EV startups and lithium producers have joined forces to push for federal support for the U.S. battery supply chain.— Lisa Martine Jenkins
A MESSAGE FROM STELLAR DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATION
What does the footprint of crypto actually look like? And what needs to be done to secure the industry’s future in a way that aligns with global climate objectives? These are some of the questions that stand between crypto and its vision of a faster, more secure, and inclusive, financial system. Read more to hear what industry players, like the Stellar Network, are doing to realize that vision built on sustainable technology.
Thanks for reading! As ever, you can send any and all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. See you Thursday, when Protocol Climate editor Brian will have a special report from Davos! Spoiler: It’s been rainy, but nearly everyone has said they’d rather carry an umbrella than snow boots and spikes.