Carbon180: Deep Dive

This report was last updated in November 2022. The prior version of this report was published in November 2021.


Executive Summary

Overview

Giving Green’s Research

History of Carbon180

Carbon180 in Historical Perspective

What is carbon capture and carbon removal?

Why do we need negative emissions technologies?

What are some technologies and practices that remove carbon from the atmosphere?

What is standing in the way of scaling up negative emissions?

How does Carbon180 fit into the carbon removal landscape?

Organization and operations

Organizational strengths

Room for more funding

Carbon180’s Tactics

Research and policy advocacy

Ecosystem building

Carbon180’s Activities and Outcomes

Policy advocacy

Ecosystem building

Future work

Carbon180’s Theory of Change – In Depth

Examining the Assumptions behind Carbon180’s Theory of Change

Carbon180’s cost-effectiveness

Overview

Key uncertainties

Conclusion

Appendix

CEA Methods

CEA results

CEA Discussion


Executive Summary


In this document, we provide a descriptive overview of Carbon180’s activities and describe a quantitative cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) model that assesses the organization’s marginal impact. Based on our assessment, we believe that Carbon180’s work on supporting carbon removal technologies and practices will lead to reductions in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We focused our assessment on Carbon180’s federal policy workstream, which included advocating for carbon removal and carbon management solutions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act. Carbon180’s other work, which was not incorporated into our CEA model, includes its campaign for public procurement of carbon removal, efforts to develop robust monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) standards, and environmental justice initiatives.


Image credit: Matjaz Krivic / Climate Visuals Countdown

We estimated that Carbon180’s work on federal policy can remove CO2 from the atmosphere at a cost of $0.66 per metric ton (in expectation), which compares favorably to other high-performing organizations that we have analyzed. Because our CEA model only includes Carbon180’s work on federal legislation and does not include Carbon180’s full portfolio of work, it seems likely that we may even have underestimated Carbon180’s impact and cost-effectiveness.


Notably, a large part of Carbon180’s potential impact relies on how quickly the cost of negative emission technologies drops over time. Although this aspect of Carbon180’s work is inherently uncertain, Carbon180 is directly driving down costs by advocating for increased funding for carbon removal research and development. We are cautiously optimistic that Carbon180 will remain cost-effective in the future because it has proven itself to be nimble and has also maintained a portfolio of solutions instead of honing in on any one type of carbon removal technology or practice. It therefore seems likely to us that Carbon180 would be able to pivot if one of its projects turned out to be less impactful than expected.


We have decided to not include Carbon180 as a 2022 top recommendation due to its relatively limited room for more funding. Our assessment is that Carbon180 has enjoyed substantial fundraising success, and that this means an additional dollar donated to Carbon180 might not be as impactful as a donation to our top recommendations. Our impression is that carbon removal, in general, has also gained substantial philanthropic attention over the past year, and we believe it will continue to be a major focus of climate donors. In particular, we think the recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) have increased the visibility of and financial support for carbon removal projects, and may pave the way for additional philanthropic support for carbon removal advocacy. We are uncertain about this, as well as whether Carbon180 may have longer-term room for more funding. It is also possible that recent carbon removal policy support may increase the marginal cost-effectiveness of future philanthropic dollars. We plan to continue to monitor this, and are looking forward to following Carbon180’s progress.


Overview


Carbon180 is an insider policy advocacy organization that focuses on accelerating the development of carbon removal solutions. Its four initiatives include (1) building and enacting federal policy to scale up carbon removal solutions, (2) centering environmental justice in the carbon removal dialogue, (3) engaging in the development regulatory mechanisms for carbon removal, and (4) stimulating innovation. In terms of federal policy, Carbon180 both develops and lobbies for policies that support carbon removal technologies and practices. For example, it has developed policy playbooks for both the Biden administration and Congress. In 2021 and 2022, its federal policy work included advocating for carbon removal research, development, and deployment (RD&D) and increasing the 45Q tax credit for direct air capture (DAC) and carbontech. [1] Outside of the US, Carbon180 has worked on expanding carbon removal internationally such as through its partnership with Carbon Gap.


Giving Green’s Research


We researched Carbon180 by reviewing publicly available information about the organization, speaking with its representatives, speaking with multiple experts on carbon removal and climate policy, and conducting a CEA based on data that we found. Publicly available information on Carbon180 included its website and various policy reports as well as media coverage of the organization. Founders Pledge, an organization that recommends impactful donation opportunities to entrepreneurs, also has a 2020 report on Carbon180’s work that covers its benefits and general cost-effectiveness.


History of Carbon180


Carbon180 was founded in 2015 as the Center for Carbon Removal by Giana Amador and Noah Deich. It was incubated at the University of California, Berkeley, where both Amador and Deich were students at the time. The organization’s initial goals included conducting research and analysis on opportunities and challenges related to carbon removal systems; hosting events on carbon removal research needs; and curating an online hub of information on carbon removal. Carbon180’s policy emphasis grew over time as it became clearer to the organization that federal policy is highly important for catalyzing innovation and unlocking capital for carbon removal. In 2020, Carbon180 moved its operations to Washington, DC in order to enhance its impact via policy.


Carbon180 in Historical Perspective


What is carbon capture and carbon removal?


Carbon capture and carbon removal refer to a broad set of technologies that concentrate CO2 at higher-than-atmospheric levels, usually to remove or prevent emissions into the atmosphere.

Carbon capture usually refers to the capture of CO2 molecules directly from a point source of carbon emissions. Often, it takes the form of “scrubbers” that sit at the top of coal-burning power plants and absorb the carbon dioxide directly from the exhaust. When the CO2 is converted into other useful products, this is referred to as carbon capture and utilization (CCU); when it is sequestered, it is referred to as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). Carbon capture, utilization and sequestration (CCUS) is an umbrella term sometimes used to refer to both processes.


Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) removes carbon directly from the atmosphere where it is far more dilute. This can happen through biological ecosystem processes or through negative emissions technologies. While a CCUS project reduces emissions after its installation and at the specific facility at which it is installed, at best resulting in a net zero facility, CDR projects do not need to be tied to an emitting facility and, if scaled widely, can result in net negative emissions. Carbon180 focuses solely on carbon removal pathways and does not include CCUS in its portfolio. [2]


Why do we need negative emissions technologies?


According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we need both emissions reductions and carbon removal in order to keep global warming below the Paris Agreement’s climate target of less than a 2ºC rise in average global temperature. In fact, the IPCC’s 2021 Sixth Assessment Report estimates that we will need to remove somewhere between 100 billion to a trillion tons of carbon by 2100 to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Delays in driving down emissions will increase the risk of warming exceeding 1.5ºC and also increase our need for negative emissions.


What are some technologies and practices that remove carbon from the atmosphere?


Types of carbon removal include but are not limited to following:


  • Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – BECCS refers to the process of burning trees or other biomass to produce energy; the carbon released as CO2 gas during burning is recaptured from the source. BECCS can also be used to produce chemically stable and carbon-rich biochar, which sequesters carbon.

  • Direct air capture DAC uses large fans to direct air over a chemical reactant, which can be a solid sorbent filter or liquid system, to remove CO2 from the air. (For more information, please see our report on DAC.)

  • Accelerated rock weathering or mineralization – Carbon dioxide can be reacted with minerals to form a stable compound.

  • Soil carbon sequestration – Techniques such as regenerative agriculture or managed croplands can enhance soil carbon uptake with co-benefits on crop yield. (For more information, please see our report on enhanced soil carbon management.)

  • Encouraging the growth of carbon-negative organisms – The growth of carbon-negative organisms (e.g. trees, crops, plankton) can be encouraged through wide-ranging techniques such as afforestation or reforestation, genetically modified crops, ocean fertilization, and desert flooding. (For more information, please see our report on forestry.)


What is standing in the way of scaling up negative emissions?


Numerous engineering, economic, and political challenges stand in the way of scaling up negative emissions.


Engineering challenges


Carbon dioxide is much more dilute in the atmosphere than it is in a smokestack, making it difficult and often expensive to capture. For instance, forestry requires large amounts of land while DAC requires large amounts of energy. Additionally, some technologies for removing CO2 from the atmosphere are still under development and remain unproven.


Economic challenges


At present, not much carbon removal supply is available, [3] and that which is available is too expensive to create broad demand. [4] In terms of supply, we have only reached about 0.006% of a projected 10 gigaton by 2050 deployment goal, and only ~7.5% of the carbon removal purchases ever made have been delivered. [5] Much of the carbon removal sector remains in the R&D phase, [6] and projects that have higher technological maturity are still navigating economic viability and the logistics for deployment at scale. 


Regarding cost, prices vary across the carbon removal portfolio. Highly durable technological carbon removal can cost upwards of $1500 per ton of CO2 removed, [7] a price far too high to be widely accessible. However, these prices are projected to decrease as technology is refined and more projects are deployed. [8]


In short, the current market is young, small, [9] and relatively uncertain – but there is growing investment from both the public and private sector. For example, the Department of Energy has developed a “carbon negative shot” to reduce carbon removal costs to $100/ton, [10] a broadly-recognized target to ensure large-scale deployment. [11] The IIJA included $3.5 billion for four regional DAC hubs, [12] and the private-sector led advance market commitment, Frontier, has committed $925 million to carbon removal by 2030. [13] While this is a positive signal for the sector, investment remains far from the size the carbon removal market may need to reach to become a successful and affordable climate mitigation tool. [14]


Political challenges


Some carbon removal technologies and practices have been divisive among environmentalists because of conflation with CCUS and its history of material and rhetorical use primarily by the fossil fuel industry. Materially, these can offer a way for fossil fuel extractors to cut costs. Captured CO2, for example, can be injected into oil wells to extract more oil through a process known as enhanced oil recovery; as a side benefit, carbon is sequestered in the ground. Carbon removal also serves a rhetorical purpose by suggesting that we do not need to stop emissions now, because we have the technology to “undo the damage.” This has led to environmental justice concerns over carbon removal because fossil-fuel-producing companies disproportionately harm the health of Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color and low-income communities relative to other communities. Given these concerns, which typically come from the left, carbon removal requires a balancing act from its advocates in order to maintain bipartisan support.


How does Carbon180 fit into the carbon removal landscape?


Funding for carbon removal


Carbon180’s priorities have been shaped by carbon removal’s political environment. For example, when Carbon180 was founded in 2015, there had been limited awareness of carbon removal let alone funding for the technology. Carbon180’s early work therefore emphasized the importance of philanthropy in catalyzing carbon removal technologies, which venture capitalists and traditional research and development funders likely saw as too risky and expensive at the time. Now that more government funding is available for carbon removal, thanks in part to Carbon180’s policy advocacy, Carbon180 has more room to push the field forward. For example, the US government’s appropriations for carbon removal increased from $68 million in FY2020 to $447 million in the following year, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included $3.5 billion for four regional DAC hubs. Increased investment in carbon removal opens up future opportunities for Carbon180 to work on deployment and scale-up.


Gathering support for carbon removal from the left


Carbon180 plays a crucial role in advocating for carbon removal from a center-left perspective. By shoring up support for carbon removal from those on the left, Carbon180 helps to increase support for carbon removal overall and lowers the risk of polarizing support for carbon removal policies.


Carbon180 has addressed some concerns from the left by publishing its Removing Forward report, which centers environmental justice in carbon removal. The report defines types of justice relevant to carbon removal; provides case studies of previous environmental failings in carbon management; and presents principles for integrating environmental justice into carbon removal policy development, advocacy, and implementation. The report also contains federal policy recommendations for carbon removal that would enhance labor and economic opportunities and promote transparency and inclusion. Carbon180 has also helped inform the environmental justice requirements of XPRIZE Carbon Removal, a competition for carbon removal innovation and scale-up. Finally, Carbon180 is also launching a multi-year regranting effort that would help environmental justice organizations build sustained capacity for work on CDR.


Organization and operations


Staff and leadership


Carbon180 has grown from 6 employees in 2020 to 25 employees in 2022. [15] Carbon180’s organization can be roughly divided into its policy team, which focuses on policy research, design, and coalition building; its support team, which includes people working on government affairs; its communications team; and its science and innovation team, which works with researchers and businesses to inform policy.


Carbon180’s leadership team maintains close ties to policy insiders, which helps improve the organization’s chances of success. Importantly, in July 2022 its president Noah Deich was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Carbon Management in the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM). [16] Additionally, Carbon180’s former Deputy Director of Policy and current Visiting Scholar at Carbon180, Dr. Shuchi Talati, served as the Chief of Staff of DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management from January 2021 to April 2022. [17]


Advisory board members


Carbon180’s board of directors has five members including two Carbon180 employees, founders of investment firms, and a policy expert. Carbon180’s science advisory board has 11 members, including various academics and scientists with expertise in clean energy policy and technology. It also has 2 members on its Environmental Justice Advisory Council. [18]


Organizational strengths


In general, Carbon180 is willing to use an approach that is both strategic and adaptable. Notably, Carbon180’s move to Washington, DC to better support its work on policy suggests that it is willing to make substantial changes to its organization to have a larger impact. In particular, we spoke to an expert who said that, as a young organization, Carbon180 had relatively little experience in carbon removal when it first began; it has since compensated for this as it matured, and has been skilled in bringing in experts and working in coalitions to fill gaps in its knowledge.


Room for more funding


Carbon180 has been successful in raising funds and garnering publicity. Carbon180 received $400,000 from Founders Pledge in December 2020, [19] which directly increased its budget and may have also served as a positive signaling effect for other potential donors. In addition, several celebrities named Carbon180 as the beneficiary of their sales of nonfungible tokens, or NFTs. The musical artist Grimes, for example, raised about $6 million in NFT sales in February 2021 with an undisclosed percentage going towards Carbon180. We think that the recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act increased the visibility of and financial support for carbon removal projects, in general, and may pave the way for additional philanthropic support for carbon removal advocacy. However, we’re uncertain about this (see Key uncertainties).


Carbon180 spent roughly $3 million between January and August 2021, which is an increase from its 2020 budget of $2.7 million. Carbon180’s 2023 budget is $8 million with an additional $2 million for environmental justice regranting initiatives. [20] Although the organization is already fully funded through 2023, [21] there could be longer-term room for more funding. See Key uncertainties.


Carbon180’s Tactics


Carbon180’s tactics can be roughly categorized into research, policy advocacy, and ecosystem building.


Research and policy advocacy


Carbon180 conducts research on carbon removal technologies and practices to inform its policy advocacy. For example, Carbon180 developed a white paper on low-carbon concrete, which also included recommendations for a federal procurement strategy. It has also developed a list of priorities for administrative action and developed a Congressional blueprint for scaling carbon removal. It has also released white papers on implementation of the regional DAC hubs, as well as areas where federal investment is needed for soil carbon research. Carbon180 engages in policy advocacy to support bills with carbon removal provisions. Specifically, it has brought on The Coefficient Group to lobby in favor of carbon removal. Carbon180’s policy development and advocacy applies pressure on elected officials to pass bills that support carbon removal technologies and practices.


Ecosystem building


Carbon180 supports ecosystem building for carbon removal on numerous fronts. For example, it coordinates other organizations focused on carbon removal, supports RD&D through its Science and Innovation Team, and works with farmers to improve soil sequestration.


Collaboration with other organizations


New Carbon Economy Consortium

Carbon180 played a lead role in developing the New Carbon Economy (NCE) Consortium, which brings together fourteen different universities, national labs, and non-governmental organizations working on carbon removal. Founding contributors to the Consortium include Arizona State University, University of British Columbia, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Over the coming years, NCE plans to develop foundational knowledge for carbon removal by catalyzing innovation, mobilizing funding for research collaborations, building research infrastructure, and supporting carbon removal innovators and practitioners.


Carbon Gap

Carbon180 played a key role in establishing Carbon Gap alongside people at Climate Pathfinders, Net Zero Climate, and the University of Oxford. This effort aims to make Europe a global leader in CDR by improving its research funding, deployment incentives, and public acceptance. According to a carbon removal expert we spoke to, Carbon180 has played a critical role in building philanthropic support for carbon removal in Europe and has excelled at pulling people together to work on this project. The expert also said that this project leveraged Carbon180’s infrastructure and is unlikely to exist without Carbon180. Because Carbon Gap is a new organization, we do not have enough information on its accomplishments thus far. We look forward to learning more about Carbon Gap in the future.


Science and Innovation Team


Carbon180’s Science and Innovation team focuses on interacting with both academic researchers and large corporations to reach its carbon removal goals. An early version of Carbon180’s work was its EIR Fellowship program, which was launched in late 2019 to create a startup ecosystem for carbon removal. It provided each of its seven fellows with a $100,000 grant to help them launch carbon removal businesses that could scale to a highly ambitious goal of a billion tons of CO2 removed per year by 2030. Carbon180 also provided the fellows with training on carbon removal technologies, connected them with leaders in the field, and helped them navigate the carbon removal space.


Carbon180’s work on the EIR Fellowship program has been foundational for its co-development of the Activate Fellowship program alongside Activate and Stripe Climate; this new fellowship program is intended to support “scientists and engineers in [taking] their innovations from lab to market.” This program has led to $500,000 in procurement contracts through its partnership with Stripe Climate and currently includes eight Activate Fellows who are focused on developing and deploying new CDR technology. Carbon180 hopes to replicate its technology incubation model with other organizations that have a focus on innovation. For example, it has helped inform the development of XPRIZE Carbon Removal. Carbon180’s Science and Innovation team has grown and now consists of 4 employees. [22]


Soil sequestration program


Carbon180 has worked with partners in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, and New Mexico to accelerate the adoption of practices that would increase the amount of carbon stored in soils (soil carbon). Its on-the-ground work includes organizing and hosting soil health workshops. Carbon180 has also connected local researchers with farmers who are interested in measuring their soil health. Carbon180 has used its collaborative work with farmers and scientists to develop a report on recommended federal policies. This report includes recommendations in education, science, and incentives such as funding demonstration projects, developing a cost-effective soil carbon assessment methodology, and subsidizing infrastructure to scale soil carbon storage. In addition, Carbon180 released its Soil Carbon Moonshot detailing key areas of federal investment needed for soil carbon research.


Carbon180’s Activities and Outcomes


Policy advocacy


Energy Act


Carbon180 successfully advocated for carbon removal in the Energy Act of 2020, which was passed as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. Alongside this, Carbon180 helped secure funding appropriations for carbon removal in line with the National Academies of Sciences’ recommendations (about $100 million per year); Carbon180 submitted about 500 appropriations recommendations to ensure that this funding would be approved.


Carbon removal provisions in the Energy Act of 2020 included policies that support carbon removal RD&D, including authorization of a comprehensive carbon removal RD&D program, the creation of a carbon removal task force, and an RD&D program for carbon storage, validation, and testing. [23]


Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)


For the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the major federal infrastructure spending bill of 2021, Carbon180 advocated for numerous policy proposals that would support carbon removal technologies and practices. Ultimately, the bill was passed in November 2021 with billions of dollars in funding allocated for carbon removal RD&D, CO2 infrastructure, and forestry. Its technology-based carbon removal and carbon management provisions include $3.5 billion in funding for regional DAC hubs, [24] representing the single largest federal investment in DAC; US Environmental Protection Agency saline storage permitting; carbon capture demonstration plants; CO2 transport and storage infrastructure; and a DAC prize program that would support commercial and pre-commercial applications. Its land-based provisions include the REPLANT Act, which would assist the US Forest Service in planting 1.2 billion trees over the next decade; $200 million for improving tree nursery capacity; $200 million for tribal reforestation demonstrations; a Healthy Streets program that involves urban tree planting; and other forest management provisions.[28]


Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA)


Carbon180 advocated for several carbon removal provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), [25] including:


  • Modifications of the 45Q tax credit for direct air capture (DAC) including lower eligibility thresholds for qualifying facilities, increased credit values, direct pay, and a longer runway for project construction;

  • Increased funding for USDA programs including technical assistance for farmers to measure carbon sequestration in soils;

  • Increased funding for forest and land management to support natural carbon sinks.


Ecosystem building


At the end of the EIR Fellowship in 2020, fellows raised more than $5 million from top climate investors for their carbon removal projects. The Founder and Executive Director of CarbonPlan [26] and the CEO of Heirloom [27] were both participants in the EIR Fellowship.


Future work


While both public and private investment in carbon removal is growing, we still think that more is needed to achieve and sustain gigaton-scale deployment by midcentury. [28] To address these concerns, catalyze carbon removal scale-up, and set a model for the corporate world, Carbon180 plans on working with other organizations to drive federal procurement of carbon removal technologies and products. Carbon180’s goals for federal procurement include getting the US government to procure 1 gigaton of carbon removal by 2050 and getting CDR to reach an average cost of $100 per ton. It plans on driving federal procurement by advising the Biden Administration on policy implementation, educating policymakers on the role of procurement in scaling CDR, convening stakeholders, and advocating for legislation that would support procurement. Carbon180 also plans on addressing non-economic barriers to scaling up carbon removal such as permitting, access to CO2 storage networks, monitoring, verification, and reporting (MRV), [29] and financing the carbon removal network.


Carbon180’s Theory of Change – In Depth


We illustrate our take on Carbon180’s theory of change in the figure below (Figure 1).


A flowchart with 4 categories, indicated by color: yellow boxes are inputs, gray boxes are groups, blue boxes are outputs, and green boxes are outcomes. At the top of the flowchart, there are two inputs, Research and Ecosystem building. Arrows connect Research to two inputs in the 2nd row, Develop impact-oriented policy recommendations and Develop reports on the state and prospects for carbon removal; both of these have arrows that feed into a yellow box, Policy advocacy. Arrows connect Ecosystem building to the "reports" box as well as two other boxes, Accelerate carbon removal startups and Partner with farmers to improve soil carbon removal. The Policy advocacy input is connected to three gray (groups) boxes: Congress, Executive Branch, and Regulatory agencies; these each connect to outputs: Bills are passed, Executive orders are issued, and Regulations are implemented, respectively. The "Accelerate carbon removal startups" input box connects to an output box, Carbon removal technologies go to market sooner. All four of these output boxes connect to an output box in the below row, Price of carbon removal technologies decreases. Bills and Executive orders connect to an output box next to it, Demand for carbon removal increases, which itself leads to price decreases. Both of these outputs lead to another output, Use of carbon removal technologies increases. This final output box, and the input "Partner with farmers", both have arrows connecting them to a single green outcome box, CO2 is removed from the atmosphere.
Figure 1: Theory of change of Carbon180’s work. Yellow, gray, blue, and green boxes represent inputs, groups, outputs, and outcomes, respectively.


Examining the Assumptions behind Carbon180’s Theory of Change


Below, we discuss and evaluate each of the assumptions related to Carbon180’s theory of change. For each of the assumptions identified, we rank whether the assumption most likely holds, may hold, or is unlikely to hold. Importantly, a number of the stages of Carbon180’s theory of change are not amenable to easy measurement or quantification or are expected to occur in the future but have not occurred as of yet. For each assumption, we assess whether the best available evidence, primary or secondary, suggests whether the assumption will plausibly hold or not.


1. Policies that Carbon180 introduces enter the public discourse and are debated as parts of potential bills, regulations, and executive actions (most likely holds).


Numerous policies that Carbon180 has advocated for have entered recent bills, including the Energy Act, which was passed via the Consolidated Appropriations Act; the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act; and the Inflation Reduction Act. Additionally, Carbon 180 submits appropriations each cycle for carbon removal; this year it submitted over 500 and participated in several coalition sign-on letters. [30] Carbon180 has also engaged with federal agencies regarding the regulations of carbon removal and the implementation of programs and projects within enacted legislation. For example, it published a white paper with recommendations for the department of energy (DOE) [31] regarding DAC hub implementation.


2. The policies that Carbon180 has developed and advocates for will pass in the House and Senate (most likely holds).


The Consolidated Appropriations Act was passed during the Trump administration with numerous carbon removal proposals intact and with major bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was passed in November 2021 with bipartisan support; it included billions of dollars in carbon removal funding. The Inflation Reduction Act included several carbon removal provisions and passed in August 2022. [32]


3. Carbon180 is still able to enact policy change when the political environment is less amenable to climate action (most likely holds).


We believe that because carbon removal has bipartisan support, bills that contain carbon removal provisions are likely to be passed even when Democrats do not hold a government trifecta. Indeed, the Consolidated Appropriations Act was passed with carbon removal provisions while President Donald Trump of the Republican Party was still in office. However, there is some risk that carbon removal may lose support from the left given concerns that progressive have expressed over carbon removal’s connections to the fossil fuel industry and its potential issues related to environmental justice. Carbon180 plays a critical role in maintaining trust with those on the left, which includes centering environmental justice in its work, acting on input from critics, and communicating carbon removal’s benefits.


It is our impression that Carbon180 has strong ties to the Department of Energy (DOE) and is engaged in work related to regulatory issues [33] as well as implementation of enacted legislation. [34]


4. Carbon removal technologies will become cost-competitive within a meaningfully short period of time (may hold).


It is not yet clear how quickly permanent carbon removal technologies and practices will become cost-competitive, which will influence the degree to which they can scale. Their cost will rely in part on early R&D investments and heavily depend on the technologies’ energy and equipment requirements.


Carbon180’s cost-effectiveness


Overview


In 2021, we developed a simple cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) model that estimated Carbon180’s cost-effectiveness in terms of dollars per metric ton of CO2-equivalent removed. This CEA includes highly subjective guess parameters and should not be taken literally. In particular, we are unable to estimate the long term effects of policies for which Carbon180 has advocated. Overall, we have low confidence in the ability of our CEA to estimate Carbon180’s general cost-effectiveness, but our guess is that Carbon180 could plausibly be within the range of cost-effectiveness we would consider for a top recommendation. [35]


Our model centered on various carbon removal provisions that Carbon180 has advocated for in the Energy Act, which were passed via the Consolidated Appropriations Act; the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act; and the Build Back Better Act. To calculate Carbon180’s expected value, we estimated the amount of CO2 each provision would remove from the atmosphere if passed and the change in likelihood of a bill passing due to Carbon180. We used this expected value along with Carbon180’s 2019 to 2021 policy budget to estimate cost-effectiveness. Since The Inflation Reduction Act included similar carbon removal provisions as those proposed in the Build Back Better Act, we still think this model roughly holds. However, because we have not included  the longer-term effects of policies that will take a long time to bear fruit, such as R&D, we may have underestimated Carbon180’s cost-effectiveness. 


We developed three scenarios (i.e. Pessimistic, Realistic, Optimistic) that varied in terms of the number of years that we estimated Carbon180 would advance policy and by how much Carbon180 would change the likelihood of a bill passing. Under our Realistic scenario, in which Carbon180 advances policy by four years and changes the probability of a bill passing by 3%, Carbon180 is predicted (in expectation) to remove emissions at a cost of about $0.66 per metric ton of CO2 under our Realistic scenario. In other words, our Realistic scenario predicts that Carbon180 can remove CO2 by 1.5 metric tons per dollar. These results should be viewed as rough, indicative estimates given the uncertainty in our different model inputs. Overall, however, our results suggest that Carbon180 could be highly cost-effective in removing GHG emissions. For more information on our CEA, please see the Appendix.



Key uncertainties


We are especially uncertain about future room for more funding for carbon removal policy advocacy work due to the IRA/IIJA, longer-term room for more funding for Carbon180, and the marginal cost-effectiveness of carbon removal policy work due to the IRA/IIJA.


  1. Future room for more funding for carbon removal policy advocacy work due to the IRA/IIJA: It is our impression that the passage of the IRA and IIJA provided a more general signal to climate philanthropists of the need for and opportunity of carbon removal efforts. We think it’s possible that this will result in sustained and substantial philanthropic funding for carbon removal policy advocacy work, such that marginal donations directed by Giving Green might be less impactful. However, we are uncertain about this and expect to update our assessment in the years to come.


  1. Longer-term room for more funding for Carbon180: Given our broader impression that philanthropic funding for carbon removal has increased, as well as Carbon180’s 2023 fundraising success, we’re uncertain whether Carbon180 will have future room for more funding. While we think Carbon180 may continue to achieve substantial fundraising success, we think it’s possible that Carbon180 will have future room for more funding if (a) it grows substantially and/or (b) it has relatively less fundraising success in the future.


  1. Marginal cost-effectiveness of carbon removal policy work due to the IRA/IIJA: The recent passage of the IRA and IIJA signaled a substantial increase in government support and financing for carbon removal efforts. On one hand, this could mean that the marginal cost-effectiveness of carbon removal policy work has decreased, since these policy achievements may (a) result in a positive self-reinforcing cycle of additional policy support absent additional policy advocacy and/or (b) reduce the likelihood of additional impactful policy achievements occuring in the near future. On the other hand, it could be the case that the passage of the IRA and IIJA creates even more opportunity to leverage government support and finances, and that carbon removal policy advocacy is more cost-effective now than previously. It is our impression that Carbon180 is focused on finding these high-leverage opportunities (e.g., supporting federal procurement), and that the IRA/IIJA did not comprehensively address high-potential policy improvement opportunities (e.g., monitoring, reporting, and verification standardization). However, we remain uncertain about how the marginal cost-effectiveness of carbon removal policy work, in general, might have changed due to the IRA and IIJA.


Conclusion


We believe that Carbon180 has been highly effective at influencing carbon removal legislation and regulation, and based on our 2021 CEA, we think that it is plausibly within the range of cost-effectiveness we would consider for a top recommendation. Moving forward, we think that Carbon180 is well-positioned to make progress on initiatives such as public procurement of carbon removal and the development of standards for monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV). 


We have decided to not include Carbon180 as a 2022 top recommendation due to its relatively limited room for more funding. Our assessment is that Carbon180 has enjoyed substantial fundraising success, and that this means an additional dollar donated to Carbon180 might not be as impactful as a donation to our top recommendations. Our impression is that carbon removal, in general, has also gained substantial philanthropic attention over the past year, and we believe it will continue to be a major focus of climate donors. In particular, we think the recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act increased the visibility of and financial support for carbon removal projects, and may pave the way for additional philanthropic support for carbon removal advocacy. We are uncertain about this, as well as whether Carbon180 may have longer-term room for more funding. It’s also possible that recent carbon removal policy support may increase the marginal cost-effectiveness of future philanthropic dollars. We plan to continue to monitor this, and are looking forward to following Carbon180’s progress.



Appendix


CEA Methods


We illustrate our CEA’s steps in the flowchart below (Figure 2).


A flowchart. Two yellow boxes, representing Inputs, are at the top: CO2 reduction due to bills' carbon removal provisions and Change in probability of a bill passing due to Carbon180. These both have arrows that lead to a blue box, indicating an output, Expected value of Carbon180. A third yellow input box, Carbon180's 2019 to 2021 budget, and the output box both have arrows leading to a green outcome box, Cost per change in CO2 ($/metric ton). This leads to a second green outcome box, Change in CO2 per dollar (metric ton/$), which represents the final outcome of the CEA.
Figure 2: Flow chart of the Carbon180 cost-effectiveness model. Yellow, blue, and green rectangles represent inputs, outputs, and outcomes, respectively.

Our model inputs included Carbon180’s 2019 to 2021 budget, reductions in emissions due to carbon removal provisions in various bills, and the change in probability of a bill passing with said carbon removal provisions due to Carbon180. We computed Carbon180’s expected value by multiplying the bills’ CO2 reduction relative to business-as-usual by the change in probability of a bill passing with the provision due to Carbon180. We then used Carbon180’s expected value and its budget to determine its cost per change in metric ton of CO2. We used the reciprocal of this outcome to estimate the change in CO2 per dollar.


We also input our CEA into a Guesstimate model, which allows us to set ranges for each input and uses a Monte Carlo simulation to estimate cost-effectiveness. Each metric included 5,000 samples. This simulation enabled us to account for uncertainty in each parameter by predicting many thousands of potential futures. 



Number of years that Carbon180 moves policy forward


We assume that progressive federal legislation will only be introduced once a decade, which is how frequently Democrats have held a government trifecta over the past 40 years. Because carbon capture and removal has bipartisan support, we assume that bills containing carbon capture and/or removal will be introduced more frequently than progressive bills, e.g. more than once a decade. We therefore assumed that under the Pessimistic, Realistic, and Optimistic scenarios, Carbon180 will move policy forward by 2, 4, and 6 years, respectively.


CO2 reduction due to bills’ carbon removal provisions


Although Carbon180 has a broad portfolio of work that includes its EIR Fellowship and soil sequestration programs, we hone in on federal legislation in our analysis because of its especially high potential for impact in 2021. We estimated CO2 reductions from the following provisions that Carbon180 has advocated for:


  • Two-year extension of 45Q – The US government provides tax credits for carbon capture and sequestration and DAC under Section 45Q, which previously required facilities to begin construction by 2023 to qualify for the tax credit. Under the Energy Act, the deadline to begin construction was extended until the end of 2025. We estimated CO2 reductions due to this extension by multiplying the estimated annual reduction in CO2 due to the Section 45Q tax credit by two.

  • Increased and extended Section 45Q tax credits – The Build Back Better Act includes a proposal to raise the Section 45Q tax credit and extend the date by which carbon removal projects must begin construction. We estimated CO2 reductions due to this increased payout by using a model projection of greenhouse gas reductions developed by Energy Innovation.

  • DAC Hubs – The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included a proposal for four regional DAC hubs. Although each hub is only expected to reach a million metric tons in capacity (four million metric tons total), we assume that this initial investment could open up further investment opportunities and lead to Carbon180’s goal of nine million metric tons by 2030.

  • Carbon capture and removal RD&D – Although the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes funding for carbon capture and removal RD&D, we do not believe that this investment will lead to significant removal of CO2 by the end of the decade. Although future improvements in carbon capture and removal due to RD&D could be an important part of Carbon180’s impact, we leave this out of the model since we do not have a reasonable way to incorporate these highly uncertain impacts into our model.


For more detail on how we calculated CO2 reductions for each of the policy proposals, please refer to our CEA model.


Change in probability of a bill passing due to Carbon180


To determine the change in probability of a bill passing due to Carbon180, we first assumed that Carbon180's influence on each of the bills is likely the same. We further assumed that Carbon180 only has a small effect on whether a bill passes with carbon capture- or removal-related provisions. For the Pessimistic, Realistic, and Optimistic scenarios, we assumed that Carbon180 would change the probability of a bill passing by 1%, 3%, and 5% respectively. Our estimates are informed by conversations that we had with experts in carbon removal who are knowledgeable about Carbon180's work. Our estimates are highly subjective and were the most challenging part of this CEA to estimate.


Carbon180’s 2019 to 2021 budget


We calculated Carbon180's 2019 to 2021 budget based on its annual expenditures. We used Carbon180’s annual reports to calculate our estimates and verified its spending by reviewing the organization’s publicly available 990 tax forms.


CEA results


Under the Realistic scenario, Carbon180 is estimated to remove CO2 from the atmosphere at a cost of $0.66 per metric ton of CO2. In other words, it can remove about 1.5 metric tons of CO2 per dollar. The Pessimistic and Optimistic cases predict a cost of $3.47 and $0.24 per metric ton, respectively (e.g. about 0.29 and 4.1 metric tons of CO2 per dollar).


An example run using the Guesstimate model predicts that the median cost per change in CO2 is about $0.70 per metric ton (about 1.4 metric tons of CO2 per dollar) across the thousands of simulated futures. The 5th and 95th percentiles were estimated as $0.32 and $2.14 per metric ton, respectively (about 0.45 and 3.0 metric tons of CO2 per dollar). The distribution for the cost per change in CO2 is skewed right (Figure 3).


A histogram, with "count" on the y-axis (0 to 250) and "Cost per change in CO2 ($/metric ton) on the x-axis (0.32 to 2.14). The histogram peaks around 0.54 on the x-axis, and drops off on both sides, with a long tail on the right side.
Figure 3: Histogram of cost per change in CO2. Values along the horizontal axis indicate the cost to remove one ton of CO2. The horizontal axis is truncated to values between the 5th and 95th percentiles.

CEA Discussion


Overview


According to our CEA model, Carbon180 is cost-effective at removing CO2 from the atmosphere and has a cost-effectiveness similar to our other top charities. Major sources of uncertainty in our model include the number of years that Carbon180 advances policy and Carbon180’s influence on getting a bill passed with its climate provisions. Notably, our CEA model results are only a snapshot in time and do not guarantee Carbon180’s cost-effectiveness far into the future. It is possible that Carbon180’s influence may change over time (e.g., a shift in political climate and support for carbon removal). Additionally, we do not include the potential impact of innovation spillover where RD&D investments in the US could improve carbon removal technologies elsewhere in the world. 


A large part of Carbon180’s potential effectiveness is its ability to drive down the price of carbon removal in the future, which is an aspect of Carbon180’s work that is not captured in our model. By not including the effects of RD&D in our calculations, we are likely underestimating Carbon180’s impact. There is some risk that unexpected technical or economic barriers will prevent large scale deployment of carbon removal programs in the future. However, because Carbon180 supports a wide portfolio of carbon removal technologies and practices, we are optimistic that it would be able to pivot if it became clear that one or more of its programs does not meet expectations.


Focusing on federal legislation


Our model underestimates Carbon180’s overall cost-effectiveness because we focused only on its federal policy workstream and did not include the rest of its portfolio. For example, we did not include Carbon180’s impact from influencing the Executive Branch nor its EIR and soil sequestration programs; we still included these programs’ cost in our analysis because we could not partition out their individual costs from Carbon180’s total spending.


Endnotes

Note: This is a non-partisan analysis (study or research) and is provided for educational purposes.


[1] The value of the credit should be raised from the current level of $50 per ton in 2026 to $180 per ton upon enactment for saline reservoir storage and the value for carbontech be raised from $35 per ton to $130 per ton.” https://carbon180.medium.com/enhancing-and-expanding-the-45q-tax-credit-for-direct-air-capture-85f0f00c98c


[2] Bills that impact how we’ll scale carbon removal across DAC, agriculture, forestry, blue carbon, oceans, BECCS, mineralization, and other emerging pathways. Note: this doesn’t include bills dedicated to carbon capture and storage (CCS).” https://carbon180.medium.com/how-to-use-the-carbon-removal-policy-tracker-bd64035ae85e


[3] There is an extremely limited supply of reliable, permanent carbon removal available, and what exists is extremely expensive.” Stanford Social Innovation Review. Racing to Net-Zero: A Captivating but Distant Ambition (2022)


[4] CDR technology still requires significant investments in research and development to create a cost-effective and economically viable technology that can be deployed at scale and in time to meet the urgent needs of the climate crisis.” https://www.energy.gov/articles/secretary-granholm-launches-carbon-negative-earthshots-remove-gigatons-carbon-pollution


[5] As of November 15, 2022, see cdr.fyi for live updates.


[6] “The market for durable carbon removal does not exist. Yet. What we have is a heterogenous space consisting of hundreds of companies with ideas on how to remove carbon.“ https://roberthoglund.medium.com/the-carbon-removal-market-doesnt-exist-3e28b9ed14cc


[7] Prices range between $500 and $1.8K per ton of carbon removed…” https://frontierclimate.com/writing/spring-2022-purchases


[8] “Currently, the primary limiting factor to DAC is its high cost, which will decrease as it is deployed.” https://playbooks.breakthroughenergy.org/us-policy-overview/carbon-removal/technological-solutions


[9] The market for durable carbon removal does not exist. Yet. What we have is a heterogenous space consisting of hundreds of companies with ideas on how to remove carbon.https://roberthoglund.medium.com/the-carbon-removal-market-doesnt-exist-3e28b9ed14cc


[10] Carbon Negative Shot is an all-hands-on-deck call for innovation in CDR pathways that will capture CO2 from the atmosphere and store it at gigaton scales for less than $100/net metric ton of CO2-equivalent.” https://www.energy.gov/fecm/carbon-negative-shot


[11] “It’s the point at which carbon removal services become affordable at the scale needed to make it a meaningful tool to reach net zero emissions.” https://www.protocol.com/bulletins/carbon-removal-cost-per-ton#:~:text=The%20Department%20of%20Energy%20even,industry%20to%20reach%20commercial%20viability


[12] Four regional clean direct air capture hubs. https://www.energy.gov/bil/four-regional-clean-direct-air-capture-hubs


[13] Frontier is an advance market commitment to buy an initial $925M of permanent carbon removal between 2022 and 2030.” https://frontierclimate.com/


[14] The carbon-removal industry is tiny, with less than $5 million in revenue last year. That figure will need to reach about $1 trillion by midcentury, scientists say.” https://www.wsj.com/articles/carbon-removal-industry-draws-billions-to-fight-climate-change-11654640329


[15] Our Team. https://carbon180.org/team


[16] “He will fill this role until July, when he will step into the role of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Carbon Management.”  https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDOEOFE/bulletins/3149652


[17] Shuchi Talati, Chief of Staff, FECM. https://www.energy.gov/person/shuchi-talati


[18] Environmental Justice Advisory Council. https://carbon180.org/team


[19] Fund Recipients. https://founderspledge.com/funds/climate-change-fund


[20] Call notes with Carbon180. 2022-08-22


[21] Call notes with Carbon180. 2022-08-22


[22] Our Team. https://carbon180.org/team


[23] Energy Act of 2020 section by section. https://www.energy.senate.gov/services/files/32B4E9F4-F13A-44F6-A0CA-E10B3392D47A


[24] Four regional clean direct air capture hubs. https://www.energy.gov/bil/four-regional-clean-direct-air-capture-hubs


[25] “Passing the IRA effectively transforms the 45Q tax credit, and, in turn, puts carbon removal startups and tech developers in a position to catalyze widespread deployment of DAC while also creating high-quality jobs…The IRA also included big plus ups for agriculture and forestry, two carbon removal solutions that so far have gone underinvested and underappreciated. The IRA buoys long-standing, popular programs that support land managers in adopting new practices and retools them towards “climate-smart” practices.” https://carbon180.medium.com/the-ira-funding-thats-boosting-carbon-removal-1c93ba5008dc


[26] “Our team analyzes the design and implementation of climate programs across the public and private sectors. Our work focuses primarily on carbon offsets, carbon removal, and climate risks.” https://carbonplan.org/about


[27] “Our technology enhances this natural process, called carbon mineralization, to help minerals absorb CO2 from the ambient air in days, rather than years. By combining the best of engineering and nature, we can offer the most cost-effective and scalable Direct Air Capture solution in the world.” https://www.heirloomcarbon.com/


[28] “Cumulative global DAC demand is estimated to be ~3 Gt, reflecting a cumulative global market value of $3 – 4T…The U.S. market for DAC projects is expected to be substantial, with ~1.9 Gt/yr capacity reached by 2050 and a domestic market through 2050 of ~$1T, calculated as value of sales of carbon credits and CO2 for utilization.” https://thirdway.imgix.net/pdfs/override/Potential-for-US-Competitiveness-in-Emerging-Clean-Technologies.pdf


[29] To build trust in the carbon removal sector, we believe that robust monitoring, reporting, and verification, or MRV, is a fundamental prerequisite.” https://carbon180.medium.com/a-buyers-guide-to-high-accountability-mrv-2435fd8e5681


[30] Carbon180 call notes. 2022-08-22


[31] Setting DAC on Track: Strategies for Hub Implementation. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b9362d89d5abb8c51d474f8/t/6261d1890b76863f1047a2dd/1650577901659/Carbon180-SettingDAConTrack.pdf


[32] The IRA funding that’s boosting carbon removal. https://carbon180.medium.com/the-ira-funding-thats-boosting-carbon-removal-1c93ba5008dc


[33] To build trust in the carbon removal sector, we believe that robust monitoring, reporting, and verification, or MRV, is a fundamental prerequisite.” https://carbon180.medium.com/a-buyers-guide-to-high-accountability-mrv-2435fd8e5681


[34] Setting DAC on Track: Strategies for Hub Implementation. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b9362d89d5abb8c51d474f8/t/6261d1890b76863f1047a2dd/1650577901659/Carbon180-SettingDAConTrack.pdf


[35] As a heuristic, we consider something to plausibly be within the range of cost-effectiveness we would consider for a top recommendation if its estimated cost-effectiveness is within an order of magnitude of $1/tCO2e (i.e., less than $10/tCO2e).