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Carbon removal: a $1trn global market?

By 2050 global carbon removal could approach 20bn tCO2e with biochar accounting for around 15% of volumes, says Standard Gas. 

“Without carbon removal via both nature- and technology-based routes, the world won’t achieve Net Zero by 2050 by emission cuts alone,” says Standard Gas’ co-carbon lead, Brian Reynolds.  

Speaking at an online event hosted by Jefferies, the global financial services group, Brian said: “Hitting Net Zero means balancing the CO2e we emit with the CO2e we can remove.” The world currently generates around 40bn tCO2e a year, and the so-called ‘S2 Pathway’ to Net Zero set out by the International Panel on Climate Change targets cutting emissions in half and removing 20bn tCO2e a year by 2050. 

Brian accepts cutting emissions by 50% is challenging. But he’s hopeful carbon removal “will be able to neutralise the sectors that are very hard to abate, such as cement, steel, shipping, aviation, etc. But if the removal sector grows rapidly and to the scale predicted, it can also deal with any undershoot of the S2 pathway.” 

Opening The End of Waste: A conversation with Standard Gas, moderator Giacomo Romeo, Jefferies’ oil and gas analyst, said: “The aim is to talk about the market potential for carbon removal and renewable energy from waste. Standard Gas has developed an efficient thermal cracking technology to transform a wide range of biogenic and non-recyclable waste products into usable energy and carbon char.” 

Introducing Brian and his Standard Gas colleagues, co-carbon lead, Richard Jackson, and international business development lead, Julian Leadbeater, Giacomo outlined the key themes to be addressed: the size and growth potential of the carbon removal market, the role and importance of energy-from-waste conversion technologies in a low carbon world, and corporate opportunities for offtake agreements for green electricity, renewable transport fuels and carbon-removing industrial uses for biochar. 

Tackling the first theme, Brian said: “Based on an average removal price of $50/tonne, removing 20bn tCO2e suggests a market valued somewhere between $500bn to $1tn per annum by 2050,” noting Verra/McKinsey estimates suggest plant-derived biochar alone (excluding char from mixed waste streams) could account for over 1bn tCO2e of removal. 

“There’s no doubting the need for carbon removal, and there’s a wide range of pricing on those tonnes we need to remove,” Brian said. Today, costs for technological and hybrid removal ranges from $100-$800/tCO2e. But estimates suggest these could fall to between $60-$340/tCO2e by 2030, and to $50-$200/tCO2e by 2050. 

Within the field of technology- and nature-based removal solutions – which also includes direct air capture (DAC) and geological storage, forestry, carbon farming and mineralization – biochar, the sector in which Standard Gas works, has the most carbon-removing potential due to its durability, permanence, and technology readiness, Brian said. Noting average costs of biochar removal are high – for example, direct air capture currently costs over $500/tCO2e – he said Standard Gas’ technology can remove carbon at a very low cost because it gets paid to process waste.  

Richard Jackson highlighted the problems the world faces between now and 2050 with waste volumes set to rise from 2.2bn t/y to 3.4bn t/y, driving up greenhouse gas emissions from 1.6bn tCO2e to 2.38bn tCO2e. Most of the roughly half methane, half carbon dioxide emissions arise from open dumping, landfilling and incineration, which together account for over 80% of global waste treatment and disposal. 

Standard Gas’ technology recovers valuable energy from waste, helps solve the problem of waste emissions, and makes an important contribution to removal of carbon that has already been and may in future be emitted to the atmosphere. “Our technology reverses the emissions process,” said Richard. 

The company’s unique patented pyrolysis and gas cracking technology can process a wide range of feedstocks, from 100% biogenic wastes, through municipal and commercial solid wastes, to plastics and many hazardous wastes. Richard explained that processing 100% biogenic waste generates carbon-negative biogas for energy uses, and carbon-removing biochar, which can be permanently sequestered in the ground or in industrial products. Furthermore, processing mixed waste containing both biogenic and fossil-derived waste materials will generate carbon-neutral energy and carbon-neutral char. 

Looking at market economics, Richard predicts the current situation – where biogenic waste attracts very low gate fees for processing, while fossil-based waste fees are high – will reverse over time. For Standard Gas, which charges a gate fee for incoming waste but also receives income from the energy products, char, and carbon offset and removal credits it can sell, the outlook remains positive in both scenarios.

Julian Leadbeater provided participants with a quick review of Standard Gas’ SG100 plant, its processing versatility, environmental performance advantages over other technologies, and the multiple uses for its outputs. He also highlighted the range of corporates engaging with the company as they seek Net Zero options. 

With a waste throughput of 48,000 tonnes a year, the plant can generate around 40,000 megawatt hours of power and remove between 6,000 tonnes and 16,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent, dependent on feedstock, Julian said. Biogas can be used to generate green electricity and green hydrogen; syngas for producing carbon-neutral electricity, renewable transport fuels, gas grid injection, and chemical feedstock; char can be used in construction and agriculture. 

Big energy users such as the server-dependent IT sector are interested in green power and carbon removal, while the construction sector can use and sequester biochar and char in concrete, asphalt, and aggregates. 

The transcript and the slide presentation from The End of Waste:  A conversation with Standard Gas on renewable energy from waste and permanent carbon sequestration are available by contacting Julian Leadbeater (jl@standardgas.com) or Peter Coombes (pc@standardgas.com).