Reinhardt says Charm will only use half the agricultural material in any given field, and he notes that putting the resulting biochar and ash in the fields improves soil health. He adds that competing uses of leftover corn depend on the region, but much of it goes unsold or is plowed under, allowing it to rot and release carbon dioxide.
However, he emphasizes that Charm will take due account of alternative uses, land use change and these other factors.
The company’s carbon calculation estimates that when the company uses its own pyrolysers, the process generally removes the equivalent of 0.85 tonnes of carbon dioxide for every tonne of biomass. Reinhardt says Charm will improve on those numbers over time by switching to carbon-neutral syngas instead of diesel to initiate the pyrolysis process, optimizing its pyrolysers to convert plant matter into bio-oil, and eventually switching to electric trucks.
The Role of Government
Robert Höglund of Marginal Carbon AB, a consultancy specializing in carbon removals and climate policy, says Charm’s customers are now paying a whopping $600 a ton to “kick-start” the approach, betting the company will be able to will reduce costs. But he says it’s not clear whether Charm’s method will prove over time to be one of the most effective, scalable, affordable, or best uses of that biomass as the need for more and more renewable energy sources grows.
It’s also unlikely that companies will continue to buy up enough carbon removal to reach the billions of tonnes per year that may eventually be needed both to stabilize the planet’s temperatures and to support the companies that are emerging to do so removing greenhouse gases from the air.
In fact, investors and startups are betting that governments will legislate to subsidize, encourage, or mandate these practices. Reinhardt, for example, recognizes that government policies will be critical to building markets for carbon removal that will allow his company and others to thrive.
He says Charm is working to educate lawmakers in California and Washington, DC, calling for more support for the emerging sector and technology-neutral rules while researchers and companies explore a variety of avenues.
“Enterprise buyers like Microsoft, Stripe and Shopify will only reach limited scale, and then regulation has to step in,” Reinhardt said in an email, adding, “So much innovation has happened in this space and we just need it to change.” to unlock it.”