Project Updates

As my time at the Center for Carbon Removal comes to a close, I find myself more reflective than usual. Maybe it’s the talks about what I want to do in a year that’s scaring me—I don’t think the fact that I’m a senior has quite dawned on me yet. Despite my job market fears, this summer at CCR has been exhilarating. I jumped into the world of carbon removal and found a passionate and extremely intelligent community around it. CCR’s involvement in every facet of the conversation surrounding carbon removal amazes me every day. I’ll dedicate this post to the projects that I’ve worked on during my time here since the past three blogs had been more rambling thoughts than organized updates.

I started this summer working on a couple of projects: to (roughly) estimate soil carbon potentials in California and to clean and visualize the commercial landscape data for carbon utilization companies. To estimate soil carbon potentials in California, my supervisor Rory and I consulted the Land Carbon Project from USGS for carbon fluxes in different ecoregions in the Western states. This was my first day of the internship, and I quite literally jumped into the deep end of things. Although I tried my best to help, it was likely my efforts were not very productive. To that end, I did learn a lot about soil carbon and the land sector for carbon dioxide removal. The carbon-tech commercial landscape was a product of Berkeley Consulting, who toiled away at browsing databases and recording information on market sizes, company information, etc. My supervisor and I jumped in and cleaned the database a little, and visualized the locations of these startups and companies using Tableau. To supplement that, we also worked on the market sizing done by Berkeley Consulting too. We checked and tweaked some assumptions made and recalculated values for the market sizing of carbon tech. To our (my) surprise, carbon tech has a $1 trillion market potential—who says fighting climate change can’t be profitable?

As those projects settled down, I got to observe the process of the grant proposal and the philanthropic funding space. In preparation for the grant, I conducted a literature review on the cost estimates of direct air capture. This project was coincided (and perhaps inspired) by the recent paper in Joule by David Keith and co-authors documenting their recent success of a pilot direct air capture demonstration. The learning curve was extremely steep, I think Keith et al. took me 2-3 full days to decompress and understand. Even now, I’m not sure I can fully comprehend the technical details. However, the subsequent papers read smoother as I was acquainted with the language and style of writing. I realized that there are multiple technical configurations that can influence the cost per tCO2 significantly. For example, the types of sorbents, packing designs, process design, and many more than has real-world implications on how cost-effective DAC can be as part of the negative emissions portfolio.

Another really exciting part of the consortium I got to take part in was the planning of a social science webinar and workshop, jointly hosted by Cornell University and Resources for the Future. I’ve raved about the consortium and I really think the inclusion of social scientists will only round out the multidisciplinary nature of the consortium. The amount of workshops and coordination needed from different universities brings to life the scale and amount of people needed to solve a problem.

Throughout all these CCR projects, I’ve been working on a project analyzing different scenarios in the newest model run data available. Researchers use a matrix framework to describe the future development of the world (either everyone gets along or hates each other) and climate stringency (radiative forcing target). Together, these two components make for a more comprehensive and comparative ecosystem of possible states of the world. More on this next time!