Tech company pledges $1M-plus for negative emissions goal

Source: By Avery Ellfeldt, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Stripe, a major online payment platform, last week committed to invest a minimum of $1 million in carbon sequestration and capture technology.

Christian Anderson, head of merchant intelligence at Stripe, announced that effective immediately, it will go one step past its current carbon benchmark — using offsets to counteract its carbon emissions — to achieve a net negative footprint. This will entail spending at least twice as much on sequestration efforts than it does on offsets, the company said.

Stripe first became carbon neutral in 2017, but with its newest commitment, Anderson said the company will take a leap into the still “nascent” market. The announcement cites research from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that highlights the importance of achieving “net negative emissions by 2100.”

Stripe acknowledged that steep prices and imperfect technology remain substantial barriers for the carbon removal market. However, Anderson declared it is fully prepared to take the next step to “solicit technology partners and to urge other companies to follow suit.”

Experts will guide Stripe in selecting technologies to use, but the company expects it will fund projects that fall into three general categories: biological sequestration projects, in which carbon is stored in natural carbon sinks below ground; “enhanced weathering”; and “direct-air capture” projects. Carbon sink projects use agricultural techniques to store carbon in plants and soil underground; the other two technologies more directly remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Climeworks, a Switzerland-based company that is spearheading direct air capture technology, said in an email that it considers carbon removal “an industry that is on the brink of fully opening up.” And John Thompson, a director at the Clean Air Task Force, said Stripe’s commitment could encourage other companies to also “drive new technologies.”

But some experts see it differently.

Existing carbon capture and sequestration technologies remain far too expensive and imperfect for widespread deployment, said Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“On the one hand, it’s positive they want to do something,” Herzog said. “On the other hand, [Stripe’s commitment is] not going to change the course of technology because it needs a much bigger market.”

“The problem is a million dollars is a drop in the bucket,” Herzog said.

Of the three types of technology Stripe said it will fund, Herzog said in the short run, natural carbon sinks are the cheapest and most feasible option. But Herzog remains an “outspoken critic” of direct air capture due to its price tag, and said he’s not so “bullish” on enhanced weathering technologies, either, because they still face a lot of technical challenges.

While Stripe’s initiative is commendable, Herzog said, most carbon capture technologies remain far too expensive or uncertain to rely on when it comes to addressing climate change in the immediate future.

“In the long run, there’s going to need to be a lot more money made available through government policies,” Herzog said. “That’s going to be the real key to success.”