Sustainability Questions

3 sustainability questions to Grace Connors, Head of Engineering at Charm Industrial

Posted on
January 31, 2024
Grace Connor
Grace Connor
Head of Engineering at Charm Industrial
Editorial Team

What is the history and mission of Charm Industrial in pioneering engineered solutions for permanent carbon removal?

Charm’s mission is to return the atmosphere to 280ppm CO2, otherwise known as preindustrial CO2 levels. We do this to preserve the world for the people and places we love.
Charm was actually first founded to turn biomass into hydrogen. Our founder Peter spent every Saturday in 2017 researching ways to turn biomass residues into a valuable green resource. We found in 2020 that iron making would be more impactful for climate, but that centralized facilities that process biomass wouldn’t work economically. Shaun Kinetic, a co-founder and former chief scientist had two breakthroughs: first we needed to process the biomass as close to the source as possible, creating bio-oil. That made transportation easier and 8X’d the density of carbon. But this created a problem — what would we do with the bio-oil when it wasn’t used for iron making?

The first value of Charm is do no harm, and Shaun researched several ways to dispose of this material. He found that one of the best disposal methods would be injecting it deep underground in old oil wells. He looked into it more and found since the carbon we were sequestering was coming from the atmosphere via plants, this would be permanent carbon removal! Shopify and Stripe both had carbon removal RFPs closing soon. We applied, quickly got accepted, and only 9 months later were the first company to sequester carbon permanently. We’ve been scaling the business ever since.

What unique innovative technologies and methodologies does Charm Industrial employ to enhance carbon removal?

Charm uses fast pyrolysis that optimizes for bio-oil. We also create biochar as well that can improve soil health. There are a number of ways Charm’s process enhances carbon removal. As mentioned above, our machines are mobile, meaning we can travel to wherever biomass is abundantly available, while keeping costs low for our customers.

Additionally Charm’s process doesn’t rely on large amounts of renewable energy like several other engineered removal technologies. This will allow us to scale rapidly and won’t keep renewables from other decarbonization uses. We also have massive sequestration options as we don’t need to use Class VI wells like Direct Air Capture. Instead we can use liquid injection wells and there are over 2.3M abandoned oil wells nationwide that could be repurposed for bio-oil sequestration.

Last, at scale we can make iron with bio-oil in place of coal. Iron making is 6% of global emissions, which is 2X that of aviation! Once iron is made we have a CO2 waste stream that we can sequester, making the process carbon negative.

How far have you come in achieving your mission, and what are the most important current challenges for your work?

Charm is just starting on a long journey to achieve our mission. I mentioned how Charm was founded above, since then we built and deployed our first carbon removal machine in Kansas during the winter of 2021–2022. We had an incredible amount of learnings in a short period of time from that very cold midwest winter! This informed our second generation machine that we started testing earlier this year and right now is deployed in Northern California running our first 24/7 operations. We’ll have two more machines built by the end of the year as we start the process of scaling up operations.
There are a few challenges that come to mind I can highlight.

First — customers. While we were Frontier Climate’s first major CDR supplier via their $53 million offtake with us earlier this year we still need many more customers in order to scale. Currently we’re operating in the voluntary market, helping companies manage unavoidable emissions. We’re excited to work with partners like Squake to expand our customer base and put more carbon underground on their behalf!
Second — updated corporate guidelines from organizations such as SBTi. Thousands of organizations are committed to science based emissions reduction targets but the carbon removal commitments are insufficient to reach the scale needed.

Reports from the United Nations IPCC require between 6 and 10 billion tons of carbon to be removed from the atmosphere per year by 2050. In order for us to get to that scale we need companies to purchase now. Current guidelines don’t suggest companies make purchases until they’ve decarbonized to a certain level. As it stands, when these guidelines do suggest purchasing removals, there won’t be enough supply!

Boston Consulting Group surveyed more than 100 CDR buyers and found that demand for CDR in 2030 (40–200MT) is going to outstrip projected supply (33 MT) by up 6x. According to BCG; “Given the projected supply constraints, buyers that limit or delay their credit purchases may have to pay a premium in the future or ultimately fail to secure durable CDR to meet their commitments.”
Third — policy updates. For carbon removal to get to the scale needed we’ll have to enter regulated markets and have governments make purchases. To this end we were one of the founding companies in the Carbon Removal Alliance, a tech neutral permanent carbon removal policy group.