A Q&A with Garrett of Vycarb
Water-based carbon removal seems like a no-brainer given how much more carbon dioxide oceans are able to store when compared to the earth’s atmosphere. However, leveraging oceans for this purpose comes with its own set of complexities many of which surround efficacy (can the ocean become a permanent carbon sink?) and impact (what are the consequences to ocean ecosystems?). Regardless, governments, researchers, and entrepreneurs are recognizing the ocean’s potential to remove legacy emissions and address the impacts of climate change.
Fresh off the heels of their acceptance into the U.S. Department of Energy’s Voucher Program, we sat down with Brooklyn-based climate start-up and Shared Future Fund portfolio company, Vycarb, to chat all things ocean-based carbon dioxide removal (CDR). Vycarb builds decentralized carbon removal through real-time, autonomous, and direct measurement of CO2 in water. This approach is scalable, cost-effective and safe for marine ecosystems. Their founder and CEO, Garrett Boudinot, covers the current funding environment, government regulation, as well as the public benefit and knowledge base that is needed for this technology to really take off. We’re thrilled to have them as part of our climate-solution portfolio.
Carbon removal solutions have been on the rise over the past 5 years. Why does ocean CDR present a compelling solution? What haven’t we seen more funding in this category?
Ocean or marine (mCDR) is a particularly compelling way to remove and store a lot of CO2 quickly, cost-effectively, and permanently for a lot of reasons. Ocean water holds more carbon than the atmosphere, and oceans have historically served as a regulator of climate via physical, chemical, and biological levers. Because CDR is a chemical reaction, ocean water and marine resources provide a lot of the necessary components to drive that chemical reaction. While many other technology solutions require tremendous energy, heavy infrastructure, and an uphill battle against thermodynamics, ocean water provides a lot of what’s needed already. We just need to accelerate existing fluxes.
Because CDR is so nascent, leveraging the oceans is contentious, highly debated, and hard to predict. Oceans are sensitive, protected, and already degraded by climate change. Additionally, these ecosystems aren’t widely understood and are highly complex and interconnected. Given those dynamics, it’s tough for investors to decipher the mCDR space and invest in it at a rate that matches the potential returns and impact. Most mCDR solutions haven’t addressed how they’ll measure and verify their carbon removal (MRV), or how they’ll ensure it’s done safely. This makes it tough to assess what the overall space can accomplish, what the risks are, and how to distinguish between the different approaches.
Insufficient regulatory clarity and governance seems to plague ocean CDR. If you could wave a magic wand, what should regulators be doing to help support ocean CDR or what governance frameworks are needed?
I’m glad there’s a high bar and my magic wand would make the bar even higher. It’s incumbent on new companies and project developers to demonstrate safety and efficacy. Unfortunately, most in this space haven’t yet. The mentality in the mCDR space of “why don’t people just trust us and understand that our intentions are good” is shortsighted and potentially dangerous. We, at Vycarb, have been working with local regulatory agencies since the very beginning to understand what regulators want to see, and then incorporate that into our tech and approach. Having worked at a state conservation agency myself, I know firsthand these folks aren’t there to stop mCDR projects. They’re in these positions to protect the same natural resource we at Vycarb want to, so it’s collaborative by design.
How does the field increase public trust and what is Vycarb doing specifically?
Data, for one. We must show the public that we have data to support what we’re doing is safe and effective for oceans (every time, every day, and in every place). There is no “ocean”, but rather, countless marine ecosystems and landscapes that changing from daily, seasonal and climate variabilities. Not to mention, these ecosystems are facing extractive pressures and recreational pressures. I want to be sure that what we’re doing is safe and effective (not generally, theoretically or somewhere else) in each and every place.
Vycarb’s approach is to empower people, municipalities, companies, and entire industries to drive measurement controlled and validated carbon removal wherever they are. We’re not going into communities and saying “we want to build this, let’s convince you it’s not bad.” We’re out there working with folks who’ve reached out to us and said “we want to use Vycarb’s tech in our operations to be a part of the carbon removal market.”