Problem Packs: Cool CDR Projects to Get Involved With Now!

Spanning the CDR space, from carbon markets to macroalgae cultivation, this first set of problem packs has a lot of exciting opportunities to explore!

Hi everyone,

I’ve been mentioning in these newsletters since the beginning of this year that I’m working on a new model of carbon removal education that involves active learning-by-doing. This takes the form of problem packs, which are tangible and pretty specific problems in the CDR space, combined with curated educational resources to better understand the problem space, and specifications for final deliverables to be completed by small groups of 4-6 people working together over the course of 2-3 weeks.

Well exciting news: the first set of problem packs is ready to go and we’re looking for interested participants! Below there are four problem packs that span much of the CDR space, with a wide variety of both topics (carbon markets, seaweed, soil, and biochar) and end deliverable types.

All of these questions I imagine will be a lot of fun to pursue, so if you have some time and energy to deploy over the next few weeks, come hang out with a group of likeminded CDR enthusiasts and get your hands dirty thinking about and solving a real problem in the space!

If you are interested in getting involved and working on one of these sprints over the next few weeks, please note the following expectations and logistical information:

  • These four problem packs will start running on Monday, February 1st, and conclude three weeks later, on Sunday, February 21st.

  • Your group is expected to have completed some draft of the final deliverable by the problem pack end date. This requirement is strict and is designed to ensure forward motion and to prevent the group from talking past each other with no real progress.

  • The time commitment for joining one of these groups is ~10 hours/week, including both time spent learning/researching and in discussion meetings. Three weeks isn’t all that much time to complete meaningful work, so all members of the group must be ready to meet, think, discuss, and iterate over the course of the sprint.

  • Spaces are limited within each group to 6 people max, so get in early to ensure you can participate!

All that said, I really hope you consider taking the time to join a problem pack, if not this time than in a later round (lots more to come!). If you are interested in joining a problem pack group, either reply to this newsletter email, send me a message, or fill out this sign up form! Also, let me know what other problem packs you’d be interested in or thoughts on the ones below!

Problem Pack: Seaweed

In collaboration with Tim Trefren.

Problem Statement: Develop a business model for a company that converts seaweed to biofuels, assuming seaweed can be produced in large quantities.

Description: The mass cultivation of macroalgae (seaweed) is an exciting and promising ocean-based CDR approach, and one possible business model strategy to enable this at scale is converting the seaweed to biofuels, thus aiding in deep decarbonization. In this problem pack working group you’ll assume a source of macroalgae is available and look at the techno-economics of the seaweed-to-biofuels process, understand what stakeholders and markets could be involved, and research and answer critical questions like what you would need in terms of price per dry ton of seaweed to turn a profit. 

End Deliverable: A fully fleshed-out business model canvas for a seaweed to biofuels company, and a take on what would be required for such a model to scale and be economically successful.

Prerequisite Knowledge: General knowledge of marine permaculture negative emissions strategies (can get up to speed by listening to this Nori podcast with Brian von Herzen).

Sign up for this problem pack here.

Problem Pack: Carbon Markets

In collaboration with Neel Blair.

Problem Statement: How do we develop a high-level shared reporting standard and scorecard for all carbon removal projects?

Description: For the purposes of carbon markets, it would improve trust and carbon project quality if there were a standardized, prescriptive, and data-driven auditing framework and scorecard to which all carbon removal projects could ultimately adhere. In addition, as carbon removal scales up across a variety of approaches, it would be awesome to have a live look at all the carbon being sequestered to publicly review and investigate, like a Bloomberg Terminal or S&P500 index for CDR. 

In this problem pack working group, you’ll take a first step in achieving this goal by helping to develop a Reporting Data Standard for Carbon Removal, deciding what same high-level basic data would be helpful to have from all those sequestering carbon no matter the approach when evaluating and comparing these carbon projects. You’ll think about issues of permanence, discount rates, likelihood of success, additionality, and more as you decide what commonalities there are in data required across carbon removal approaches. The goal is not to replace anything that already exists, but instead to build on top of pre-existing frameworks to produce a result that eases data sharing across all the sectors of carbon removal and in the future could ultimately make prescriptive scorekeeping and comparisons between sectors and solutions easier.

End Deliverable: After reading through pre-existing standards/methodologies (Verra, Gold Standard), the goal is to produce a parent CDR Reporting Framework, consisting of a set of specific, measurable, and cross-sector data points that could apply to and be reported by all CDR projects in a carbon market (things like who are the buyers and sellers permanence, location, etc). You’ll also identify key questions that must be addressed to make a fleshed-out scorecard implementable.

Prerequisite Knowledge: Have a general familiarity with how carbon markets currently work and what makes a good and bad carbon project (additionality, leakage, durability, etc). Check out Module 10 of Carbon Removal Academy for more information.

Sign up for this problem pack here.

Problem Pack: Soil Carbon

Problem Statement: How can we expand the reach and effectiveness of educational programs and peer-to-peer farmer networks to facilitate the spread of regenerative agriculture?

Description: According to Carbon180’s Leading with Soil Report, one of the three core barriers impeding the scale-up of soil carbon sequestration is a lack of technical assistance and education resources. There are several educational programs and farmer networks currently in operation that aim to help farmers navigate a successful transition to regenerative practices, from Soil Health Academy and the Rodale Institute to Practical Farmers of Iowa.  

In this problem pack, you’ll investigate these pre-existing programs and attempt to understand what their current reach is, where they are succeeding and falling short, and how these and emerging educational programs can better help an increasing number of farmers understand the benefits of soil health and switch to regenerative agriculture with sufficient knowledge and skill.

End Deliverable: A full business model or specific project proposal for an initiative aiming to bolster the education and technical assistance available to farmers. This could be a plan for a new peer-to-peer network, mentorship program, set of courses, or even enabling and empowering pre-existing groups (whether NRCS or an existing program). This will likely require narrowing focus to a specific type of farm, crop mix, geographic location, or scale, and carefully analyzing the current status quo for that specific demographic.  

Prerequisite Knowledge: Specific knowledge of regenerative agricultural practices and how soil carbon sequestration works (see Module 2 of Carbon Removal Academy). General understanding of the lay of the land for current regen ag education helpful as well but not required.

Sign up for this problem pack here.

Problem Pack: Biochar

Problem Statement: Where and how could we install a pyrolyzer at a sawmill to produce biochar from waste sawdust biomass?

Description: A natural first step in scaling up biochar and other biomass-based carbon removal and storage (BiCRS) strategies is to utilize waste biomass as a feedstock rather than growing dedicated crops. Therefore, it might make sense to produce biochar using the sawdust biomass regularly produced at sawmills. In fact, Humboldt Sawmill in California recently got certified to sell biochar carbon credits with a pyrolyzer installed on site. 

In this problem pack, you’ll investigate sawmills in the United States and understand the business decisions (both technical and economic) and hurdles they must overcome when looking to begin to co-produce biochar from their sawdust. Why haven’t more sawmills done this in the past? What are the upfront costs and potential biochar revenues over time? What does the certification process look like to be able to sell carbon credits? With this analysis, you’ll put together a proposal for one or more sawmills (not as pyrolyzer salespeople but as climate change activists) that details their opportunity for biochar production.

End Deliverable: A detailed report targeted at companies operating sawmills on why and how they could purchase a pyrolyzer and begin producing and selling biochar, either more broadly or specific to a particular location or operation. You should also come away with a list of the greatest challenges and hurdles that stand in the way of scaling biochar production at sawmills.

Prerequisite Knowledge: Loose understanding of what biochar is and how it is produced. I’d highly recommend checking out The Burning Question with Peter Olivier (and corresponding biochar interview show) for great biochar content (ex: Why isn’t biochar big?).

Sign up for this problem pack here.

Carbon Removal Meme of the Week

If you have any carbon removal memes (or are inspired and decide to make one!), please send them to me! I’ll highlight my favorite CDR meme each week here.