Problem Packs Round 2: Eight CDR and Climate Projects to Join!

Sign up for a three-week deep dive sprint into a fascinating problem and work with a team to brainstorm solutions.

Hi everyone,

It’s been a long time coming—the second round of problem pack sprints is here!

For those new to this, a problem pack is a three-week long sprint in which you and a team of 3-4 other people will dive deep into a very specific carbon removal or climate topic and meet regularly while brainstorming as a team, conducting interviews, and doing research. All teams will complete a final deliverable by the end of the week and present at the final showcase event open to the public!

The first round of problem packs in February had four teams working on projects and producing deliverables:

Details and Logistics

The teams in February did an amazing job, and I’m excited to see insights and final projects are produced by teams this April. Here are the important details for this coming round:

  • These four problem packs will start running on Monday, April 5th, and conclude three weeks later, on Sunday, April 25th. Final presentations for all groups will take place on Tuesday, April 27th at 3pm EDT.

  • The time commitment for joining one of these groups is ~10 hours/week, including both time spent learning, researching, brainstorming with your team, and conducting interviews. You should expect to meet with your team about every other day.

  • Spaces are limited within each group to 5 people max, so get in early to ensure you can participate!

  • New in Round 2 of problem packs: more concrete intermediate milestones along the way, a team hang out / happy hour before getting to work, knowledgable mentors to help provide initial direction as your team gets rolling, and more interaction between problem pack teams. Each team will also choose a team leader to facilitate meetings and make sure the group is on track to finish the project within the three week sprint.

These problem packs are going to be a blast, and I hope you consider taking the time to join one of these teams. If you are interested in joining a problem pack group, either reply to this newsletter email, send me a message, or fill out this official sign up form! Also, let me know what other problem packs you’d be interested in or thoughts on the ones below!

Problem Pack: Biochar in Cities

Description: During the last biochar problem pack, we learned from Brett KenCairn of the Urban Drawdown Initiative that while the market for biochar is very demand-constrained, proving out some of its applications in urban areas could make city governments into a large and consistent source of demand to facilitate biochar scale-up. These urban applications of biochar include facilitating the growth and health of urban forests which provide important shade and climate adaptation, stormwater control, and maintaining water retention in areas like turfgrasses. This problem pack will involve talking to members of several city governments to investigate current city use of or interest in biochar for these applications and exploring what it would take to prove out these applications on the ground and get to city biochar investment.

End Deliverable: Curated insights from talking with city governments about where biochar interest currently lies, how well the urban applications have been proved out to date, and what very concrete next steps could be that you or a biochar producing company could take to move the ball forward. Ultimately this could take the form of a report targeted towards city governments proposing biochar investment, a report targeted towards biochar producers with insights about cities as a customer, or something totally different.

Prerequisites: You should be familiar with and interested in the biochar space, or very willing to learn quickly. Check out The Burning Question interviews and the last biochar problem pack’s report to learn more.

Sign up for this problem pack here.

Problem Pack: Offtake Agreements and Long-Term Purchases in Carbon Markets

Description: No matter what the carbon project is, project developers need long-term, predictable, contracted cash flows via stable demand in order to de-risk their upfront investments. Likewise, the Oxford Principles for Offsetting recommends that companies switch to “using long-term agreements” with particular projects, in order “give the certainty required by offset project developers to create net zero offsets”. Many project developers are trying to negotiate these longer term deals themselves right now, but is there a better way? This problem pack will explore the needs of these project developers as well as the concerns of corporate buyers for long-term procurement and attempt to solve problems on both sides, while still maintaining a high quality project standard.

End Deliverable: An idea for a company / organization / platform, or an idea to plug into existing organizations, that will help solve the problem of providing long term predictable cash flows for carbon projects.

Prerequisites: You should be familiar with voluntary carbon markets and how they currently work today. Experience or knowledge about project finance helpful but not required.

Sign up for this problem pack here.

Problem Pack: Seaweed to Non-Fuel Use Business Models

Description: Macroalgae cultivation is an exciting carbon removal strategy receiving a lot of attention right now, and this problem pack aims to explore business model strategies to enable this at scale that are not biofuel related (see the last problem here for more seaweed to biofuel info). Such pathways include food, fertilizers, nutriceuticals, hydrocolloids, and more. You’ll assume a source of macroalgae is available and look at the markets and techno-economics for the processes that produce these end products to get a better understanding of how feasible these business models would be, as well as understanding what the tangible climate benefits are. You’ll also talk to players within these pre-existing markets and gather insights about the state of seaweed-based products today.

End Deliverable: A written report or blog post that distills insights about these seaweed-based markets and the business models required to reach them. This should include takeaways from interviews and conversations that your team will conduct. Depending on your group’s decision, this could either mean either focusing specifically on one particularly promising pathway or taking a broader approach to understand the landscape as a whole. 

Prerequisites: You should be broadly familiar with seaweed as a carbon removal solution, or willing to quickly learn over the next few weeks. Good places to start are this podcast with Brian von Herzen and this webinar from the National Academy of Sciences.

Sign up for this problem pack here.

Problem Pack: Improving Ag Extension for Regenerative Practices

Description: Ag extension agents are employed by local universities and work directly with farmers by building close relationships on farms and providing details and education on agricultural practices, science, and business. They are thus one of the greatest influencers of the practices that farmers implement, but often have fairly out of date means of disseminating information and may not be interested in or knowledgeable about regenerative agriculture. In this problem pack, you’ll reach out to some ag extension agents in order to understand how they perform their work and what might be improved, as well as brainstorm how ag extension might be better utilized to promote transitions to regenerative agriculture.

End Deliverable: A report with insights and patterns found through researching and talking to extension agents, as well as a pitch deck with an idea for how to use these insights to promote regenerative agriculture.

Prerequisites: You should be familiar with regenerative agricultural practices and the barriers associated with switching to them. Understanding the ag ecosystem beyond this will also be helpful.

Sign up for this problem pack here.

Problem Pack: Data Analysis - CDR Supply-Cost Curves

Description: Supply-cost curves show the total quantity of a product that can be produced at a given time, along with the price per unit generated for each project in the market. An example supply-cost curve for energy production is shown below. In the case of CDR, this means finding the total number of tons (or maybe ton-years) that the industry as a whole can currently remove, as well as the cost per ton of each of these carbon-removing projects. This problem pack will involve exploring existing data (from Stripe and Microsoft purchases as well as offset markets), gathering new data, and producing CDR supply-cost curves both for today and projecting into the future (5 or 10 years from now). This will provide valuable insights and visualizations for where carbon removal is as an industry today and where it might be headed.

End Deliverable: A series of carefully produced and visualized supply-cost curves for the present and scenarios for the future, along with a report that explains assumptions made and what insights can be drawn from the data.

Prerequisites: You should be comfortable doing data analysis and visualization (Pandas and Matplotlib anyone?) and broadly familiar with the range of carbon removal solutions.

Sign up for this problem pack here.

Problem Pack: Policy - Siting and Permitting of Sequestration Wells

Description: The CDR industry has a problem—when DAC, BECCS, or other CO2 capturing tech scales up, we need to have adequate sequestration space ready to be utilized. While there are plenty of saline aquifers that might potentially be utilized, the United States’s process for permitting these Class VI sequestration wells is currently laborious and often can take up to 6 years for a given site (also see the just-introduced SCALE Act looking to remedy this). And not all wells are created equal, as colocation with strategic abundant clean energy sources for DAC can make a project’s LCA turn out much better. In this research heavy problem pack, you’ll choose a few promising sequestration locations both in the US and elsewhere and work to understand what the process currently looks like for siting and permitting in that region or country, how the process is evolving, and what policy (or other) changes are necessary to scale up sequestration capacity.

End Deliverable: Your team will review how sequestration permitting works in 3-5 locations worldwide (conducting interviews and reading reports along the way), and write a report or presentation with your findings, conclusions, and policy recommendations.

Prerequisites: Some interest in policy and willingness to learn about sequestration in the context of carbon removal.

Sign up for this problem pack here.

Problem Pack: CDR and the Fossil Fuel Industry

Description: Much of the larger scale CDR (especially direct air capture) being developed right now is being done in partnership with the fossil fuel industry. While many of the resources and skills that have been developed and perfected by oil and gas companies are highly relevant and helpful to large scale CDR, these companies have also been deceitful, funding climate denial, and blocking climate progress in favor of profits for many decades now. In this investigative journalism-like problem pack, you’ll dive deep into the existing arguments for and against fossil fuel intervention in CDR and DAC by carefully reviewing current partnerships, working to understand the pros and cons of EOR, and comparing past industry misdeeds to current CDR trajectories. 

End Deliverable: A journalistic story, essay, or report that explores these questions in detail and develops a set of conclusions and recommendations based on the evidence your group finds. 

Prerequisites: Some familiarity with the topic at hand is helpful but not required. The spirit of investigation and working to uncover the truth is the most important thing!

Sign up for this problem pack here.

Problem Pack: Accelerating Adoption of Heat Pumps

Description: Heat pumps are a highly efficient means of electrifying space heating in residential and commercial buildings, and installing them at scale to replace natural gas burners is an important step towards the decarbonization of buildings. In this research-focused problem pack, you’ll explore important questions like why customers currently opt to use heat pumps, what the economic value proposition is if any, and what we should do more and less of to accelerate adoption of heat pump technology. You’ll also explore what policy might help in different areas, which parts of the value chain might be holding us back, and how to replicate the work of cool companies like BlocPower. Come learn more about this extremely important climate topic!

End Deliverable: After interviewing both consumers who have had heat pumps installed and companies or contractors who have worked to install heat pumps, you’ll write up a blog post or report summarizing what you’ve learned about the questions described above, and ultimately use these insights to generate ideas or recommendations that will accelerate adoption.

Prerequisites: You should be familiar with how the electricity grid works, and prior knowledge about heat pumps is helpful but not required.

Sign up for this problem pack here.

CDR 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.

This meme was created and posted in Air Miners by Siobhan Montoya Lavender. Thanks Siobhan!