Five of the world’s largest big tech firms have committed $925m (£700m) to purchase captured carbon between now and 2030 – an investment that marks a milestone in the scaling up of carbon removal technologies.

Announced on April 12th, the initiative – an advance market commitment (AMC) dubbed Frontier – will see Stripe, Alphabet, Meta (formerly Facebook), Shopify, and McKinsey Sustainability uniting in a nine-year effort to accelerate the development of permanent carbon removal technologies by guaranteeing future demand. 

Originally piloted for vaccine development, Frontier marks the first time the model is being applied to carbon removal at scale. 

By purchasing carbon removal tonnes from carbon capture companies, the initiative will enable the investment and scaling up of projects that aim to remove greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere. 

Existing carbon capture projects filter or extract carbon from a range of sources, from facilities that capture carbon direct from the air, such as Climeworks’ Orca direct air capture (DAC) system, to solvent adsorption techniques that enable the capture of carbon from flue gas in post combustion processes. 

Climeworks' Orca direct air capture plant

Climeworks’ Orca direct air capture plant

Source: Climeworks

Carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS) and CCS involves captured carbon either being recycled for use in products or processes and/or permanently stored in underground rock formations through injection and eventual mineralisation or even into cement – the manufacture of which is responsible for 7% of global CO2 emissions. 

According to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the development of carbon management technologies and infrastructure is ‘critical’ to achieving mid-century global temperature targets.

Despite the widespread appeal of integrating carbon capture into industrial processes, scaling up is slow, primarily due to the prohibitively expensive nature of carbon removal. 

Cement production is responsible for 7% of the world's CO2 emissions

Cement production is responsible for 7% of the world’s CO2 emissions

Frontier aims to address cost-related barriers by creating a carbon offset economy that facilitates carbon removal purchases on behalf of buyers. 

For early-stage carbon removal suppliers piloting new technologies, buyers will enter low-volume, pre-purchase agreements, while growth-stage suppliers will see buyers enter offtake agreements to purchase future tonnes of carbon removal if and when they are delivered. 

When the CO2 is removed, the carbon removal companies are paid and removal tonnes (or units) are issued back to buyers, helping to accelerate the development of new technologies and scale-up carbon capture adoption. 

Seemingly faultless in theory, the history of failed CCS projects may warrant some scepticism when it comes to effectively creating a successful carbon offtake economy. 

According to Oilchange International, the US Government has wasted more than $1bn (£760m) on ‘failed’ CCS projects and – of eight coal CCS projects funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) – only one facility became operational, despite an investment of nearly $684m (£520m). 

However, collaborative efforts such as Frontier – led by multi-billion dollar firms - could prove to be a step in the right direction to scale up carbon capture and its surrounding economy.