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Frontier spreads its bets on CDR

One of the things I find intellectually appealing about Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) is that it's amenable to myriad different approaches. It's not obvious that any one of them is right, but it's not obvious that any are wrong either, and there are so many that a few are bound to be genius.

Frontier, the carbon purchase aggregator seeded by Stripe, Alphabet, Meta, and others, appears to feel similarly, and its latest purchases of carbon show that it knows how to have fun. It's latest investments were announced last week, and include:

  • Direct air capture (Airhive, Arbon, Carbon Atlantis, Holocene, Spiritus)

  • Enhanced weathering (Alkali Earth, EDAC Labs, Matt)

  • Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement (CarbonRun, Planetary, Vycarb)

  • Direct Ocean Removal (Banyu Carbon, Carbon Blue)

  • Biomass Removal and Carbon Storage (Vaulted, Carboniferous, Rewind.Earth)

Clearly Frontier is saying they have no idea what will work, and we should try a little bit of everything. This is perhaps a reflection of their need to keep many stakeholders happy at the same time, but is also, at this early stage of development, undoubtably the correct approach.

And while they are following some of the conventional investment logic that believes in making concentrated bets in risky technologies that have an opportunity to win large market categories (e.g., direct air capture), they are also making small bets that will have small impact, but with high probability of success. My favorite example from this batch is Alkali Earth, a Minnesota company that is trying to source akaline iron- and steel-process slag and use it as a road material, so the roads will soak up CO2 from the atmosphere over time. This is obviously not as large a business as, say, Occidental Petroleum imagines for carbon sequestration. But it also will very likely work, and at low cost. It's a small step, but a creative one, and I love it for that.

Frontier loves it too. While Microsoft appears well-positioned to independently take markets from small to large scale (hence their 315,000 ton offtake agreement this week with Heirloom), Frontier is committed to democratizing small opportunities. I have been tracking carbon dioxide removal over the last year, and many of these companies are entirely new to me. This gives me hope that the future will deliver many more high quality ideas as well. With money and a willingness to experiment, we can push back the frontier of carbon capture a little further.

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