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Keeping you in-the-know on environmental, social and governance developments

Last year we witnessed competing claims of viability in voluntary carbon markets with all sides claiming the high ground of science, methodology, governance and risk management. This week I saw competing information about the future costs of Direct Air Capture (DAC). The first article, published by ETHZurich, summarized research using “a new method that provides a more accurate estimate of the future cost of various DAC technologies”:

“ETH researchers estimate the cost of removing 1 tonne of CO2 from the air in the year 2050 to be between 230 and 540 US dollars. This is twice as high as previous estimates. The researchers compared the potential costs of three technologies that are already in use: the method used by ETH spin-​off Climeworks, carbon capture using aqueous solutions, and carbon capture using calcium oxide.”

Yesterday, a company called Milkywire (a philanthropic impact fund manager) published a rebuttal to ETH’s results in a piece called “Direct air capture is cheaper than you think.” According to that article:

“The ETH Zurich study by Sievert, Schmidt & Steffen looked at three different ‘DAC 1.0’ methods. But we are already at DAC 3.0 to borrow Jonte Boysen & Torben Schreiter’s wording. There are over 80 different direct air capture companies using at least 10 different types of methods, able to reach much lower costs than the early iterations.  We are currently assessing proposals for prepurchases through the charitable Milkywire Climate Transformation Fund. The median price requested by 17 DAC suppliers for removed and permanently stored carbon is 530 USD. These suppliers, shortlisted for extended proposals, are all serious contenders.”

I didn’t look into the methodologies used by ETH and Milkywire to asses consistency or differences in their cost estimates. Sure, Milkywire has a point about “DAC 1.0” v. “DAC 3.0” but caution is warranted. First – as I wrote yesterday – there is a sense that fraud and misrepresentation seem to be a concern in climate tech, energy transition and decarbonization startups due to the pressure of being in a white hot and speculative new industry. Second (and perhaps Milkywire should think about this):

“Fraud and misrepresentation aren’t the only cause for concern – basic business projections and zeal can be problematic too. Investors and business partners in climate/decarbonization startups should take extra care in understanding market realities, technical product performance claims at scale and governance before handing over any funds or setting expectations about the success of their products/services.”

This brings up another struggle for ESG/climate professionals: what to do when facing conflicting information on ESG, sustainability and climate matters? I recently asked our Advisory Board for thoughts on the question and in the coming days I’ll publish their responses.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile