Reinhardt says that Charm will only take half the agriculture material on any given field, and he notes that putting the resulting biochar and ash into the fields will improve soil health. He adds that competing uses of corn remains depend on the region, but that much of it isn’t sold or plowed under, leaving it to rot and release carbon dioxide.
But he stresses that Charm will properly account for alternative uses, land-use changes, and these other factors.
The company’s internal carbon math estimates that when the company is using its own pyrolyzers, the process will generally remove the equivalent of 0.85 tons of carbon dioxide for every ton of biomass. Reinhardt says Charm will improve those figures over time by switching to carbon-neutral syngas instead of diesel to initiate the pyrolysis process, optimizing its pyrolyzers for converting plant matter to bio-oil, and eventually transitioning to electric trucks.
The role of government
Robert Höglund of Marginal Carbon AB, a consulting firm specializing in carbon removal and climate policy, says Charm’s customers are paying a lofty $600 a ton today to help “kick-start” the approach, betting that the company will be able to drive down costs. But he says it’s not clear whether Charm’s method will prove to be among the most effective, scalable, or affordable over time, or the best use of this biomass as the need grows for ever more renewable energy sources.
It’s also unlikely that corporations will continue to buy up enough carbon removal to reach the billions of tons per year that could eventually be required, both to stabilize the planet’s temperatures and to sustain the businesses emerging to pull greenhouse gas out of the air.
In effect, investors and startups are betting that governments will enact laws that subsidize, incentivize, or mandate these practices. Reinhardt, for one, acknowledges that government policy will be crucial for building up the carbon removal markets that will allow his company and others to thrive.
He says Charm is working to educate lawmakers in California and Washington, DC, calling for greater support of the nascent sector as well as rules that are technology neutral while researchers and companies explore a variety of paths.
“Corporate buyers like Microsoft, Stripe, and Shopify will only get to so much scale, and then regulation will need to step in,” Reinhardt said in an email, adding: “So much innovation has happened in the space, and we just need to unlock it.”