London-based CUR8 is a platform focused on accelerating access to reliable carbon removal credits. Founded in 2022 it has attracted its first investors and is fast becoming one of the most prominent companies in the industry.
We sat down with CEO and co-founder Marta Krupinska, a serial entrepreneur who made the jump from tech to climate. We talked about her professional journey so far, the challenges facing the industry and how CUR8 is setting up to solve them.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
How did you decide to get into climate and more specifically, carbon removal?
My background is solving big problems in technology. I’m Polish, I come from Krakow and have been a migrant for 15 years. I struggled with sending money to my mother and that led to my biggest company thus far, which was Azimo. While I was building another company called FreeUp, I was hired to lead Google for Startups in the UK. That was very good because it gave me breadth.
I had a lot of fintech experience, but the Google role gave me the opportunity to work with more companies across the spectrum – climate, healthcare, education, data protection. Climate change and creating industries [related to it] in a way that is equitable is definitely up the list.
In December 2020, my co-founder from FreeUp told me that he’s starting a soil carbon company. He explained it to me and I realized we can build these “time machines” that will undo some of the damage that we’ve done. And what I felt was hope.
My CUR8 co-founder, Dr. Gabrielle Walker often says that people that work in climate very rarely feel hope, because it’s a little bit doom and gloom. But I started asking more questions – if we can farm carbon, what are the other ways? Do people know about this? Who is buying it? Is there enough money?
How did you link up with your co-founders?
When I came up with the idea for CUR8 in July 2020 I had a fundamental problem in that I did not know very much about the science. We need software and hardware and science and finance.
I only brought some of the components and was introduced to my co-founders in September 2020. Dr. Gabrielle Walker is a renowned climate scientist, a PhD from Cambridge and taught at Cambridge and Princeton. She was the climate change editor for Nature magazine and one of the first people in removals.
Mark Stevenson is the other, non-executive, co-founder. He has advised the ministry of defense in the UK on climate change and wrote a number of books on the subject.
I genuinely think we’re not going to do this well enough if we don’t properly partner with people that have been working on these solutions for 30 years or more.
What would you say were the main drivers behind creating CUR8?
There were three things that really got me into it. The first one was can we stay below 1.5’. It was the first thing that made me feel this is what’s going to enable us to do it.
The second thing is that it’s going to be a trillion-dollar industry. We need 10 billion tons of carbon removal by 2050.
And the third is that we can build this industry as a global community. A ton of carbon removed in Kenya is – from a planetary perspective – as good as the one removed in the U.S. So why don’t we just set up a lot of it in the Global South, especially as some of the methods lend themselves incredibly well to it because of access to clean energy or sunlight.
To what extent will CUR8 develop its own process and criteria when it comes to assessing carbon removal partners and suppliers?
I feel there are three really important roles in carbon right now. There are the carbon accountants that help you understand your carbon footprint. There are the brokers of carbon removal. And then there are people who verify the quality of carbon removal.
We believe that these three roles should be performed by different parties, because of perverse incentives. We don’t want an incentive to encourage overcalculating a footprint, so that someone can sell more [offsets]. Or if I am selling, should I also be the one who is verifying the quality?
Most of our IP sits in our proprietary due diligence process. Part of the reason why clients want to work with us, rather than buy carbon themselves, is because they don’t have the internal expertise to determine if this is the “good stuff”. We plan to get access to third party data [but] we don’t plan to become a verifier ourselves.
Today the biggest challenges in carbon removals are trust and awareness and we can help with that. We are the bearers of trust. Then we have provision of revenues for suppliers, as well as access to capital for them because these are very complex projects.
We believe we might have the most supply when it comes to high quality, high integrity, durable carbon removals. We have the most access in Europe and currenly have 50,000 tons to sell. And that’s among the suppliers that we currently work with.
What are your thoughts on supply generation of carbon removals? Both today and in the short and mid-term?
When I came into this industry, I thought that the biggest constraint is supply. I don’t believe that’s true anymore. I believe the shortage of supply is a direct function of the shortage of demand. There are a lot of people that are interested, but their price sensitivity is pegged to offsets and say they want to spend $20-30 a ton. You can’t buy quality removals at this price.
When you think about enhanced rock weathering for example – it’s an incredibly scalable method of carbon removal. But almost all the cost is upfront. For equity or banks it doesn’t make commercial sense to finance this.
A lot of the suppliers know what they’re doing but they’re not given enough capital, neither in revenue, nor in financing, to be able to scale up fast enough. Which is why CUR8 has a market-making role.
We’re going to bring clients to carbon removal suppliers and we’re going to work with financing partners, to help them de-risk their capital injections into carbon removals. And I think if we solve these two problems, availability of supply will be much less of an issue.
I suppose there is a point [in saying] it’s unbelievably expensive right now, but I think people spend too much time worrying about the cost of removals. We’ve already solved this, look at what happened with solar which was inefficient and costly, but we got to a place where it’s more effective and cheaper than anything else. So we know how to do this.
What types of companies do you have on your demand side as clients?
We started from what we call marquee clients. We provided removals for the British Royal Family’s Jubilee pageant and the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. That’s important because people start talking about it and it generates trust.
We’ve sold to big festivals, where consumers go to an event where it says it’s “carbon removed”. Several weeks ago we announced the world’s first carbon removed concerts at the O2 Arena in London. A quarter of a million people are going to attend and have a ticket that says “this concert is good for the planet”.
Travel and hospitality is a really interesting segment for us because of both budgets and the impact that it can have on the consumer to increase awareness. We’re very passionate about the built environment, partly because it’s one of the areas in which regulation is going to kick in sooner.
Banks aren’t buying removals yet, largely because they’re among those that are very price sensitive. We’re working hard on changing it, but it’s going to take a minute until big financial institutions are willing to pay for how much removals cost.
In terms of geography where are you strongest? Is it the UK and Europe and are you looking at the U.S.?
We’re based in the UK and it’s where the majority of our business is right now. We have some client relationships in Europe and the U.S., but I would say we are, geographically speaking, really interested not only in the traditional Global North.
Asia is really interesting with places like Singapore. We’re very interested in Sub Saharan Africa, Gabrielle Walker is now at the Africa Climate Summit, the first ever organized in Sub Saharan Africa with 20,000 attendees.
Can you tell us a bit more about the connection between Rethinking Removals and CUR8?
We are sister organizations. Gabrielle started Rethinking Removals in 2021 as a neutral platform that brings buyers, suppliers and regulators together for conversations that should be had in an open forum.
Imagine you come up with an innovation that allows us to massively scale up the market by rules of capitalism. You should technically keep it to yourself because you want to be competitive. But we are trying to save the planet here.
Every member of Rethinking Removals, including a lot of our competitors, has access to that same insight. I suppose, because we’re sister organizations, our benefit is we might just have that insight a little bit sooner.
We’re trying to build a multibillion-dollar business that’s going to be successful commercially, but we’re also contributing to a market-making open-source exercise that will help the entire industry move forward.
What do you think about the recent criticism of carbon offsets?
I believe carbon reduction is the most important thing we need to do. Carbon removals are not a silver bullet. The main thing we need to do is decarbonize, we need to protect carbon sinks and nature.
What I don’t know is if offsets are the right vehicle to do it. It’s a 25-year-old industry, largely built on counterfactuals. Will people chop down the tree if we don’t do this protection thing?
As a company we believe that if companies have a limited amount of capital that can be spent on climate action, it’s a better decision to invest in removals where there is measurement and verification, it’s not a hypothesis.