‘There Is Value When Each Carbon Removal Project Is Rated The Same Way’ – Co-Founder Marianne Tikkanen, Puro.Earth

'There Is A Value When Everybody On Each Carbon Removal Project Is Rated The Same Way' - CEO Marianne Tikkanen, Puro.Earth - Carbon Herald
Credit: Puro.Earth

Puro.Earth is one of the companies that have accepted the challenge of scaling real carbon removal solutions. It is the world’s leading platform for engineered carbon removal and has introduced an accrediting and verification structure around carbon credits, including its Puro Standard – the first carbon removal standard for engineered carbon removal methods in the voluntary carbon market.

We interviewed Marianne Tikkanen, Co-founder and Head of Carbon Crediting Program at Puro.Earth, who told us more about the company, its latest developments, and shared some highlights from COP27 at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Elba Horta, Head of Communications at Puro.Earth, also joined the conversation, explaining about the importance of having a standard behind carbon removal methodologies.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Could you please tell us more about Puro.Earth?

Puro.Earth is a carbon removal, crediting program and platform. We focus completely on durable carbon removals and operate a Standard and a Registry. We help the registered carbon removal projects find buyers and investors. 

Puro.Earth started commercial operation in 2019. It was the first in the world to focus on negative emissions where others have focused on emission reductions.

How did you decide to get involved in the whole project and become one of the co-founders?

It was actually my co-founder Antti who pitched the idea. And he got it on an airplane when reading about direct air capture, understanding that it can be done, but that very little had been done. So the technology is there, but incentives for it to grow are missing.

And that’s where the journey started. He pitched it to the incubator where I was working. At first, I became involved as a Project Research Manager and eventually from a concept idea, through gated startup financing, we became a legal entity and demonstrated that the business can be done.

We know direct air capture with permanent storage (DACCS) is one of the most durable carbon removal solutions that can provide storage for thousands of years. Is DACCS offered at Puro.Earth?

Yes, we have a couple of those projects that are in their early phases. They are in very different maturity phases, some are already operational and receiving these credits, and some are still in the planning or pilot phase and on their journey to receive credits. 

Carbon Removal Certificates, or CORCs are always issued once the production has happened and the carbon is already in the storage so that the data trail can be verified.

Relevant: Puro.Earth Launches Public Offset Registry For Engineered CO2 Removals

Many people talk about direct air capture and forget the storage. If you just capture the CO2, it’s not enough. And there are other ways to put carbon in the same storage. 

With geological storage, you can have a pathway through bioenergy, or via plants that capture the CO2. That carbon can then end up in geological storage through a couple of middle steps. And the same with mineralization. This is another form of very permanent carbon storage where the CO2 is mineralized to carbonate and never escapes from that form.

How do you see those permanent solutions advance technologically and scale up? We know they have scalability problems, and they are short of supply at the moment. How do you see them moving forward and overcoming these problems? 

Yeah, we’ve already seen it happen. Biochar is one of these early durable carbon removal and storage pathways that has seen the next ramp up of the same project or same removal supplier that is five times bigger than the first one. 

Relevant: American BioCarbon Concludes Puro.Earth Certification Process

When biochar projects have received credits and revenue for the first project, investors take the next step and invest in a five times bigger facility. So, I think that is the normal pathway in industrial scale up or ramp up. They still need to get a very good demand signal from the market and now carbon removal markets are sending this signal.

Do you see technological and nature-based solutions moving hand in hand in this market or maybe tech solutions would be getting ahead just because they provide more durable storage?

Puro.Earth has just announced a decision by the independent advisory board that our lower limit for durability will be 100 years and that will of course, leave out some of the lower durability carbon removal solutions. 

The more durable carbon dioxide removals (CDRs) are used for different claims; they are used for the net zero claim. The ISO standard just came out with its net zero guidelines. They also refer to how durable storage is counteracting for some emissions and that the less durable credits can be used for other types of claims. 

Marianne Tikkanen with Minister of Environment Maria Ohisalo and the delegation from Finland at COP27. Credit: Puro.Earth.

In COP27, there was a mitigation contribution stating the corporates are not claiming to be net neutral, but they could claim to contribute to the country’s mitigation targets. So I feel that’s the trend now – these durable, less durable and no storage types of techniques will be separated for different claims.

Could you tell us a bit more about the current policy framework for carbon dioxide removal in the EU and Puro’s role in it?

Currently, we work in the voluntary carbon market, which has voluntary regulation. So basically, it’s self regulated by the buyers and sellers. You could see CORSIA – the airline regulation, as one of those voluntary initiatives, and then there is ICVCM (Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market) in the US but also working globally. 

We are taking a role of being a regulator for the voluntary carbon removal markets in the European Union, as there is no official regulation for this. But there is a proposal for a regulation framework that will come out in November.

What do you expect to happen in terms of political development for CDR?

What we hope to see happen is that these durable carbon removal credits would be accepted in compliance markets in Europe, meaning the ETS cap and trade market. The acceptance would start by introducing a quota for minimum and maximum carbon removal credits that companies having emission allowances could use. They can do so for some portion of their emissions so that the focus remains on reducing them. 

This way, they will start building and wrapping up the needed capacity for the durable removals, so that they will be there when they need it. That would also result in a realistic price discovery of what is the carbon removal cost. At the moment, our price index shows that durable biochar credits cost 125 euros per ton removed. 

If corporates see that price, I think they would be very highly incentivized to reduce their own emissions more radically than they have been doing until now.

Are there any expectations about the minimum quota for carbon removal credits set up by the EU? 

No, we leave that to the politicians to set up but it needs to be such that it focuses on reducing emissions first.

Do you think the Certification for Carbon Removal coming now at the end of November, could affect Puro.Earth Standard in some way?

We see it as a positive development and expect it will leave room for private registries like ours. We think there will not be one central registry in that framework organized or run by the European Commission. They would rather leave the operational responsibilities to registries like ours. 

It is a positive thing that there would be a European-wide definition of what is carbon removal and what is an acceptable claim against the defined carbon removal. 

What are your thoughts on COP27? What do you think are the main takeaways this year?

It is quite chaotic and hard to summarize. I was there for four days, and it’s hard to pick up just a few things. But what was clear to me is that the action or especially the implementation between governments is very slow. 

And that turns to a focus of corporates. So, the fast lane is through corporate action. That’s where voluntary markets play a big role and they should really continue to do this, accelerate doing this and not wait for the governments to come to a consensus because this will take time.

Image source: Puro.Earth

And when they find a consensus, the implementation of that decision will take further time, as we have seen with Article 6. So the focus is on corporates and corporate actions – they have room and freedom to act when the governments can’t. 

The other focus was on Africa, there were many panels and discussions about African opportunities and challenges. And we were very happy to have the first African project, a biochar project in Cameroon certified, now in operation. It uses coffee farming residues to make the biochar and that also improves coffee farming locally in Cameroon.

Why do you think the implementation of climate action is so slow? Is it a lack of political will or something else?

I guess when 190 countries try to find common ground, it’s almost inevitable.

Do you think, in general, the talks this year supported carbon removal markets and conversation or not much was changed?

Yes, I think they do. IPCC has already had for a while technical carbon removals in all of the scenarios that lead to up to 1.5°C of global warming in a bigger or a smaller role. And now that the ISO standard came out, it also strengthened this kind of voice. And, of course, I move in my bubble in the discussions in COP27, but carbon removal was generally seen and discussed. 

I don’t think it’s yet mainstream. It’s still with the early buyers and early actors. But I would say it’s strengthening and growing rather than going away.

It’s also really nice to see companies sustain their voluntary activity with CDR. It’s not a one-time thing, whether it’s on a supply-side or a buyer-side, they are actually on a pathway and on a journey to reduce emissions, and they stick to that kind of strategy they have.

And what is needed in terms of policies is to support and sustain that action with regulations?

Yes, the European Commission is the first of that kind of authorities to come out with regulations. So I’d like to congratulate them on being early movers and we’ll see the results when they come.

Could you tell us more about the recently announced requirement from Puro.Earth for a minimum of 100 years of carbon storage for projects to qualify for certificates? Does that represent a strategic change for the company?

I would say it’s a gradual change, lifting the bar from 50 years to 100 years. We already have most of our methodologies fulfilling that minimum 100 years and more criteria. 

Three of our methodologies already have that geological storage of thousands of years timespan – DACCS and BECCS, carbonated materials where the carbon dioxide is mineralized to the material itself, and then the one under work now- enhanced rock weathering. They already have these thousands of years coverage. 

Contractually, biochar and biomass burial/woody biomass burial have a 100 year storage. In the real world, they actually have hundreds of years, but contractual durability is 100 years.

How do you determine if carbon removals are to be classified as less than 100 years of storage or more? 

Carbon is a material and carbon storage has chemical and physical properties. So it’s always science-based. Carbonation is a chemical reaction, mineralization is a chemical reaction, so there are ways to measure how much storage has happened and whether it has happened. Also, how much is in the resulting material. 

It’s the same with biochar, it’s a chemical reaction from the original biomass to this new biochar. Either the carbon is chemically bound or physically bound to this storage, and that’s scientifically backed, which we then use in our methodologies.

Does biochar methodology serve both short-term and long-term carbon storage?

Biochar can be made in different conditions, for different purposes, our methodology sets the bar for permanent removal, so the lower permanence projects would not be eligible for CORCs. 

Are these more permanent solutions going to be more expensive? Will there be a change in price for CDRs with more than 100 years of storage? 

Good question. What we see from the price indexes already is that these durable 100 years of storage solutions are valued at above 100 euros per ton. However, we saw DACCS volumes in their first projects to be so low that their prices are actually very much higher. Not only due to the durability but also to scale. 

The markets are good at defining prices or discovering prices. And we leave it to them to decide how they value them.

Why do you think nations keep failing to set up stronger commitments to phase out fossil fuels?

I don’t know but I’m thinking what could come out from a minimum and maximum quota would be for the market to actually see the price, the cost of removing the CO2. If you have fossil fuel emissions, you have a responsibility to remove it. 

And people don’t really link the cost of removing it when they are emitting. And they don’t think how much would it cost to change from fossil fuels to an alternative. Being more conscious of the durable carbon removals’ price would probably make them realize that it’s better and cheaper to leave fossil fuels rather than start cleaning it with removals. Cost is a good driver!

Elba Horta: We made the first methodology in the carbon markets for DACCS and it is just not so well known. There are not a lot of projects out there. But we are hoping that more of these projects will start to see that they should get certified by a standard, like Puro Standard to bring that needed integrity into the market. 

It’s not just about having the technology, but actually having the carbon mathematics behind, done by a Standard, I think that would help them present to the markets at large, not just carbon markets, what they have.They need to be able to prove what they emit, because that’s one of the problems for some CDR methods – they are energy intensive and the carbon footprint that they have can be really high. 

But when there is a standard verifying and doing the carbon mathematics, of how much is actually negative, there is a value to that to present to the world. They need to show what they are removing, create a carbon credit out of it, and then have it in a transparent registry out to the public to see. 

Marianne Tikkanen: There is a value when everybody on each project is rated, treated and calculated the same way. That’s a very valid and valuable point. That works for all carbon removal credits in our system as they are net carbon removed. 

The net amount of carbon removed is the gross amount of carbon that was injected into the storage, deducting the emissions that the activity costs. It’s always the real climate impact. We shouldn’t be just looking at how much was injected, but how much was emitted while capturing and injecting in the storage.

So, the impact is not the gross storage volume but really you have to look at the net. And understand that the concept of processed net is really, really essential if we want to get to the real climate impact.

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