Air capture tech and waste bots more effective at tackling carbon emissions than planting trees, claims Microsoft
Technology-based carbon reduction solutions will do more in the long term to reduce harmful emissions than nature-based initiatives, according to Microsoft’s latest Carbon Removal report.
In an update in the second year of its Carbon Remove initiative, Microsoft has revealed some of its most promising solutions to help reduce the tech giant’s carbon footprint – including carbon robotics and direct air capture.
In its update on lessons learned so far, Microsoft gives detailed insight into the company’s efforts to go net-zero by 2030 and argues that while it is currently prohibitively expensive, technology-based carbon removal offers a better long-term solution than nature-based efforts such as planting forests.
The company’s schemes can be broken down into technology-based carbon removal solutions and nature-based initiatives – which include planting forests and mangroves.
The schemes are categorised by their durability (high, medium, and low) and are measured on how long the solutions can store the carbon – a key factor in evaluating carbon offsets.
According to Microsoft, nature-based projects were classed as low-durability because their carbon storage is only estimated to last around 100 years and even if they prove to exceed 100 years Microsoft deems them ‘low durability’ because of their ‘inherent reversal risks’ ( human-driven deforestation for instance, or climate risks such as fires, floods and disease).
Technology-based solutions meanwhile, are credited with a higher durability – such as direct air capture (DAC), which is estimated to store carbon for 10,000 years.
Direct air capture is a process of capturing carbon dioxide directly from the air and generating a concentrated stream of the gas which is then either stored underground permanently or recycled for further usage.
One DAC company that Microsoft is both a customer and an investor of is Climeworks, which has 15 machines in operation, with the first large-scale plant switched on in Iceland.
Another technology-based project Microsoft has selected this year is Climate Robotics – a manufacturer of autonomous robots that convert waste into fertiliser.
The medium-durability project will use Climate Robotics’ autonomous robots to convert waste (or biomass) found in 5,000 acres of agricultural land around Houston into biochar which is then applied directly back into the fields soil.
Biochar is a form of charcoal that improves soil in many ways such as enhancing its water and nutrient retention and, most importantly, maximising its long-term carbon storage.
However, despite their promising performance in carbon reduction, the report claims that technology-based solutions are currently sparse and unaffordable, which Microsoft plans to tackle by helping to scale the market.
On this score, moves by the tech giant include a $100 million grant to Breakthrough Energy’s Catalyst Program to ‘accelerate the development of technology solutions needed to reach global net zero’ – including direct air capture.
Microsoft also states that another way to help jump start affordable supply is for corporate buyers to sign multi-year purchase agreements, as it has done with Climeworks.
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