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Sparks

American Airlines Is Buying Carbon Removal on the Cheap

The most notable part of the airline’s deal with Graphyte is the price.

An American airplane.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

American Airlines will purchase carbon credits from a biomass-based carbon-removal startup in a deal that could reshape how corporate emitters offset their emissions, The Wall Street Journalreports. The startup, Graphyte, collects carbon dioxide-absorbent agricultural byproducts such as rice hulls, tree bark, and sawdust, compresses it into bricks, then seals and buries it. Its first project, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, plans to begin manufacturing and burying the bricks by July.

What’s particularly notable about Graphyte’s deal with American Airlines is the price. American will pay Graphyte $100 per metric ton — as opposed to the $675 charged on average by Graphyte’s competitors in direct air capture, a process that typically involves massive fans that suck carbon from the atmosphere. Industry experts and analysts consider the $100 mark the threshold at which carbon removal could become a scalable, economically viable tool in the fight against climate change. As Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo recently noted, the direct air capture firm Climeworks hopes to get its price down to $100 to $300 per ton by 2050 at the earliest.

Unfortunately, Graphyte’s deal with American will only remove 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, a tiny fraction of the 35 million metric tons that the airline emitted in 2022. So while the partnership is welcome, the scale of the task ahead — for Graphyte and the many other startups rushing into the carbon removal space — is dizzying. As Chris Rivest of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the Bill Gates-backed VC firm that is funding Graphyte, told the Post, “We’ve bet the future of our planet on our ability to remove CO2 from the air … Pretty much every IPCC scenario that has a livable planet involves us pulling like 5 to 10 gigatons of CO2 out of the air by mid- to late-century.” Five to 10 gigatons — we’re going to need a lot of sawdust.

Green
Jacob Lambert profile image

Jacob Lambert

Jacob is Heatmap's founding multimedia editor. Before joining Heatmap, he was The Week's digital art director and an associate editor at MAD magazine.

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