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The five companies in question – Lithos Carbon, Calcite-Origen, AspiraDAC, RepAir and Travertine Tech – all use a variety of techniques to extract carbon from the sky. The partnership between Calcite-Origen, AspiraDAC and RepAir, for example, uses direct air capture, while Lithos Carbon and Travertine rely on enhancing rock weathering to extract carbon dioxide from air. ‘air. The group also awarded Living Carbon, a synthetic biology company, an R&D grant to continue its work on carbon removal using algae and biopolymers. The five purchases plus the grant reflect Frontier’s approach of letting a thousand carbon removal flowers bloom to see what sticks.

Frontier went live in April. Stripe, Alphabet, Shopify, Meta and McKinsey have pooled $925 million to form what is known as a pre-commitment to the market. Essentially, they promise to buy CDR services in hopes of spurring innovation in the field, which can help reduce costs. The First Movers Coalition, another group of businesses and governments, also said it would buy hundreds of millions of dollars in CDR services with the same intent to jump-start the market and drive innovation.

Currently, sucking carbon out of the sky is expensive. Among Frontier’s early purchase projects, the cost of removing a ton of carbon ranges from $500 to $1,800. That’s well above the holy grail of $100 per ton price that would make CDR (relatively) affordable given that the world will potentially have to remove billions of tons of carbon dioxide per year depending on how fast we collectively stop throwing things into the atmosphere.

“We are looking for sustainable carbon removal solutions that have the potential to be low cost and high volume in the future, even if they are not today,” said Joanna Klitzke, who leads the strategy and operations for Frontier, in an email. She noted that while Calcite and Origen’s technique is currently trading at $1,800, the duo predict that it could drop below $100 per ton as it evolves. (Calcite also recently won stage one of Elon Musk’s CDR XPRIZE, so it’s clear that Frontier isn’t the only group that believes in the technology.)

Frontier is betting on this scale-up, and companies have until 2027 to deliver the agreed tons. But Klitzke also said that if some of those groups didn’t achieve their goals, Frontier would be “comfortable” with that. “We’re the first customer for these six projects because we’re trying to help get as many projects on the starting line as possible,” she said.

The group plans to enter into larger, multi-year purchase agreements in addition to smaller purchases, like the first round, to keep the innovation pipeline fresh. While Klitzke said R&D would not be a major focus, Frontier saw the Living Carbon technique as “an exciting path to carbon removal that we want to see developed”, and further grants could be made if the team takes an early stage carbon removal approach. quite romantic.

Frontier purchases are significant given the almost certain need for a certain amount of CDR to keep the planet from warming to dangerous levels. But that’s no reason for policymakers to be lulled into complacency about real emissions reductions. The roughly 2,000 tons of removal services in Frontier’s first round of purchases equates to less than two seconds of humanity’s annual carbon emissions.

Scaling up the cheap carbon reduction solutions we already have today, such as renewables, bike lanes and heat pumps, has never been more important. Because at the end of the day, the cheapest ton of carbon to remove from the atmosphere is the ton that doesn’t end up there in the first place.