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Our Head of Research Programmes Luke Williams reflects on the highlights and insights from CTRF’s 2024 panel discussion ‘’Speed vs Science Solutions for Scalable Greenhouse Gas Removal’. The event also marked the launch of CTRF’s 2024 Call for Proposals, outlining the scope of projects and next steps for applications for funding. 

Bringing academics and climate thinkers together is fundamental to the work of CTRF and this panel debate offered stimulating discussion focused on the important balance between speed and science in the race towards greenhouse gas removal 

The urgent need for action to slow climate change is widely accepted but how do we ensure scientific evidence underpins advancement, to make the most effective use of resources within the limited time available ? 

In hosting this event, we brought together leading international scientists whose work is at the cutting edge of novel bio-tech solutions to remove carbon dioxide and methane. This was followed by a panel debate discussing the importance of foundational research in driving innovation, policy, investment and practice in the greenhouse gas removal space. 


Presentations were opened by  Dr. Mary Lidstrom, Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering and Microbiology at the University of Washington, Seattle and an acknowledged global leader in the field of methanotrophic bacteria who is committing her life’s work to finding scalable solutions to methane removal. Her work is being funded by CTRF, with the team closing in on breakthroughs in scientific understanding which have the promise to engineer solutions that are scalable globally” 

 The second presentation came from Professor Luke Mackinder from the University of York, whose research into the productivity and carbon sequestration capabilities of plants and algae could be a game-changer, taking the mechanism used in algae to create a carbon concentrator that can be engineered into most plants, including trees and crops, adapting them to act like CO super hoovers. 

The panel debate which followed examined the critical questions of how to ensure removal solutions are based on robust peer-reviewed science, address co-benefits and potential unintended consequences and ask what more can be done to identify and support critical novel bio-tech research. Speakers addressed the challenges of attracting funding for early-stage carbon removal solutions in what is a fast-moving environment that demands scalable, rapid solutions that we don’t yet have the ability to deliver safely and effectively. 

Opening the discussion, Chair of the panel Dr Surabi Menon who is VP of Global Intelligence at ClimateWorks commented,  

“We see from the United Nations Environment Programme Gap report that we have a 14% chance of staying at 1.5 degrees  celsius if we continue on the current trajectory. We don’t just have to reduce emissions by 42 % by 2030 and hit net zero by 2050 but we also have to remove carbon, up to 1 gigatonne by 2030 and close to 10 gigatonnes by 2050. So the need is urgent and implementable removal solutions that can scale in the indicated time frame will need successful research projects such as those funded by CTRF to be deployed. 

“We know that current capabilities are not close to meeting the challenge and there are numerous uncertainties that exist. So how do we reconcile these demands without further risking the planet that is already at the edge of a tipping point ?”

In response Dr. Steve Smith, Executive Director, Oxford Net Zero and CO2RE. University of Oxford, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment detailed the key areas that he believes need to be addressed to ensure the science is robust, the sustainability and durability of storage is achieved and protocols are rigorous to measure outcomes,  

“I think there are three broad categories of things we can do. Number one, we can have a diverse and healthy pipeline of innovation, a portfolio of options that we’re pushing thorough, like CTRF is doing. I think there is lots of scope for improvements in the technology and opening up new pathways, as these projects are doing, to find better removal methods.

The second thing I would say is that we really do need the long term field tests, certainly when it comes to removing carbon dioxide, we’re always putting that carbon somewhere in the earth’s carbon cycle…. and so fundamentally we’re trying to make sure any carbon we put away is stored away durably. 

Finally a third thing is how we monitor and verify what’s happening with these greenhouse gases and so we need a focus on scientifically grounded processes and protocols for measuring how much GHG is captured where it goes and does it stay there. I think part of the key to unlocking speed and scale is to have protocols for accounting what we’re doing with these GHGs that are initially cautious and reflect the uncertainties but that can flex and grow with our improving scientific knowledge.” 

Addressing the need for both speed and rigour, Tom Green, CEO and Co-founder of Vesta added, 

“It’s all about doing the research in the context of appropriate deployment scales and so we can’t just stay in the lab forever. We have to get out there in the field and try these solutions and try them at small scale and have very robust monitoring in place and when we have the data, move up to the next level of scale. So what we’re doing is simultaneously researching the fundamentals of the problem and what it involves to bring it up to scale.”

The discussion also touched on the need to ensure that we design for resilience in the face of predicted and unpredictable climate risks resulting in extreme weather events such as forest fires and higher temperatures, with Dr. Cara Maesano, Climate Aligned Industries Team, RMI explaining, 

 “We’re definitely going to have to account for this as we build up our suite of solutions. There are a lot of considerations, and testing and deploying across a lot of different systems is important. Overall we need to hedge our bets so we need to have a lot of options and if we see that something isn’t working, we can move on to something that works better.”

This session also saw CTRF CEO Dave Hillyard launch our 2024 Call for Proposals, outlining the scope of projects and the steps for applying for funding.  We are inviting applications into new methods of carbon sequestration, which have their roots in nature, but which could be scaled significantly using biotechnology and are interested in projects targeting greenhouse gas removal from the atmosphere into both terrestrial and ocean systems. 

With more than 150 people signed up to the webinar and interest from an international field, we are looking forward to receiving some exciting proposals, working with new academic teams and further building a portfolio of research that has the potential address some of the vital questions raised in this session.