Colorado, Arizona local governments partner on carbon removal technology

The local governments of Boulder County, Colo., and Flagstaff, Ariz., are recruiting other “climate-forward” jurisdictions in the Four Corners region of the West to scale up carbon removal technologies.

While Boulder County and Flagstaff initially announced their intent to form the Four Corners Carbon Removal Coalition last November, the two jurisdictions announced this week that they would begin requesting proposals from interested entities in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah this summer.

The initial request will be seeking proposals “that realize durable, verifiable carbon removal” solutions that integrate the carbon they remove from greenhouse gas emissions into local concrete production, according to the partners.

“Local governments can do a lot for their communities, for supporting climate action resilience,” Susie Strife, director of Sustainability, Climate Action & Resilience for Boulder County, said at a launch webinar aired on Tuesday.

“This is so important to us because what we do locally is a drop in the bucket in terms of emission reductions,” Strife added. “But if we can band together and get more local governments engaged in this, that’s when I think we can really have a larger impact.”

The governments will be working with OpenAir, a volunteer-led collective that aims to accelerate the development of carbon removal technologies.

At the Tuesday webinar, OpenAir co-founder Chris Neidl defined carbon dioxide removal as “a range of different activities that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and durably store it in geological terrestrial ocean reservoirs or in products.”

Essentially, carbon dioxide removal means sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere — either through natural methods like trees or through technological approaches that are still emerging.

“It’s become very clear in the last few years that all pathways that really maintain a livable climate over the course of this century, in addition to dramatic decarbonization and adaptation to inevitable climate change, also are going to require the removal of emissions from the atmosphere,” Neidl said.

While Neidl acknowledged that these technologies will not be a “substitution” for decarbonization and adaptation, he stressed that the development of affordable carbon removal solutions needed to be “starting yesterday.”

A variety of companies and researchers around the world having begun developing such technologies, but they have yet to be produced at a commercial scale.

In Neidl’s mind, the world needs “a portfolio of technically proven options that are also socially acceptable and vetted” by the end of 2030.

Local governments, according to Neidl, are poised to drive this development forward, as they are “uniquely accountable to the public that they serve.”

Boulder County identified carbon removal as part of its overall climate strategy in 2018 and last year launched a Climate Innovation Fund to directly support initiatives that remove and sequester carbon, he explained.

Flagstaff’s city council last year also declared its support for carbon removal as part of its carbon neutrality plan, Neidl added.

When OpenAir brought the two local entities together, he said the partners realized the benefit of aggregating their ideas with other local governments that have similar interests throughout the region.

The Four Corners Carbon Removal Coalition aims to bring local governments together to devise “ways to directly support carbon removal innovation and to do it now,” Neidl said.

The coalition will be harnessing both private and public sector funding — recognizing that while each local entity might lack sufficient support alone, they can accomplish more by pooling their resources.

The initial proposals will focus on projects that sequester carbon in concrete, which is capable of sucking in carbon and fixing it permanently through a process called “carbonation,” Neidl explained.

Nicole Antonopoulos, sustainability director for the City of Flagstaff, said that carbon dioxide removal dominates her city’s “toolset” for achieving carbon neutrality over the next eight years. The prospects of these emerging technologies also offer “incredible opportunity for alignment with business development,” she added at the webinar.

“It took trillions of dollars to put these types of emissions into the atmosphere,” Antonopoulos added. “It’s going create trillions of dollars’ worth of industry to remove it.”

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