Sep 20 2022

Archiving the CDR Database

Jeremy Freeman +Danny Cullenward +Freya Chay 
Jeremy Freeman
Danny Cullenward
Freya Chay

One of our first projects at CarbonPlan was building the CDR Database. Over the last two years, we analyzed more than 200 carbon dioxide removal (CDR) proposals, across a wide range of approaches, with the goal of bringing more openness, transparency, and accountability to the carbon removal ecosystem. In the early days of our organization, the CDR Database was by far our most-accessed research product.

We learned a lot from analyzing project proposals, especially about emerging approaches to permanent CDR. When we started this work two years ago, analyzing proposals repeatedly forced us to wrap our heads around the science of novel CDR approaches, calibrate our analytical findings across harmonized metrics, and try to make our insights accessible to a broad and growing audience. Because we worked with data from prominent corporate buyers, the database also became a reasonably comprehensive survey of the landscape of CDR projects for purposes of transparency and market intelligence.

But the field is in a different place today than it was when we started. Several CDR projects that were only getting off the ground a couple years ago are now starting to make physical deliveries — progress that, for us, illustrates the need not only to evaluate proposals, but also to evaluate outcomes. Meanwhile, new project proposals arrive seemingly every week, whether in the context of investment decision-making, catalytic corporate funding, or research grants.

Evaluating the nuances of an ever-expanding pipeline of proposals requires a growing degree of time and resources, especially when proposals push on the boundaries of existing methods or involve twists on concepts already being pursued by others. The good news is that the capacity for key decision-makers in the public and private sectors has expanded in parallel. (We’ve also helped to communicate key scientific principles in public by contributing to the CDR Primer, a free online book covering the technical basics of the field.)

As a result of these changes, we see diminishing returns for the kind of high-level, cross-cutting proposal evaluation that went into our original CDR Database. Instead, we want to focus our efforts moving forward on monitoring the CDR ecosystem as projects start operating in earnest, with a specific interest in supporting the development of standards and systems for measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV).

Along the way, we will also look for opportunities to dive deep into specific CDR approaches to help understand and communicate challenges and opportunities — for example, as we did for a subset of seaweed farming approaches or via our ton-year accounting explainer. Compared to producing new additions to the CDR Database, we consider MRV and deep-dive analyses more critical to our public-interest mission and better matched to the strengths of our team in relation to the growing number of investors, analysts, and private-sector actors who can ably review startup pitch decks.

For these reasons, we will not be updating the CDR Database from this point forward, but we will leave the current version available online as an archival resource that is clearly marked with its legacy status. We thank all those who have used or provided feedback on the resource, and especially Microsoft and Stripe for making their CDR procurement processes transparent. We look forward to sharing more on our new CDR work in the months and years ahead.

Questions? Interested in collaborating on these problems?
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CarbonPlan is a registered nonprofit public benefit corporation in California with 501(c)(3) status.
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