How Effective & Efficient Are Carbon Mineralization Offsets? Here Are the Facts

How Effective & Efficient Are Carbon Mineralization Offsets? Here Are the Facts

By
Grace Smoot

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The process of carbon mineralization is one of the most effective and efficient ways of reducing global atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels by locking CO2 away for thousands of years. Partnering that process with carbon offsets could play a crucial role in mitigating climate change. So, we had to ask: How effective and efficient are carbon mineralization offsets?

Carbon mineralization offsets effectively reduce CO2 emissions by being permanent and by reducing CO2 emissions quickly, yet they do not reduce your own emissions. They are efficient with low CO2 re-emissions, yet are relatively expensive and are not yet scaled to compensate for all of our emissions.

Keep reading to find out how effective and efficient carbon mineralization offsets are, how you can offset your carbon footprint with them, what their pros and cons are, how they can mitigate climate change, and what better alternatives to carbon mineralization offsets are. 

The Big Picture of the Effectiveness and Efficiency of Carbon Mineralization Offsets

Carbon offsets are reductions in carbon emissions that are used to compensate for carbon emissions occurring elsewhere. They are measured in tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents and are bought and sold through international brokers, online retailers, and trading platforms on what is known as the global carbon offset market. 

Carbon Offset: a way for a company or person to reduce the level of carbon dioxide for which they are responsible by paying money to a company that works to reduce the total amount produced in the world, for example by reforestation”

Oxford Dictionary

Carbon mineralization is a form of technological carbon removal, the process of eliminating carbon from the atmosphere. More specifically, it is the removal of carbon from the atmosphere by sequestering it in permanent reservoirs.

Carbon Removal: the process of removing CO2 from the atmosphere”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Carbon mineralization, also referred to as enhanced weathering, refers to the process by which atmospheric CO2 reacts with silicate material and rocks rich in calcium and magnesium (e.g., basalt rocks).

Carbon mineralization: the process by which carbon dioxide becomes a solid mineral, such as a carbonate. It is a chemical reaction that happens when certain rocks are exposed to carbon dioxide”

The United States Geological Survey

There are two main types of carbon mineralization:

  • Injecting CO2 into underground rock formations
  • Exposing CO2 to broken pieces of rock at the Earth’s surface

Underground, CO2 is injected into wells that lead to igneous or metamorphic rock formations. At the surface, CO2 is exposed to basalt rocks, ultramafic rocks, or mine tailings (mine waste). Both approaches permanently lock away atmospheric carbon for thousands of years.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the big picture of carbon mineralization offsets? Check it out in this article here: What Are Carbon Mineralization Offsets and How Do They Work? The Big Picture
How Do Carbon Mineralization Offsets WorkCarbon mineralization offsets are a specific type of carbon offset involving approaches that speed up the natural weathering process, whereby atmospheric CO2 reacts with silicate material and rocks rich in calcium and magnesium (e.g., basalt rocks).
Carbon mineralization projects reduce CO2 emissions by supporting those mineralization practices that permanently lock away atmospheric carbon in rock formations for thousands of years.
How Effective Are Carbon Mineralization Offsets at Mitigating Climate ChangeCarbon mineralization offsets remove CO2 emissions permanently
Carbon mineralization offsets remove CO2 emissions quickly 
Carbon mineralization offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing
How Efficient Are Carbon Mineralization Offset Programs at Reducing CO2 EmissionsCarbon mineralization offsets have low rates of carbon re-emission
Carbon mineralization offsets are relatively expensive
Carbon mineralization offsets are not yet scaled to compensate for our global emissions

Here’s How Effective and Efficient Carbon Mineralization Offsets Are

In terms of effectiveness, carbon mineralization offsets permanently and quickly remove CO2 from the atmosphere, keeping it locked away for thousands of years; however, they do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.

In terms of efficiency, carbon mineralization offsets have low rates of carbon re-emission; however, they are also relatively expensive and are not yet scaled to compensate for our global emissions.

How Effective Are Carbon Mineralization Offset Programs at Reducing CO2 Emissions

Effectiveness involves completing a task with a desired outcome, typically a successful one. 

Effective: producing the result that is wanted or intended; producing a successful result

Oxford Dictionary

Carbon mineralization offsets permanently and quickly remove CO2 from the atmosphere; however, they do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.

Carbon Mineralization Offsets Remove CO2 Emissions Permanently 

Carbon mineralization offsets permanently remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Carbon mineralization offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that store carbon permanently in geological reservoirs. For example, Climeworks’ partner Carbfix turns captured CO2 into stone by dissolving it in water and injecting it underground where it reacts with basalt rock to form solid minerals. This process locks away CO2 for thousands of years with no long-term monitoring required.

When comparing carbon mineralization to other methods of carbon removal, like planting trees, we find that carbon mineralization reduces CO2 emissions more permanently. With nature-based solutions, there is always the risk of droughts, wildfires, tree diseases, and deforestation wiping out newly planted trees, negating permanence and any carbon reduction benefits. 

In short, carbon mineralization offsets permanently remove CO2 from the atmosphere because storing carbon underground in rock formations is a permanent process. 

Carbon Mineralization Offsets Remove CO2 Emissions Quickly

Carbon mineralization offsets reduce emissions quicker than natural processes and other nature-based solutions. 

Carbon mineralization is a natural process that occurs over millions of years. Enhanced weathering speeds up this process by breaking down silicate rocks into tiny pieces, thereby skipping slow weathering processes.

For example, Carbfix achieves 95% permanent carbon mineralization in under two years. And in comparison, newly planted trees for reforestation offsets could take upwards of 20 years to capture the amount of CO2 that most carbon offset programs promise. 

In short, carbon mineralization reduces emissions quicker than natural weathering processes and some nature-based solutions.

Carbon Mineralization Offsets Do Not Reduce Your Own Carbon Emissions

One of the main limitations of carbon offsetting in general is that purchasing a carbon offset does not directly reduce your carbon footprint. It only makes others reduce their carbon footprint to compensate for your carbon footprint. 

If emissions are only offset and not reduced from the source, this could lead to greenwashing, when the consumer is deceived into thinking they are offsetting their emissions but in reality, they are not. Companies accused of greenwashing either invest in non-verified credits, do not prioritize in-house emissions reductions, or double-count carbon credits. Or sometimes, all of the above.

In short, you should make sure to reduce your own emissions first before offsetting the remainder of what you cannot reduce. Otherwise, offsetting could be seen as greenwashing. 

Related: Are you interested in learning more about greenwashing in carbon offsetting? Check it out in this article here: “Is Carbon Offsetting Greenwashing? The Big Picture

How Efficient Are Carbon Mineralization Offset Programs at Mitigating Climate Change

Efficiency involves performing a task while using the least amount of resources and producing the least amount of waste possible.

Efficient: working in a way that does not waste a resource (= something valuable such as fuel, water, or money)

Cambridge Dictionary

Carbon mineralization offsets have low rates of carbon re-emission; however, they are also relatively expensive and are not yet scaled to compensate for our global emissions.

Carbon Mineralization Offsets Have Low Rates of Carbon Re-Emission 

Carbon mineralization is a permanent process and has very low rates of CO2 re-emission. 

Because carbon mineralization is a permanent process, rates of carbon re-emission are very low. For example, greenSand Olivine rocks permanently store carbon and will only release that carbon back into the atmosphere if the temperature exceeds 1,600 degrees. In addition, even if the rocks are broken, the carbon will remain trapped inside

In short, carbon mineralization is a permanent process, meaning rates of carbon re-emission are very low.

Carbon Mineralization Offsets Are Relatively Expensive

Carbon mineralization offsets are one of the most expensive methods of carbon removal.

Behind direct carbon capture (DCC), carbon mineralization offsets are one of the most expensive offsets out of all of the carbon removal methods. Mineralization offsets currently range anywhere from $82$1,200 per ton of CO2, depending on the type of technology, type of energy source, and scale of the operation. In comparison, reforestation offsets cost approximately $50 per ton

Carbon mineralization is also a reactive, rather than proactive, way of dealing with carbon emissions. In this manner, we can continue to use fossil fuels at an accelerated rate. Carbon removal technologies in general are expensive to implement, so there will be little economic incentive to use them until the cost of emitting carbon rises enough to prompt behavioral changes. 

In short, carbon mineralization is one of the more expensive methods of carbon removal. With further research, development, and funding, this could decrease in the coming years. 

Carbon Mineralization Offsets Are Not Yet Scaled to Compensate for Our Global Emissions

Carbon mineralization offsets are not yet at a scale where they can compensate for our global carbon emissions.

Currently, carbon offsets in general are not sufficient to compensate for all of our carbon emissions. We emit more than 36 billion tons of carbon annually, but carbon offset credits for only ~1 billion tons of CO2 have been listed for sale on the voluntary market. The number of sellers also exceeds the number of buyers by about 600-700 million tons

Carbon mineralization offsets are also not yet scaled enough to keep pace with our global carbon emissions. Because there are relatively few companies engaged in carbon mineralization on a commercial level, the amount of carbon they can sequester is limited. 

Experts estimate that carbon mineralization could be scaled up to capture 2-4 billion tons of CO2 per year by 2050. For example, Arca’s pilot program involves partnering with mines to transform mine tailings into giant carbon sinks capable of extracting and permanently storing large amounts of CO2 underground. Likewise, Silicate is a start-up leveraging the carbon removal potential of surplus concrete. They crush and spread concrete across farmlands, where it reacts with carbonic acid in the soil to permanently remove CO2 from the air.

In short, carbon mineralization offsets are not yet scaled enough to compensate for our global carbon emissions.

How Could You Offset Your Own Carbon Footprint With Carbon Mineralization Offsets

The market for carbon offsets was small in the year 2000, but by 2010 it had already grown to represent nearly $10 billion worldwide. The voluntary carbon offset market (VCM) is where everyday consumers can purchase carbon offsets to offset their carbon emissions, and the Ecosystem Marketplace predicts the VCM can grow to $50B by the year 2050

Carbon mineralization takes advantage of natural chemical processes and can permanently and quickly remove carbon from the atmosphere, locking it away for thousands of years. Because it has the potential to store large amounts of carbon, it is predicted to make up an increasing share of the VCM. Below are our favorite carbon mineralization offsets.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the best carbon mineralization offsets? Check out the full article here: Best Carbon Offsets for Carbon Mineralization (Complete 2023 List)
Carbon Mineralization Offset CompanyQuick Facts
ClimeworksCarbon offset purchases support the practice of direct CO2 removal, where specialized machines remove CO2 directly from the air and store it in rock formations underground.
NeustarkNeustark removes CO2 from the atmosphere and stores it in recycled concrete, and they cut new CO2 emissions by reducing the use of traditional cement.
greenSandgreenSand uses Olivine rocks, which trap CO2 when they come into contact with water. For every ton of CO2 purchased, greenSand spreads 1 ton of Olivine, which can absorb 1 ton of CO2.
InPlanetInPlanet accelerates the natural process of enhanced weathering by grinding and spreading silicate rocks on tropical soils. The silicate rocks capture and store carbon for thousands of years and help regenerate tropical soils by acting as a long-term fertilizer.
CarbonCureCarbonCure’s technology allows concrete producers to inject captured CO2 into fresh concrete during mixing. The CO2 then reacts with the concrete mix and is chemically converted into a mineral, where it is permanently stored for thousands of years. 
UNDOUNDO accelerates the natural process of enhanced weathering by spreading crushed basalt rock on farmlands. The rock absorbs CO2 and locks it away in mineral form for thousands of years.
HeirloomHeirloom’s technology captures CO2 through an accelerated process of natural mineralization, whereby minerals absorb CO2 from the air. The CO2 is then injected underground and stored permanently.
CarbonBuiltCarbonbuilt takes CO2 generated by industrial processes and transforms it into precast concrete.
ArcaArca is a startup speeding up the natural process of weathering. They partner with mines and transform mine tailings into giant carbon sinks capable of extracting and permanently storing large amounts of CO2.
SilicateSilicate is a startup leveraging the carbon removal potential of surplus concrete. They grind surplus concrete to dust so that it can be spread on farmlands. The crushed concrete reacts with carbonic acid in the soil to remove CO2 from the air.

What Are The 5 Pros and 4 Cons of Carbon Mineralization Offsets

Carbon mineralization offsets are permanent, have a low rate of carbon re-emission, reduce emissions quickly, protect the biosphere, and can help offset emissions that cannot be reduced otherwise. 

Carbon mineralization offsets are one of the most expensive methods of carbon removal, are not yet scaled to compensate for our global emissions, may induce seismic activity, and do not reduce your own emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the pros and cons of carbon mineralization offsets? Check out the full article here: “Carbon Mineralization Offsets: All 5 Pros and 4 Cons Explained

What Are the 5 Pros of Carbon Mineralization Offsets

Carbon mineralization offsets have various pros that make them effective at sequestering carbon from our atmosphere.

5 Pros of Carbon Mineralization OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: Carbon mineralization offsets are permanentCarbon mineralization offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that store carbon permanently in geological reservoirs. For example, Carbfix turns captured CO2 into stone, a process that locks away CO2 for thousands of years with no long-term monitoring required.
#2: Carbon mineralization offsets have a low rate of carbon re-emissionBecause carbon mineralization is a permanent process, rates of carbon re-emission are very low. For example, greenSand Olivine rocks permanently store carbon and will only release that carbon back into the atmosphere if the temperature exceeds 1,600 degrees. 
#3: Carbon mineralization offsets reduce CO2 emissions quicklyEnhanced weathering speeds up the natural carbon mineralization process by breaking down silicate rocks into tiny pieces, thereby skipping slow weathering processes. For example, Carbfix achieves 95% permanent carbon mineralization in under two years
#4: Carbon mineralization offsets protect the biosphereRemoving carbon emissions from the atmosphere via carbon mineralization would lead to improved public health in terms of asthma, respiratory allergies, airway diseases, and lung cancer. It also promotes healthy ecosystems, which have been linked with cleaner air, water, and food
#5: Carbon mineralization offsets can help offset carbon emissions that can’t be reduced otherwiseWe already have governmental-level policies in place to reduce carbon emissions, but carbon mineralization offsets allow us to reduce emissions from activities where sustainable alternatives are not yet widely available. 

What Are the 4 Cons of Carbon Mineralization Offsets

Understanding the drawbacks of carbon mineralization offsets is important when implementing this strategy on a large scale in order to mitigate climate change.

4 Cons of Carbon Mineralization OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: Carbon mineralization offsets are one of the most expensive methods of carbon removalMineralization offsets currently range anywhere from $82$1,200 per ton of CO2, depending on the type of technology, type of energy source, and scale of the operation. In comparison, reforestation offsets cost approximately $50 per ton
#2: Carbon mineralization offsets are not yet at a scale where they can compensate for our global carbon emissionsBecause there are relatively few companies engaged in carbon mineralization on a commercial level, the amount of carbon they can sequester is limited. Also, processes, standards, and technologies still need to be developed to ensure proper monitoring, verification, and reporting of carbon sequestration.
#3: Carbon mineralization offsets may have negative environmental effectsWater contamination and seismic activity are potential risks associated with carbon mineralization, although further research is needed.
#4: Carbon mineralization offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashingIf emissions are only offset and not reduced from the source, this could lead to greenwashing, when the consumer is deceived into thinking they are offsetting their emissions but in reality, they are not.

How Can Carbon Mineralization Offsets Help Mitigate Climate Change

Climate change is a severe and long-term consequence of fossil fuel combustion. Carbon mineralization offsets can help mitigate climate change because they permanently eliminate fossil-fuel-derived carbon from our atmosphere which, if left untreated, can remain there for tens of thousands of years and exacerbate the negative effects of climate change.

How is Climate Change Defined

Climate change is arguably the most severe, long-term global impact of fossil fuel combustion. Every year, approximately 33 billion tons (bt) of CO2 are emitted from burning fossil fuels. The carbon found in fossil fuels reacts with oxygen in the air to produce CO2

Climate change: changes in the earth’s weather, including changes in temperature, wind patterns and rainfall, especially the increase in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere that is caused by the increase of particular gasses, especially carbon dioxide.

Oxford Dictionary

Atmospheric CO2 fuels climate change, which results in global warming. When CO2 and other air pollutants absorb sunlight and solar radiation in the atmosphere, it traps the heat and acts as an insulator for the planet. Since the Industrial Revolution, Earth’s temperature has risen a little more than 1 degree Celsius (C), or 2 degrees Fahrenheit (F). Between 1880-1980 the global temperature rose by 0.07C every 10 years. This rate has more than doubled since 1981, with a current global annual temperature rise of 0.18C, or 0.32F, for every 10 years. 

As outlined in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, we must cut current GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050

How Do Carbon Offsets Generally Help Mitigate Climate Change

Levels of carbon in our atmosphere that cause climate change have increased as a result of human emissions since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1750. The global average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today registers at over 400 parts per million. Carbon offsets can help prevent these levels from increasing even more.

When you hear the words “carbon offset”, think about the term “compensation”. Essentially, carbon offsets are reductions in GHG emissions that are used to compensate for emissions occurring elsewhere

Carbon offsets that meet key criteria and verified project standards, are additional and permanent, and are part of projects that are carried out until the end of their lifespan have the best chance of reducing carbon emissions and therefore reducing climate change. 

When we offset CO2 we also slow the rate of global temperature rise, which in turn minimizes the effects of climate change. 

How Do Carbon Mineralization Offsets Specifically Help Mitigate Climate Change

Carbon mineralization can specifically help mitigate climate change because it eliminates atmospheric carbon, which when emitted, can remain in our atmosphere for a long period of time. Whether via underground injection, concrete, or mine tailings, the process of carbon mineralization permanently locks away CO2 for thousands of years.

What Are Better Alternatives to Carbon Mineralization Offsets

If used correctly, carbon mineralization offsets can provide environmental, economic, and social benefits beyond reducing carbon emissions. They have the potential to instigate meaningful environmental change and begin to reverse some of the effects of climate change. 

However, we can’t let this method be a guilt-free way to reduce carbon emissions. Carbon mineralization offsets must be used in conjunction with direct carbon reduction measures until the industry has time to develop, refine, and make the technology more affordable.

These reduction measures don’t have to involve drastic changes either. Actions that may seem minor can have a significant impact because those small changes add up! You can reduce your carbon footprint in three main areas of your life: household, travel, and lifestyle. 

Reduce your household carbon footprint:

Reduce your travel carbon footprint:

  • Walk or bike when possible: The most efficient ways of traveling are walking, bicycling, or taking the train. Using a bike instead of a car can reduce carbon emissions by 75%. These forms of transportation also provide lower levels of air pollution.

Reduce your lifestyle carbon footprint:

  • Switch to renewable energy sources: The six most common types of renewable energy are solar, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal, and biomass energy. They are a substitute for fossil fuels that can reduce the effects of global warming by limiting global carbon emissions and other pollutants.
  • Recycle: Recycling uses less energy and deposits less waste in landfills. Less manufacturing and transportation energy costs means fewer carbon emissions generated. Less waste in landfills means less CH4 is generated.
  • Eat less meat and dairy: Meat and dairy account for 14.5% of global GHG emissions, with beef and lamb being the most carbon-intensive. Globally, we consume much more meat than is considered sustainable, and switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet could reduce emissions. 
  • Take shorter showers: Approximately 1.2 trillion gallons of water are used each year in the United States just for showering purposes, and showering takes up about 17% of residential water usage. The amount of water consumed and the energy cost of that consumption are directly related. The less water we use the less energy we use. And the less energy we use, the less of a negative impact we have on the environment.

Because carbon mineralization offsets are an indirect way and not a direct way of reducing emissions, they alone will not be enough to reduce global carbon emissions significantly. Direct measures of emission reductions, such as reducing individual energy use and consumption, are better alternatives to carbon mineralization offsets. 

Related: Are you interested in learning why reducing your carbon footprint is so important? Check it out in this article here: “4 Main Reasons Why Reducing Your Carbon Footprint Is Important

Final Thoughts

Carbon mineralization offsets permanently and quickly remove CO2 from the atmosphere, locking it away for thousands of years; however, they do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing. They also have low rates of carbon re-emission, meaning carbon stays out of the atmosphere longer; however, they are also relatively expensive, are not yet scaled to compensate for our global emissions, and lack a standardized methodology.

Carbon offsets can instigate meaningful change, but they should not be seen as the only solution to climate change. They are effective at reducing CO2 in the short term, but in the long term, they fail to reduce CO2 enough. 

When used in conjunction with direct CO2 reduction measures, carbon offsetting can be much more effective. We should reduce our own carbon footprint as much as possible first, and only then choose the most effective carbon offsets.

Stay impactful,

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