Technology-Based Carbon Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

Technology-Based Carbon Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

By
Grace Smoot

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The global average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere registers at over 400 parts per million. In the scope of carbon offsets, technology-based carbon offsets could play a crucial role in lowering this level because it is one way to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. So, we had to ask: What are technology-based carbon offsets really, and could they help us mitigate climate change?

Technology-based carbon offsets use specialized technology to extract carbon or methane from the atmosphere and repurpose or store it permanently in various reservoirs. They are virtually immediate and one of the most effective solutions; however, they can also be expensive and are yet to be scaled.

Keep reading to find out all about what technology-based carbon offsets are, how they work, how effective and efficient they are, what their pros and cons are, and what the best ones are. 

At the end of the article, we’ll also share with you how these offsets can help mitigate climate change and what better alternatives to them are. 

The Big Picture of Technology-Based Carbon 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

Technology-based carbon offsets are those that use specialized technology to extract carbon from the atmosphere so that it can then be repurposed or stored permanently in various reservoirs. 

What are technology-based carbon offsetsTechnology-based carbon offsets are those that use specialized technology to extract carbon or methane (CH4) from the atmosphere so that it can be repurposed or stored permanently in various reservoirs. 
How do technology-based carbon offsets workTechnology-based carbon offset projects reduce emissions by eliminating carbon or methane (CH4) from the atmosphere via direct carbon/air capture, carbon mineralization, energy-efficiency, waste management, or agricultural practices.
How effective and efficient are technology-based carbon offsetsEffectiveness: Technology-based carbon offsets can permanently and quickly reduce CO2 emissions, bolster energy security, help transition away from fossil fuels, and reduce CH4 emissions. However, they can also lack additionality and do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.

Efficiency: Technology-based carbon offsets can have low rates of carbon re-emission; however they also come with varying levels of cost, can be difficult to monitor and verify, and are not yet scaled to compensate for our global emissions.
What are the 6 pros of technology-based carbon offsets1. Technology-based carbon offsets can store carbon for long periods of time
2. Technology-based carbon offsets can reduce CO2 emissions quickly
3. Technology-based carbon offsets can reduce methane (CH4) emissions 
4. Technology-based carbon offsets can be cost-effective
5. Technology-based carbon offsets can promote energy decentralization, bolster energy security, and help transition away from fossil fuels
6. Technology-based carbon offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually
What are the 5 cons of technology-based carbon offsets1. Technology-based carbon offsets can lack additionality
2. Technology-based carbon offsets can be expensive
3. Technology-based carbon offsets are not yet at a scale where they can compensate for our global carbon emissions
4. Technology-based carbon offsets can be difficult to monitor and verify
5. Technology-based carbon offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing
What are the best technology-based carbon offsetsThe best technology-based carbon offsets are offered by Climeworks, Neustark, DelAgua, CoreZero, and Terrapass, which offer direct carbon/air capture, carbon mineralization, energy-efficiency, waste management, and agricultural offset projects. 
How can technology-based carbon offsets help mitigate climate changeTechnology-based carbon offsets 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.

What Are Technology-Based Carbon Offsets

Carbon removal is the process of eliminating carbon from the atmosphere. It is also referred to as negative emissions or carbon drawdown.

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

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Carbon removal can be split into 2 categories, technological and natural carbon removal. Technology-based carbon offsets are those that use specialized technology to extract carbon or methane (CH4) from the atmosphere so that it can then be repurposed or stored permanently in various reservoirs. 

Carbon offsets that are commonly classified as technology-based carbon offsets include:

How Do Technology-Based Carbon Offsets Work

Technology-based carbon offset projects reduce emissions by eliminating CO2 or CH4 from the atmosphere via direct carbon/air capture, carbon mineralization, energy-efficiency, waste management, or agricultural practices.

Carbon removal can be split into 2 categories, technological and natural carbon removal

  • Technological removal: This involves specialized technology which extracts carbon from the atmosphere. 
  • Natural removal: Also known as carbon sequestration. Carbon is stored naturally in vegetation (forests), soils, and oceans, also referred to as our carbon sinks. 

Removing carbon from the atmosphere is one way to mitigate the adverse effects of CO2 emissions that occur once they enter our atmosphere.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the big picture of technology-based carbon offsets? Check it out in this article here: “What Are Technology-Based Carbon Offsets and How Do They Work? The Big Picture”

How Effective and Efficient Are Technology-Based Carbon Offsets

In terms of effectiveness, technology-based carbon offsets can permanently and quickly reduce CO2 emissions, bolster energy security, help transition away from fossil fuels, and reduce CH4 emissions. However, they can also lack additionality and do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.

In terms of efficiency, technology-based carbon offsets can have low rates of carbon re-emission; however, they also come with varying levels of cost, can be difficult to monitor and verify, and are not yet scaled to compensate for our global emissions.

Technology-based carbon offsets are effective at mitigating climate change because:

However, technology-based carbon offsets involving energy-efficiency and waste management can also lack additionality due to increasing demands for projects.

Technology-based carbon offsets are efficient at reducing CO2 emissions because DCC/DAC offsets can have low rates of carbon re-emission when plants are operated by low-carbon electricity. And carbon mineralization offsets store carbon permanently, even if rocks are broken.

However, technology-based carbon offsets can also lack efficiency because:

  • The decentralized nature and many different types of energy-efficiency, waste management, and agricultural carbon offsets can make standardization and monitoring difficult. 
  • DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, energy efficiency, waste management, and agricultural offsets are not scaled enough to keep pace with our global carbon emissions due to a lack of technology and few companies engaged in the practices

Also, costs can vary greatly depending on the type of offset. Technology-based carbon offsets such as DCC/DAC and carbon mineralization are some of the more expensive methods. But carbon offsets involving energy efficiency, waste management, and agriculture are relatively cost-effective.

Lastly, technology-based carbon offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing. This occurs when emissions are only offset and not reduced from the source, and the consumer is deceived into thinking they are offsetting their emissions but in reality, they are not. This is why we should first reduce our emissions before relying on offsets.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about how effective and efficient technology-based carbon offsets are? Check out the full article here: “How Effective and Efficient Are Technology-Based Carbon Offsets? Here Are the Facts”

What Are The 6 Pros and 5 Cons of Technology-Based Carbon Offsets

Technology-based carbon offsets can cost-effectively reduce CO2 and CH4 emissions quickly while storing carbon for long periods of time. They also promote energy decentralization, bolster energy security, help transition away from fossil fuels, and allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually.

Technology-based carbon offsets can lack additionality, are not yet scaled to compensate for our global emissions, can be expensive, and can be difficult to monitor and verify. They also do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which could lead to greenwashing.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the pros and cons of technology-based carbon offsets? Check out the full article here: “Technology-Based Carbon Offsets: All 6 Pros and 5 Cons Explained”

What Are the 6 Pros of Technology-Based Carbon Offsets

Technology-based carbon offsets have various pros that make them effective at reducing carbon emissions.

6 Pros of Technology-Based Carbon OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: Technology-based carbon offsets can store carbon for long periods of timeTechnology-based carbon offsets involving direct carbon/air capture (DCC/DAC), carbon mineralization, waste management, and agriculture can permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere with low rates of carbon re-emission. 
#2: Technology-based carbon offsets can reduce CO2 emissions quicklyTechnology-based carbon offsets involving DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, energy efficiency, and some waste management and agricultural practices can reduce emissions immediately.
#3: Technology-based carbon offsets can reduce methane (CH4) emissionsTechnology-based carbon offsets involving waste management and agriculture can reduce methane (CH4) emissions. 
#4: Technology-based carbon offsets can be cost-effectiveTechnology-based carbon offsets involving energy efficiency, waste management, and agriculture are some of the most cost-effective methods of carbon emission reduction. 
#5: Technology-based carbon offsets can promote energy decentralization, bolster energy security, and help transition away from fossil fuelsTechnology-based carbon offsets involving energy efficiency can help reduce reliance on fossil fuels, leading to increased energy security and energy independence. 
#6: Technology-based carbon offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individuallyTechnology-based carbon offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually.

What Are the 5 Cons of Technology-Based Carbon Offsets

Understanding the drawbacks of technology-based carbon offsets is important in order to effectively mitigate climate change.

5 Cons of Technology-Based Carbon OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: Technology-based carbon offsets can lack additionalityTechnology-based offsets involving energy efficiency often lack additionality because many projects receiving revenue now would have been built regardless.
#2: Technology-based carbon offsets can be expensiveTechnology-based offsets involving DCC/DAC and carbon mineralization offsets are some of the most expensive methods of carbon removal. 
#3: Technology-based carbon offsets are not yet at a scale where they can compensate for our global carbon emissionsDCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, energy efficiency, waste management, and agricultural carbon offsets are not yet scaled to keep pace with our global carbon emissions due to various barriers. 
#4: Technology-based carbon offsets can be difficult to monitor and verifyTechnology-based carbon offsets involving energy efficiency, waste management, and agriculture can be difficult to monitor and verify.
#5: Technology-based carbon 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 Could You Offset Your Own Carbon Footprint With Technology-Based Carbon 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. 

The Ecosystem Marketplace predicts the VCM can grow to $50B by the year 2050. And because technology-based carbon offsets are effective and efficient at reducing carbon emissions, they are predicted to make up an increasingly larger share of this market.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the best technology-based carbon offsets? Check out the full article here: “Impactful Ninja: Best Technology-Based Carbon Offsets”
Technology-Based Carbon Offset CompanyQuick Facts
ClimeworksAbout: Carbon 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.
Costs: $1,200 per 1,000kg of CO2
NeustarkAbout: Neustark removes CO2 from the atmosphere and stores it in recycled concrete, and they cut new CO2 emissions by reducing the use of traditional cement.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact.
DelAguaAbout: Purchases support the Rwandan clean cookstoves energy-efficiency carbon offset project.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact
CoreZeroAbout: Purchases support waste management projects including food rescue, upcycling, waste-to-energy, and composting.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact
TerrapassAbout: Purchases support waste management and agricultural projects including landfill gas combustion, hydrofluorocarbon recovery/repurposing, capturing CH4, and generating electricity from livestock manure.
Costs: $16.51-$17.63 per 1,000kg of CO2 for individuals and $16.99 per 1,000kg of CO2 for businesses.
Native EnergyAbout: Purchases support waste management and agricultural projects including landfill gas to energy, CH4 digesters, CH4 conversion into energy, and farm methane power. 
Costs: $15.50 per 1,000 kg of CO2
CarbonfundAbout: Purchases support waste management and energy-efficiency projects including landfill gas to renewable energy, landfill gas capture, clean cooking, water filtration, and reducing tailpipe emissions.
Costs: $16.25-$17.16 per 1,000kg of CO2 for individuals, $390-$1,560 per year for small businesses, determined after initial contact for large businesses
greenSandAbout: greenSand 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 in turn absorb and permanently store 1 ton of CO2.
Costs: $82 per 1,000kg of CO2
GreenTechAbout: They take plastic (e.g., plastic bottles) and sort, grind, wash, and process it into sustainable recycled flakes to make products (e.g., PET flakes, PET straps, and r-PET granules).
Costs: $40 per 1,000kg of CO2

How Can Technology-Based Carbon Offsets Help Mitigate Climate Change

Climate change is a severe and long-term consequence of fossil fuel combustion. Technology-based offsets can help mitigate climate change because they 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. 

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 a 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. 

As outlined in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, we must cut current greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. Technology-based offsets are important to meet these targets because it eliminates carbon, which when emitted, can remain in our atmosphere for tens of thousands of years.

How Do Technology-Based Carbon Offsets Specifically Help Mitigate Climate Change

Direct carbon/air capture and carbon mineralization offsets specifically help mitigate climate change because these methods permanently lock away CO2 for thousands of years with little to no carbon re-emission.

Waste management offsets involving landfill gas capture/combustion, landfill gas to renewable energy, biodigesters, biogas, and composting specifically help mitigate climate change because they capture emissions from waste, turn it into renewable energy, and reduce the total amount of waste. 

Energy-efficiency offsets involving clean cookstoves, water filtration programs, and co-generation facilities specifically help mitigate climate change by reducing CO2 emissions from direct fossil fuel combustion and from indirect electricity generation. By using energy-efficient appliances and methodologies, we reduce the amount of CO2 entering our atmosphere. 

Agricultural offsets including CH4 capture can specifically help mitigate climate change because they reduce CO2 and CH4 emissions in one of the biggest industries worldwide.

What Are Better Alternatives to Technology-Based Carbon Offsets

If used correctly, technology-based carbon 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. Technology-based carbon offsets must be used in conjunction with direct carbon reduction measures to reduce GHG emissions long-term. 

These reduction measures don’t have to involve drastic changes either. Actions that may seem small can have a big 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.
  • 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 technology-based carbon 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 these 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

Technology-based carbon offsets help reduce carbon emissions by removing CO2 and CH4 from the atmosphere and either repurposing it into renewable energy or storing it permanently in various reservoirs. Their effectiveness and efficiency highly depend on the type of technology used. 

Direct carbon/air capture and carbon mineralization offsets permanently remove CO2 quickly with low rates of carbon re-emission. Energy-efficiency offsets bolster energy security and aid in the transition away from fossil fuels. Waste management and agricultural offsets target CH4 emissions from landfills and agricultural processes.

The top technology-based carbon offsets are those offered by companies whose projects are verified by recognized standards. But although carbon offsets can instigate meaningful change, they should not be seen as the only solution to climate change. In the long term, they fail to reduce CO2 enough to mitigate climate change for future generations. 

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

Stay impactful,

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