Most farming available across the globe depends on ammonia production for fertilizers. While the humanity needs fertilizers because humans need food, they have an impact for climate change. Nearly 1% of total global greenhouse gas emissions come from fertilizer production.
Monolith Materials wants to change that. The startup has a mechanism that breaks apart natural gas to produce carbon black. This substance is a common material for rubber and hydrogen, which we can use for a lot of things like creating ammonia.
The company’s plant, in progress now, could produce about 275,000 tons of ammonia per year and 180,000 tons of carbon black. It’ll be a part of a manufacturing facility in Nebraska, where Monolith has opened its first production of carbon black.
Next year, the startup will operate in a way that 100% of its energy is from renewable sources. “We’re a lot like an electric car. We have no direct emissions at our plant, but like an electric car, what matters is where your electricity came from,” said the cofounder and CEO Rob Hanson.
Hanson & Johnson
In 2012, Hanson founded the company with Pete Johnson. They didn’t know what to do at first, but they have one goal: finding a business idea that was environmentally transformative and financially sustainable.
When they were exploring ideas, they found out about a chemical process called methane pyrolysis. In that process, natural gas can heat up without oxygen exposure. The heat forces molecules to split up into carbon as well as hydrogen gas, which has a lot of usage and sellable.
Carbon, as a result of methane pyrolysis, can transform into carbon black in a manner that’s sustainable. According to Hanson, conventional process we have right now produces a lot of CO2.
Hanson claimed that his company’s processing is cost-competitive. Making money from selling hydrogen is, to him, a financial bonus. “If all the process did was make carbon black and vented hydrogen, we would still be competitive,” said the Monolith CEO.
To date, Monolith has raised about $274 million funding. That has allowed the company to develop its technology and build its plant. Hanson is glad that the idea he and his cofounders had has started to be fruitful.
“Ammonia is a great milestone on our journey, where it’s an existing hydrogen-produced chemical and we can do it cleaner,” said Hanson.
It’s amazing how exploring ideas could lead to one thing and it’s transformable to something profitable and green/sustainable. So, if you have ideas or solutions about how you can make a difference, write them down and brainstorm with your partner(s).
Carbon-free shopping can come sooner
Canadian startup Carbon Engineering with their Direct Air Capture technology has been around for some time now. If you don’t know about it, it basically pulls CO2 out of the atmosphere.
Carbon Engineering’s tech has become commercially available and is quickly becoming a transformative commercial force. The company has also partnered with influential organizations in three countries as they’ve announced.
Around late summer 2020, the company revealed that they’d sealed a direct deal to provide carbon credits to a $115 billion market cap retailer. They’d also reached agreements to license their technology overseas and in the US to well-funded partners.
The deals are a proof that there’s an emerging new industry offering a business model called “Carbon Sequestration as a Service”. At least that’s what Forbes named it.
Internet retailer applying this tech
Shopify, e-commerce platform from Canada, has announced that it would pay Carbon Engineering to use its research facility. The purpose is to permanently sequester CO2, which is what the DAC does best.
Then, Shopify would be able to sell the carbon credits it received onto the voluntary carbon credit markets. You can find out more about that in this Forbes article.
Each of the deals is important in its own way, but all of them together signal the emergence of a new industry offering a business model I call “Carbon Sequestration-as-a-Service” (CSaaS). In this article, I look at CSaaS as applied to the Internet retailer.
With this, the e-commerce giant stands out from the rest by being the only internet retailer that evidently tries to permanently sequester CO2. Consumers have said that lowering carbon footprints is important and the company gives them what they want.
Consequently, Carbon Engineering’s research facility has turned into a profit center, as opposed to a cost center before. Shopify will pay for captured and sequestered carbon there.
Carbon Sequestration as a Service (CSaaS)
Companies that use this business model can outsource the process of reducing carbon footprint of their operations to Carbon Engineering. It’s the only firm that can withdraw and sequester carbon at a large scale.
The Canadian company is a great as-a-service firm because they can operate anywhere in the world effectively. They can also solve problems that their clients can’t easily solve themselves.
Dr. Rajat Panwar, a professor of Sustainable Business and an expert on sustainability issues, thought that Shopify-CE joint is important. E-commerce retailers have huge responsibility for their growth in carbon emissions.
Professor Panwar pointed out that there’s some kind of a double standard going on. Compared to “physical” industries like mining or refining, consumers don’t notice e-commerce related emissions.
This is probably because e-commerce emissions are hidden within distant supply chains. Most consumers are not aware about that (me included, actually).
The future of online retailers
Panwar has done a research that shows one big underlying cause for the increase in emissions: complex, multinational supply chains. The carbon footprint of these is not easy to trace and manage, no matter how big or small the company is.
Hopefully, Shopify is spreading its decarbonization plan to its clients far and wide. Therefore, we can have “carbon free shopping” experience soon. With technology advancement today, things which are impossible back then or today can be possible later.
Meanwhile, I think online e-commerce platform should apply sustainable or eco conscious practices and encourage online sellers to do the same. There will be carbon footprint still, but at least there are some measures to offset it.
What do you think, though? Share your thoughts.