Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announces tens of millions of dollars in climate tech funding
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), the philanthropic organization founded by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, today pledged $44 million in funding for climate change solutions. Most of the money is being spent on efforts to capture carbon dioxide that is building up to dangerous levels in the atmosphere and oceans.
The climate crisis can only be solved by ending the pollution that is warming the planet. But most models for preventing catastrophic climate change include some form of atmospheric carbon dioxide removal since human activity has already caused enough pollution to damage the planet.
The strategies have attracted billionaire backers like Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, as well as tech companies like Microsoft and Stripe. Carbon removal technologies have recently received millions of dollars in funding from Big Tech, even as tech companies come under scrutiny for how they are exacerbating the climate crisis.
Last year, CZI donated an additional $23 million to carbon removal technologies and $10 million to a scholarship program under Gates’ Breakthrough Energy climate initiative. Today’s announcement from CZI builds on that momentum behind the elimination of carbon dioxide.
About half of CZI’s new funding, $21 million, will go to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Carbon Management Institute. He is developing an electrochemical process to reduce CO2 emissions from cement production, which accounts for 8% of global carbon dioxide pollution, or about four times the emissions from the aviation industry.
Separately, UCLA plans to direct part of the funding towards the construction of an electrochemical flow reactor in the Port of Los Angeles to remove carbon dioxide from seawater. CO2 from humans, which is to their own detriment as it makes the water more acidic – dissolving crab shells and contributing to the disappearance of coral reefs, among other problems.
UCLA is also using CZI funding to develop new technology to extract CO2 from the air. The most advanced technologies for so-called direct air capture are quite energy intensive, as very high heat is used to separate dilute amounts of CO2 from everything else in our atmosphere. Therefore, direct air capture plants are often paired with geothermal or natural gas plants. UCLA hopes to reduce energy intensity and costs by using a modular electrochemical system. If successful, it will produce a less concentrated CO2 stream – but this captured CO2 can still be used in industrial processes to reduce emissions, including concrete manufacturing.
Since carbon removal technologies are still in their infancy and too expensive to deploy on a large scale, developing new markets for captured CO2 could reduce costs and attract more investors to support technology. CZI is paying $20 million to a chemical company called Twelve that is trying to develop products made with captured CO2, such as “building blocks” for jet fuel and auto parts – ostensibly replacing fossil fuels typically used in the process Manufacturing.
To further support the burgeoning carbon dioxide removal industry, CZI announces that it will purchase $2.5 million in credits representing CO2 removed from the atmosphere. Because these credits can be up to $600 per metric ton, $2.5 million doesn’t necessarily buy you a lot of CO2. But the costs are expected to come down as more companies and organizations follow suit. CZI’s carbon removal credits are linked to a range of projects that use direct air capture technologies and “nature-based” collection methods that seek to trap CO2 using soil , kelp and trees.
As carbon removal technologies are all the rage in tech circles these days, some environmentalists are concerned about how pipeline infrastructure for these technologies could affect communities and the environment. Corporate tree planting as a carbon removal strategy has also come under criticism, in part because logging and forests can easily release CO2 into the atmosphere if they are not maintained.
That’s why environmental activists continue to pressure Big Tech and its billionaire philanthropists to do more to reduce their own pollution and take responsibility for their platforms’ influence on the climate crisis. For Meta, that includes cracking down on climate misinformation on Facebook. As recent reports have noted, Facebook’s climate pledges do not include opting out of ads from fossil fuel companies and lobbyists or stopping lies about climate change on its platform.