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3 common traps for carbon removal startup founders

May 21, 2022

I see 3 common issues come up for carbon removal founders again and again. They're easy to solve if you know what to look for. 

These tips are useful to look out for if you're starting a company yourself, working at a startup, or helping advise startups in carbon removal. The video here has more details on each (8 min). (Awhile back I sent a message about 4 common traps for innovators, that was for anyone working on carbon removal)

1. Value trap

Are you in the business of selling carbon credits, making products out of carbon, or both?

"Both" is where I see teams get stuck. But I also see some teams make it work, so it's not always bad. Overcoming this means having an answer to both "does this business model work without selling any carbon credits?" and "does this business model work if we throw away our physical product?". I've written about this before and continue to see it popping up.

2. Vertical integration trap

You're trying to do it all yourself. Build out extra processes just to make your damn business model work. The good news is with a rapidly expanding industry it's likely there's someone else working on that extra piece. If you're capturing carbon, there's someone who can help you store it. If you want to sell carbon credits, there's marketplaces that will help you sell.

Example: I met a founder yesterday who captures carbon dioxide. They were struggling to build out their process so they could store carbon and get carbon removal credits. We talked about several other companies they could talk to as potential storage partners instead. They were relieved! Know what you do really well, and find others for the rest.

3. "Look the other way" trap

Is your process actually carbon negative? Are you surrrrre? This is a common issue for companies that are capturing molecules of carbon dioxide, rather than storing/products/marketplaces. It's tempting to put off your technoecnomic assessment, it's scary and takes specialized skills to do properly. After all, you really might not like what you find. If your process turns out to be carbon emitting, you might have to scrap your company entirely and start over.

That's what happened to one of the founders in the AirMiners accelerator. They dug in, found out their process would emit carbon overall, and didn't see a way to fix it. So they scrapped the company and are working on something new. Yes, it's painful but there's no tricking physics except maybe for a brief moment. You would rather find out now. Go get help from experts and get the truth.


Every bit of friction we can remove for creating new solutions means getting to gigaton scale carbon dioxide removal that much faster.

Have you seen any of these traps yourself? Or any other common traps you see where founders get stuck?


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