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Startup raises questions with unconventional method of removing pollution from air: 'There is a risk of environmental harm'

"It really depends on how and where you store it."

"It really depends on how and where you store it."

Photo Credit: Charm Industrial

Charm Industrial, based in San Francisco, is using leftover parts of corn plants to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The company's technique has received attention and praise, but the unconventional method has also raised questions among experts regarding potential environmental risks.

Charm's mission is to bring Earth's carbon dioxide levels back to what they were prior to the Industrial Revolution.

Currently, the earth has excessive amounts of carbon dioxide in the air, which acts like a blanket, trapping heat in the atmosphere. This is often referred to as the greenhouse effect. While some greenhouse gasses are necessary to keep our planet warm enough to support life, too much can lead to global overheating. 

This can cause a host of environmental issues, including more extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and changes in wildlife habitats. To combat these issues, many companies and institutions have looked for new methods of carbon removal.

Charm Industrial's technology involves collecting the stalks, leaves, and husks of corn that remain after harvest. Traditionally, these residues were left to decompose or used for energy production. However, Charm converts these leftovers into bio-oil — a dark-brown liquid rich in carbon. This bio-oil is then injected into underground disposal wells, effectively storing the carbon dioxide and preventing it from entering the atmosphere.

Charm's approach is gaining a lot of attention and funding because of its efficiency and scalability. The company claims to have removed over 6,200 metric tons (6,800 tons) of CO2, making it a leader in the field of carbon removal technologies. However, critics warn of potential environmental harm associated with the process.

One of the main concerns raised by experts is the risk of leakage. Bio-oil injected underground could potentially leak into groundwater, posing a threat to the environment. 

"It really depends on how and where you store it. There is a risk of leakage. There is a risk of environmental harm. It's nasty stuff," said Hans-Peter Schmidt, who heads the Ithaka Institute, a nonprofit research foundation for carbon strategies in Switzerland, according to Canary Media. 

Additionally, there are uncertainties about the long-term effects of storing bio-oil underground and the possibility of the trapped carbon dioxide escaping back into the atmosphere or entering groundwater.

Experts emphasize the need for rigorous evaluation to ensure that environmental risks are properly addressed. 

Without proper oversight and regulation, the company's unconventional approach could have unintended consequences for the environment. Collaboration with regulatory agencies and independent organizations is essential to establish standards and protocols for carbon removal technologies.

"They're learning fast and iterating quickly," said Nan Ransohoff, who leads Frontier and the climate program at Stripe, both financial supporters of Charm. ​"That gives us a lot of confidence that they'll continue to do this in the future."

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