Living Carbon Qualitative Evaluation

Living Carbon Qualitative Evaluation

Living Carbon is a biotechnology company that focuses on nature-based solutions for carbon dioxide removal. They enhance the carbon sequestration rate of forests with their bioengineered photosynthesis-enhanced poplar trees. These poplars can accumulate up to 53% more biomass than regular poplar trees. This means that given the same amount of time, the photosynthesis-enhanced trees will sequester more carbon from the atmosphere, increasing the efficiency of the forest as a carbon sink. At the same time, these trees will absorb more metal from the soil, making the wood more durable and extending the carbon storage durability.

This qualitative evaluation examines the measurability and durability of their approach, respect for the environment, co-benefits, and alignment with the needs of local communities.

  • Measurably sequester CO2: Living Carbon’s speciality is their photosynthesis-enhanced trees. Their team uses models to make conservative estimates for the amount of carbon projected to be sequestered. When it comes time to measure the actual amount of carbon sequestered, they will be able to take direct measurements of the fully grown trees. They found in greenhouse trials in 2022 that their enhanced trees were able to grow up to 53% faster than non-enhanced ones, meaning more carbon was removed [Source]. However, it remains to be seen what the actual rate of carbon sequestration will be in field trials.
  • Durability and co-benefits: Living Carbon invests heavily in its genetic technologies to enhance the seedlings’ capability to sequester carbon and absorb minerals from the ground. These trees will also have a metal accumulation trait that “enables trees to accumulate much higher levels of toxic metals in their roots, naturally slowing decay and cleaning soils made toxic by industrial activity” [Source]. This means their trees are much slower to release CO2 back to the atmosphere in their decaying process and can rebuild the soil ecosystems in abandoned mine lands. For landowners who want to participate in selling carbon credits, Living Carbon pays them a land access fee of $25-$50 per acre per year [Source].
  • Additionality (wouldn’t have happened without human intervention): Without Living Carbon’s efforts, as well as financial support from carbon markets, these trees would not be planted and the land would revert to shrubs and grasslands.
  • Respect land, water, and biodiversity: Living Carbon has their trees planted in Georgia and Ohio. They “prioritize biodiversity and the longevity of ecosystems in their projects” and only plant their enhanced seedlings within mixed-stand forests using native plant species [Source]. They also focus their planting efforts on abandoned mine lands which have already been ravaged by human activities, and although monoculture is more easily monitored and planted, Living Carbon prioritizes biodiversity [Source]. One area of concern Thanks a Ton has is in regards to the potential ecosystem-wide effects of enhanced trees potentially cross-pollinating with wild trees. In their FAQ, Living Carbon explains why this risk is extremely low, and that if fertilization were to occur, the expected outcome would be new trees with faster growth rates. It is also important for us to note that given the duty to act in the face of rapid climate change, and realizing that no solution is without potential risks, the risk of doing nothing far exceeds the risk of engineering new ecosystems focused on capturing carbon. That being said, we would like to hear more from Living Carbon going forward about their monitoring efforts and how they plan to manage the effects of potentially (albeit minimally) harmful hybridized ecosystems.
  • Align with needs of local communities: Living Carbon specializes in planting on abandoned mine lands, degraded agricultural lands including pasture, and other unproductive soils. Their projects in Ohio have a pipeline of over 3,000 acres of abandoned mineland to bring investment to former mining communities and regenerate land that is too toxic for other plants. Forest landowners can work with Living Carbon to introduce hybrid trees and start earning carbon credits [Source].

As a biotech company that commercializes bioengineered trees, Living Carbon demonstrates their commitment to the climate, environmental stewardship, and community welfare. Their genetically modified plants offer an innovative opportunity to address the pressing challenges of climate change. Their dedication and efforts in research and development, as well as their focus on de-risking this technology gives them credibility as a leader in forest carbon sequestration practices.

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