First look: A new Stanford University initiative aims to break the academic mold in overcoming barriers to large-scale deployment of tech that pulls planet-warming gases from the atmosphere, Ben writes.

🗞️ Driving the news: The Doerr School of Sustainability will today announce greenhouse gas removal as the first focus of a new “flagship destinations” program on the environment.

  • In this case, that means an annual goal of removing CO2 and other planet-warming gases at the gigatons scale.

The intrigue: School dean Arun Majumdar notes that academic research often begins with looking for a proof of concept and then seeing if it can scale.

  • But Stanford’s multi-disciplinary approach aims to turn this paradigm on its head.
  • “Here we are saying, let’s think about the scale from the beginning and work backwards,” he tells me.
  • That means looking simultaneously at knowledge gaps, financial gaps, policy gaps and more.

Why it matters: Most scenarios for meeting Paris Agreement goals see removal becoming a complement to steep emissions cuts.

Yes, but: While investment is growing, removal’s in its infancy, and the viability of massive commercial deployment is unclear.

🏃🏽‍♀️ Catch up fast: Removal refers to a wide basket of tech and methods.

  • They include direct air capture and ways of speeding CO2 uptake in oceans, rock formations and soils, to name just a few.

😮 One wild stat: Majumdar offered a sobering way to think about annual gigaton-scale removal.

  • All the planet’s roughly 8 billion people together weigh roughly a half-gigaton, he said.
  • This illuminates the need for a “new industrial base” that must be envisioned up front.

How it works: The effort starts with coming up with ideas for overcoming gaps needed to achieve scale.

Majumdar then envisions convening people from other universities, nonprofits, industry, policymakers and more, to vet the work.

  • The goal: a “shared hypothesis of plausible pathways” and knowledge gaps, and then publishing the findings in an academic journal or elsewhere.
  • And they would not just gather dust, either — he sees it forming the basis for real-world work and funding.

What’s next: Hiring more staff and finding outside partners and funding from foundations, industry or other actors.

  • Future “flagship destinations” could address areas like climate adaptation and protecting marine ecosystems.
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