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Figma's Carbon Capture Deal Shows New Way to Fight Climate Change

Exclusive: The design tools company wants to be carbon neutral by 2040.

green trees symbolize Earth Day
Stephen Shankland/CNET

Figma, a collaborative design tool company, is joining the ranks of tech heavyweights like Google and Microsoft in the effort to curb carbon emissions. 

The San Francisco-based company said Friday it will pay Charm Industrial $250,000 to store 400 tons of carbon by 2025, part of the company's plan to become carbon neutral by 2040. The carbon stored will counter emissions Figma's activities put into the atmosphere, according to Praveer Melwani, Figma's head of business operations and finance.

Charm, called bio-oil sequestration, converts plant matter into a carbon-rich liquid and then stores it underground in places that once held natural gas or oil.

"We're helping them start to scale their own business and technology, which we think is going to be really essential for tackling climate change," Melwani said in an exclusive interview.

Figma's deal, unveiled on Earth Day, won't tip the scales in the fight on climate change. Still, it's part of a growing trend of corporate actions that indicate companies around the world are incorporating carbon neutral pledges into their corporate missions for practical and ethical reasons.

Google, Meta, Apple and Microsoft are carbon neutral already for their own operations, and Apple and Meta have 2030 deadlines to expand that to suppliers and people using their products. Microsoft is working to reverse carbon emissions from its entire corporate lifespan, and Google says it already has.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, emitted during power generation and through transportation, are the primary cause of climate change. So much of the fight to curb climate change has focused on reducing emissions. In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also evaluated removing carbon from the atmosphere through carbon capture technology. Direct air capture startups include Climeworks and CarbonCapture.

Charm has a different approach, using a portable high-temperature reactor to make bio oil from discarded plant matter like corn stalks or tree branches that would otherwise decompose and release greenhouse gases, says Charm Chief Executive Peter Reinhardt. The mixture isn't useful as a fuel, but it can be stored easily. 

After it's created in the reactor with a two-second process called fast pyrolysis, the bio oil can be pumped into salt caverns previously used to pump natural gas or into sediments that once held oil, Reinhardt said. Currently, processing and storing a ton costs about $600, though the company wants to bring that down to $100.

Bringing costs down is crucial to making carbon capture economical. With current technology, removing 10 gigatons of carbon directly from the air would require 40 to 100 exajoules of energy, the IPCC said. That equates to a 6% to 14% of the world's entire energy supply, an enormously costly resource. Charm's costs are in the same range as direct air capture.

There are business reasons to fight climate change even if there's no legal obligation.

Intel, which earlier in this month set a goal of greenhouse gas neutrality by 2040, has said environmental responsibility helps recruit and retain employees. Some companies cut emissions to appeal to those that prefer greener business partners. The US Securities and Exchange Commission likely will require businesses to calculate and disclose their greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse gas emissions are categorized on a three-tier scale. Scope 1 emissions are from shipping, manufacturing and similar activities. Scope 2 is broader, accounting for the emissions from electrical power the company uses. Scope 3 is broader yet, including the emissions from a company's suppliers and customers.

Figma's goal is to be carbon neutral by 2040 on a Scope 3 basis.