UNDO Matters: UK carbon removal company taking remineralization mainstream

The story of UNDO Carbon Removal began as the story of the Future Forest Company, says Jim Mann, cofounder and chief executive officer of both, with the former using enhanced weathering and the latter taking the reforestation route to ecological restoration in the United Kingdom. And so, UNDO spun out from Future Forest in mid-2022.

Jim Mann standing in a field
Jim Mann, cofounder and CEO of UNDO

“We were trying to move quickly with in-house rock weathering, trying to scale fast. Reforestation and ecological restoration are relatively slow processes. You might spend a year planning and then two years getting the appropriate permissions and signoffs from government agencies, and things you get with the project. And then, what you’re trying to do is put a generational wrap around it.”

He adds: “With enhanced rock weathering, we are moving quickly with the science and operations. The pace and style of the [subgroups are] very different. If you’re not careful, then that could leave you with a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ organization. It seemed more appropriate to let them both do what is natural for them to be doing.”

Currently, UNDO has a “good customer base” buying high-quality carbon credits that the company ensures meet the highest possible standards around carbon-removal certification through its projects. The company then essentially gives away the basalt rock dust to farmers, at no cost, which means the UNDO model is effectively subsidizing the remineralization process from the farmers’ point of view, according to Mann.

“In terms of other partners, we’ll work with a number of universities trying to develop knowledge both around the remineralization and particularly the benefits to microbes and soil biology,” he says, adding enhanced rock weathering potentially could represent four billion tons of carbon removal per year. “We need to move the field forward. UNDO won’t do all of that. There’ll be a whole industry built behind this.”

Meanwhile, for individuals who might want to support UNDO’s remineralization efforts, the firm also offers subscriptions whereby the ‘customer’ effectively sponsors a small quantity of rock dust to help mitigate his or her personal impacts on the planet. UNDO spreads the rock dust in that person’s package as long as he or she keeps subscribing. Mann says the applied rock will start removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere immediately.

“It’s an important element. That’s why we maintain that product. It’s not our main revenue stream by any stretch of the imagination, but it does help educate people.”

Understanding the rocks

At a high level, UNDO’s remineralization process would be the same as for any other rock dust company, notes Mann. It involves putting down rock dust of a specific type that will absorb CO2. What differentiates his company is modelling of the rocks and soil and using science to scale up the process.

Approximately 40 people posed on a hillside, with the label "Our Team"
The UNDO team

“It [needs to] be tailored to the specific mineralogy of the rock — a deep understanding of the rock type and how it will weather in different circumstances,” he says. “We have an active transport model for the soil. This will tell us how the ions will move through the soil, and that will be different in different conditions with different rocks.

“Some rocks will weather quickly. Some rocks will weather much slower. The combination of the minerals within any rock samples will influence that process as well.”

It takes “some complicated science” to understand how the rocks’ makeup and mineralogy impacts carbon-removal capabilities, Mann says. Typically, he notes, the most efficient enhanced weathering operations will use locally-sourced rock dust, as moving rock any great distance is expensive.

“You want to limit the movement, if you possibly can. That would be my view. There are people trying to move rock a long way, doing it with boats or rail, which are quite efficient from a carbon perspective. And so, some people are trying to figure out how that works. We’ve looked at it, but we haven’t gone heavily or deeply into it at this stage.”

He added: “We certainly aspire to be more global. We are operating in Australia as well, and we have several other potential operations in other countries. However, our main focus as a U.K. company has been on the U.K. to date. And then, we’re looking to start operations in North America.”

No total replacement

While remineralization is important, according to Mann, it does not entirely replace conventional fertilizers. “To grow modern crops at the yields we need to sustain the eight billion people now on the planet, we will still be needing to add supplementary fertilizers to field crops.”

However, he says, rock dust does seem to reduce the runoff from conventional fertilizers through some “not-well-understood benefits” that increase nitrogen availability, and thus slow down release, in the soil.

“Obviously, we’re not applying any nitrogen, but more nitrogen is becoming available. And so, we don’t know the mechanism that is causing that yet — whether it’s that more is being released from stores and therefore it will deplete over time, or whether that is actually a net benefit in nitrogen availability in some way, shape or form.”

Product proves itself

Ultimately, says the CEO, if his company can keep offering rock dust at low price points for the farmers, and if the product keeps bringing them benefits while reducing their costs elsewhere, then those farmers will want to keep using UNDO’s products — it is as simple as that.

two graphs, one showing  carbon dioxide removal potential as a function of percentage of cropland treated with basalt, showing from 0.5 to 1.6 gigatons removed. The second shows the demand for rock dust as a function of cropland remineralized, showing demand ranging from 1 gigaton up to several gigatons.
Based on data from a study in Nature by Beerling et al.

“If all the things that we understand and have scientific backing follow through into the large-scale field trials we are doing at the moment, where we’re putting down tens of thousands of tons of material, then this is a no-brainer for farmers, and it doesn’t matter what’s happening in the market. It doesn’t matter how cheap the other fertilizer is, if they have something that’s free and has the same and additional benefits, they’re going to do it only.”

UNDO’s target would be to move a million tons of CO2 by 2025, which involves applying about four million tons of basalt to agricultural land. To achieve that goal, suggests Mann, there must be reasonably large-scale acceptance that this is something good for agriculture.

Fortunately, he says, organizations such as Remineralize the Earth do “great work” communicating the benefits of rock dust, while UNDO brings a scientific rigor and a commercial model to make remineralization happen at scale.

“We’re happy to work with people if they have rock supply and are looking to characterize the mineralogy. We’re open to those conversations and we’ll try and work with partners to help them make the right decisions and understand what the benefits are of that specific rock.”

Carter Haydu is a journalist and professional writer with more than 13 years of experience. Since 2012, he has written primarily on the Alberta energy sector for a Calgary-based trade publication. Much of his work has dealt with environmental issues facing the upstream oil and gas industry. In 2018, Carter attained a technical writing certificate from a reputable Canadian university. He hopes his skillset can support RTE’s sustainable initiatives.

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2 Replies to "UNDO Matters: UK carbon removal company taking remineralization mainstream"

  • Cheong Chin
    October 13, 2023 (1:07 pm)

    Hi Jim Mann,

    I would like to collaborate with your organization to work on removal of greenhouse gases and nature-based carbon streaming projects in Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

    • Joanna Campe
      October 15, 2023 (11:29 am)

      Hi Cheong Chin! To contact Jim Mann, go to the UNDO website for more information (find it here: https://un-do.com/contact-us/).

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