Supercritical, the carbon removal marketplace aimed (at the moment) mainly at tech companies that want to hit “net zero,” has raised a $13 million Series A funding round, led by Lightspeed Venture Partners.
The round includes funding from RTP Global, Greencode Ventures, MMC Ventures and others. We covered Supercritical’s launch back in August 2021, when it pointed out that the carbon footprint of the technology sector had — embarrassingly — been proven to be greater than the entire aviation industry.
The startup aggregates business demand for cutting-edge carbon removal technologies. So in a similar scenario to Tesla starting out with an electric sports car so that it could eventually launch a family saloon, Supercritical gives companies access to these innovative technologies which have the potential to scale far beyond just planting some forests etc., allowing this new wave of carbon removers to scale up.
Supercritical’s marketplace allows companies to purchase so-called “fully-vetted and qualified” carbon removal credits, to the level of the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) industry standard.
The funding will be used to scale its offering to tech companies, but, as co-founder and CEO Michelle You told me: “We are continuing to focus on tech companies but also will use the funding to broaden the offering. Every company in the world will have to get to net zero emissions if we’re going to stay below 1.5C of warming. There is no way of getting to net zero without buying permanent carbon removal to net out the remaining emissions.”
Clients for Supercritical’s approach include banking platform Tide, algorithmic trading firm XTX Markets, as well as Veriff, Multiverse and IMC.
She pointed out that there is already momentum in the market: “Already one-third of global market cap have made a voluntary commitment to net zero via the Science Based Targets initiative. Every single business will have to buy permanent carbon removal so the opportunity to scale CDR by serving other verticals is huge.”
Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) refers to approaches that remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. The alternative, carbon offsets, has frequently been found to be at best ineffective, and even fraudulent, at its worst.
In June an investigation by the Guardian newspaper, the German weekly Die Zeit and SourceMaterial, found that more than 90% of rainforest carbon offsets by the largest global certifier, Verra, were allegedly worthless.
By contrast, Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) offsets are the only offsets recognized internationally that count toward net zero, by actually taking carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it away permanently.
However, CDR capacity is disappointing to date, to put it mildly. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that only around 600,000 tonnes of CDR were purchased in 2022 — less than 0.01% of the 10 gigatonnes which we need to take out of the atmosphere annually by 2050.
As a marketplace, Supercritical says it focuses on “high-quality, vetted, durable CDR projects,” including biochar, direct air capture (DAC) and enhanced weathering, as well as afforestation. Because it aggregates demand from buyers, Supercritical says it acts as a market-maker, which means CDR projects can then scale up. It also buys from cutting-edge climate startups (see the Tesla analogy above) which have new approaches to sequestering CO2.
This last May, Supercritical went into a long-term agreement with Carbo Culture, a startup that converts carbon-containing biomass into biochar at a commercial scale. In 2021, Carbo Culture raised $6.2 million in a seed financing round led by Silicon Valley VC True Ventures.
In a statement, Paul Murphy, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners said: “Supercritical is doing something unique. By focusing exclusively on carbon removal offsets, they are helping businesses invest in the places that will actually deliver climate impact while they work in parallel to decarbonize.”
Supercritical is backed by Lightspeed Venture Partners, GreenCode Ventures and MMC Ventures. It was previously backed by LocalGlobe and angel investors including Peter Reinhardt (Twilio Segment and Charm Industrial), Yancey Strickler (Kickstarter), Alice Bentinck (Entrepreneur First), Gustaf Alströmer (Y Combinator) and Evelyn Bourke (Bupa).
The market for startups either taking a marketplace or a market-maker approach is heating up. In May, I reported on climate startup CUR8, which had raised $6.5 million from GV for its market-making platform for carbon removals. While Supercritical is both a marketplace and does carbon accounting and removal sales, CUR8 only focuses on removals and driving demand and access to finance for the suppliers.
The fact that both these startups have come out of the U.K. is also testament to the fact that the U.K. is seen to be leading the way internationally on carbon pricing and regulation.