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Local Carbon Harvest Firm Teams Up With Birtcher

Can throwing plants in the sea fight climate change? Crops Carbon Harvest Inc. says it can.

By taking crop waste that has absorbed atmospheric carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and dumping it in the ocean, the Laguna Beach-based carbon removal startup Crops (whose name stands for crop residue oceanic permanent sequestration), aims to annually remove a billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere within 10 years.

It’s advancing toward that goal with the support of the Newport Beach-based, fifth-generation family real estate company, Birtcher Development LLC, whose three-year partnership with the company is helping the startup scale its business.

The nearly $300,000 deal supplies industrial developer Birtcher with Crops’ carbon credits, which are permits that allow businesses to release allotted amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (one credit equals one ton of carbon dioxide).

Credits are created by any project—such as Crops—that evades, reduces, or captures emissions. Companies, like Birtcher, purchase them to offset their emissions.

The market for carbon credits and offsets, “will easily approach $100 a ton, meaning this is an emerging $100 billion dollar a year market which we can substantially contribute to,” Crops CEO David Mitchell told the Business Journal.

The prices for carbon credits vary around the globe. As of last week, California’s credit price neared $30, while China’s sat just below $8, according to CarbonCredits.com. The market for credits in California received a boost last year, when the state passed a law to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.

As Birtcher strives to help California meet its long-term goal, “working with Crops provides us with a tangible solution for innovation in long-term environmental change,” Managing Director Brooke Birtcher Gustafson said in a statement.

Oceanic Impact

Crops officials argue that their system can not only improve air quality but also, potentially, life in the deep ocean.

Standard methods of crop disposal include burning or allowing them to rot. Both return carbon to the atmosphere, while burning poses health risks for the nearby communities inhaling the ash it creates.

By throwing bales of agricultural waste that has absorbed atmospheric carbon into the ocean, Crops avoids polluting the air with more greenhouse gases and ash that makes it difficult for people to breathe.

The company is currently monitoring its impact on the ocean with the Southern California Marine Institute.

“We’re working closely with research groups to determine that not only is our process safe, but it’s also one that should not disturb the ecosystems and may actually benefit them,” Mitchell said.

The part of the ocean where Crops places its agricultural waste lacks oxygen, light and nutrients, meaning some of the only signs of life are microbes at the bottom of the ocean, officials say.

“What we’re doing has the potential to benefit deep ocean life by providing a small amount of nutrition to possibly create foundational structures for deep ocean reefs,” Mitchell said.

UCI Ties

The research behind the company appeared in a 2009 peer-reviewed paper co-authored by University of California, Irvine Professor Emeritus in Physics and Astronomy Gregory Benford.

In the paper, Benford found that its method of dumping carbon-absorbed plants into the deep ocean can remove carbon at an efficiency of over 90%.

More than a decade after Benford’s paper published, he teamed up with CEO Mitchell, an entrepreneur who founded internet connectivity company Laguna Broadcasting Network and led the team that invented the battery powered laptop computer in 1982.

Mitchell and Benford entered Crops into the ongoing $100 million XPrize Carbon Removal competition, which is funded by Elon Musk and the Musk Foundation.

The company’s XPrize team is separate from its business, though it has some overlap. The startup’s 16-person staff services clients across the globe, including in France, the U.K. and in Ireland.

The company to date has raised about $600,000. Crops, however, is currently in negotiations for funding that is “many times that,” Mitchell said.

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.

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