Climate Confident

Climate Impact: The Work of Tradewater in Collecting, Controlling and Destroying Greenhouse Gases

January 18, 2023 Tom Raftery / Tim Brown Season 1 Episode 104
Climate Confident
Climate Impact: The Work of Tradewater in Collecting, Controlling and Destroying Greenhouse Gases
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Welcome to the latest episode of the Climate Confident Podcast, where I, Tom Raftery, have the pleasure of hosting Tim Brown, the CEO of Tradewater.

In this episode, we delve into the crucial work that Tradewater is undertaking to combat climate change through the collection, control, and destruction of greenhouse gases.

Tim provides insight into the specific gases that the company is targeting, such as old refrigerants and methane from abandoned and orphaned oil and gas wells, as well as the scale of the problem at hand.

He also discusses Trade Water's plans for growth and expansion in the upcoming years, and highlights the international nature of the work.

We also touch on the challenges of working in diverse cultures and the importance of collective efforts in the fight against climate change. T

his conversation is both informative and engaging, and I am confident that you will find it valuable. To learn more about Tradewater and its mission, visit their website at tradewater.us and connect with Tim on LinkedIn. Thank you for listening

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Tim Brown:

The destruction rate of efficiency as required by the Montreal protocol is 99.99% efficient. So the remaining de minimus levels of gases are actually subtracted from the carbon credit that results from the work so we net that out. That's what's really nice about this project type is that high rate of destruction, rate of efficiency that makes it a permanent project type

Tom Raftery:

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are in the world. This is the Climate Confident podcast. The number one podcast, showcasing best practices in climate emission, reductions and removals. And I'm your host, Tom Raftery. Don't forget to click follow on this podcast in your podcast app of choice, to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi everyone. Welcome to the Climate 21 Podcast. My name is Tom Raftery and with me on the show today, I have my special guest, Tim. Tim, welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Tim Brown:

Sure. And thanks for having me. My name is Tim Brown. I'm the c e o of Trade Water. And we are a company that is focused on collecting, controlling, and destroying greenhouse gases and we're seeking to do that as big as we can, as fast as we can.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And when you say greenhouse gas as Tim, are you referring to co2? Are you referring to methane? You know, i, don't think you are, but , let's, let's get that outta the way first.

Tim Brown:

Sure. So as a, company, we've really sought to figure out how we can make the biggest impact possible. And as a mission driven company, that's really very important to us. And something that we, we take very seriously. So we've been looking at is actually non CO2 gases. So these would be gases that contribute significantly to climate change. And in general are short lived climate pollutants that really do their damage early right when they're released. And so the gases that we're focusing on now include old refrigerants that are up to 10,900 times as potent as CO2. And then we're also actually focusing on methane from abandoned and orphaned to oil and gas wells that are leaking methane into the atmosphere. So these two gases these two project types end up being very important. They're major contributors to climate change. The science will tell you that you really can't get at 1.5 degrees without addressing these gases. And so as a company, that's what we're focused on to make the biggest contribution we can in the fight against climate change.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And why, as in you, you've given me some of the why already, but what made you sit up one morning and decide, let's make a company that gets rid of these weird greenhouse gases that no one else is going after.

Tim Brown:

Sure. Well, my whole career has been in the environment in one form or another, and generally around pollution prevention and really seeking to find ways to improve environmental quality and also economic opportunity along the way. And I had been working quite a bit in the United States, in the Great Lakes region around water quality as well as air quality issues as they impact water quality in our Great Lakes region. And it was through that work that I started getting more engaged on climate particularly through agriculture and forestry related efforts. So I was really very interested in strategies that could make a contribution on climate. And it's through that work that I, got involved in looking at methane from abandoned coalmines. But also learned about uh, refrigerants and ozone depleting substances, which many of these old refrigerants are because of the emergence of the California cap and trade program, which which allowed for carbon offset credits to be included in the overall emissions reduction strategies in the state. So it was through. Through that program that it became apparent that there could be a flow of funds that would address these particular pollutants at scale. So we decided to give it a try and see if we could find these old refrigerant gases and then aggregate them and ultimately get them destroyed. And that took us away from the original methane work that I was doing with abandoned coal mines. But more recently, we returned to that work because of new carbon offset protocols that are made available by the ACR registry that address leaking methane from abandoned, orphaned oil and gas wells. So now we're gonna be developing projects in that arena as well. And so the combination of the two end up being a really good set of gases to go after. And it's something that we can actually do as a company. We're not going to build really large renewable energy systems, et cetera. There are plenty of other companies, organizations that are really good at that. We decided to focus on gases that others weren't going after as a way to make our contribution. And in so doing, try to figure out how to get to the biggest scale possible in the shortest amount of time. Now, that's been a, a quest that we've been on for the last several years.

Tom Raftery:

Yeah. Interesting. Okay. And seeing as you're talking about biggest scale possible in the shortest time. What's your funding model? Are you VC backed or is it private or how does that work?

Tim Brown:

So this has been a bootstrapped endeavor that is really the work of, me and my partner, Gabe Plotkin. That together we formed Trade Water and developed an economic model which is really centered around valuing the climate benefits of the work that we do. And those benefits express themselves in carbon offset credits that we then sell into the compliance market where we can find a good compliance market such as California. For the voluntary market. And that would be to companies and or really anybody who is concerned about their impact, their greenhouse gas impacts, et cetera, and are seeking to mitigate that through carbon offset credits. One of the things that's been really great about the work that we do is that it's permanent and additional. Which are kind of the, two key elements to a high quality carbon offset credit. We destroy things. So we permanently prevent them from being released in the atmosphere and it's really quite satisfying work. And in the case of methane leaking from oil and, gas wells, we plug those. So we take active leakers and plug them, which has a 99.99% efficiency rate as a mitigation strategy. So the economic model really centers around the climate benefits that we, create and finding companies and organizations and individuals that value that benefit and want to be a part of it.

Tom Raftery:

Nice. And where does the name Trade Water come from?

Tim Brown:

Well, Trade Water is a river actually in western Kentucky in the US where one of our original methane projects was. And so we selected that name just because it sounded good, and it was place based and We certainly don't trade water, but the name has has served us

Tom Raftery:

Yeah. Okay. Good, good, good. And when you say you destroy the refrigerant gas, I assume, is it CFCs or H CFCs that, that we're talking about? how, how do you destroy them?

Tim Brown:

Sure. So we are focused on CFCs and HCFCs. So CFCs are chlorofluorocarbons. HCFCs are hydrochlorofluorocarbons and they are ozone depleting substances. So you remember when the hole in ozone layer was a crisis? The, the Montreal protocol was negotiated with all countries around the world to ban the production of ozone depleting substances, including these, these refrigerant gases. What the Montreal protocol did was remarkably effective in banning the production, but it did not ban the use. So these gases are still in use around the world So there was no end of life strategy associated with these gases through the Montreal Protocol. So really it's climate finance that is now enabling us to collect these gases and get them destroyed. And it's expensive. And what we use is incineration technology that must be approved by the Montreal Protocol. So there's limited numbers of technology that are eligible for destroying these gases. But incineration is one of them. And we use incinerators here in the United States. We also have arrangements with incineration firms in France and in Saudi Arabia and in Thailand and South Africa. So we access these facilities in order to destroy the gases that we collect around the world. I should also say that in addition to the CFCs and HFCs, we are also collecting and destroying halons, which are fire suppressants used extensively in the aviation sector as well as with data centers. It's a very effective fire suppressant, but it's also an ozone depleting substance, the production of, which has been banned, but the use has not. So all of these gases end up being destroyed through high heat technology such as incineration or plasma, arc furnaces or other eligible technology as established by the Montreal Protocol.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And is halon a greenhouse gas as well?

Tim Brown:

It is, yes. I don't have this number firmly in my mind, but I think it's around 6,000 times that of co2.

Tom Raftery:

versus the 10,900, I think you said, of

Tim Brown:

Yes, the CFCs, the R 12 refrigerant, which is Dichlorodifluoromethane, is 10,900 times that of co2. So it really packs a punch. And these are gases that would absolutely be released into the atmosphere. But for the carbon and climate benefits that that can come from their destruction. There is no mandate to collect and destroy anywhere really in the world for these gases. So we're really, pleased to be able to find a solution to these gases and and make sure that they do not get released into the atmosphere.

Tom Raftery:

And where do you find them? Because you said they're, they're not produced anymore, so is it just fridges that were made back in the seventies and eighties before the Montreal Protocol?

Tim Brown:

So interestingly, we find them all over the place in different forms. We, we find a lot of cylinders. These would be like 30 pound or 50 pound cylinders that have gas that was produced, say 30 years ago or what have you, but has not been deployed yet into appliances. So these cylinders, we find a lot of them in garages and old hvac companies. And sometimes they're confiscated by governments from illegal trade. Or they, could be. Warehoused by an importer of refrigerant that can't find a market for those gases anymore. So we've, we have a broad network and, capacity to locate these gases. And then we collect them in these small quantities, but aggregate them up into larger quantities, which then makes sense to destroy. So oftentimes we, for example, in the United States, we'll collect from all over the country. We'll bring those gases to our warehouse in, outside of Chicago, we'll bulk them up into an ISO tank and then send them off to be destroyed. We use similar techniques in other parts of the world where we are bulking up gases that we find in these small quantities. And then we have to find a destruction facility to send them to. In the United States, it's we don't have any transboundary movement. But let's just say where we did a project in Honduras, for example, where we collected a fair amount of material we had to send it to France to be destroyed because of what's called the Basel Convention, which governs the movement of hazardous material around the world. So a a country that assigned the Basel Convention can really only send hazardous material to another country that signed the Basel Convention. So, and then you've gotta find your shipping routes and then get approvals from each of the, countries where the ship stops to let this hazardous material come to port. And so in the case of the Honduras project, we ended up sending it from Honduras to Guatemala, to Houston, to France, and it was just destroyed in France, just a couple months ago.

Tom Raftery:

So Tim, if you're destroying all these refrigerants, are you basically getting into a diminishing pool? Hopefully yes. But is that not kind of putting you outta business at the same time?

Tim Brown:

I think if we were put out of business and had collected all of these gases, that would be a, terrific outcome. And would be welcome. I'm not sure being outta business would be welcome, but certainly getting rid of all these gases would be welcomed. There's just a lot of them out there and, and

Tom Raftery:

the scale? Yeah, what's the scale of the issue?

Tim Brown:

So uh, some researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently did some modeling about trying to kind of project the remaining volumes of CFC gases around the world. And the number is staggering. It's 9 billion. Metric, tons of CO2 equivalent from these gases that are scattered around. Most of them are already in appliances or they're in foams and building insulation and other applications. On the HCFCs, which are lower in their global warming potential emissions factor. There's 5 billion metric tons of those gases deployed around the world. So there's a lot of them, and it'll take a long time to collect and, and control and destroy all those gases. And, we are working on scale as best we can. And just to give you a little context there, we have done to date 6 million metric tons of destroyed co2 equivalent from collecting these gases. We hope to reach a new baseline of about 3 million metric tons per year, starting in 2023. So we are ramping it up and as we establish these identification and collection opportunities around the world. But it, there's a lot of gas out there and and I think that, we're gonna do our best. But certainly there's opportunities for others to to help find these gasses too.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. Super. And when you destroy CFC Chloroflurocarbons, the, the clue is in the carbon there at the end. Does that yield CO2 as an off an offshoot?

Tim Brown:

Yeah, so there is some release of carbon monoxide or other, other greenhouse gases, but it's very, very low. In fact, the destruction rate of efficiency as required by the Montreal protocol is 99.99% efficient. So the remaining de minimus levels of gases are actually subtracted from the carbon credit that results from the work so we net that out. That's what's really nice about this project type is that high rate of destruction, rate of efficiency that makes it a permanent project type.

Tom Raftery:

Nice. Okay. And is there, is there any opportunity to capture that remaining CO or CO2 that's released?

Tim Brown:

Not that we've heard of. I think it's just the way it goes. So the, the benefit here is that you're destroying 99.99%. Of these gases, which are incredibly potent. But there is a small emission that that is inevitable from this kinda process.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And the methane what you're doing there is slightly different. You said you're capping wells. So again, talk to me about the identification of the wells. How do you find them and how do you go about capping them?

Tim Brown:

Sure. So this project type is. Actually feels very similar to the small scale aggregation work that we do in the refrigerant arena. In that we are looking for individual wells, kind of one at a time that have been abandoned and that they are orphaned, which means that there was an operator for these wells at one point, but they were unable to make it economically viable. So they ditched it. They walked away and either went bankrupt or, you know, somehow else became insolvent and are, are no longer responsible, no longer exists to be responsible for properly plugging these wells. So these are unplugged wells that are leaking methane. So what we do, and let me just say that there's just, there's a lot of 'em. We're starting this work in the United States where the federal government has projected about 2 million of these ab abandoned and orphaned wells scattered around the United States. So what we're doing is, finding them and going in the, field to measure, first of all, to detect whether or not they're leaking. And if they are leaking then we do some measurements to determine the flow the volume of, of methane that the uh, of gas that's coming off these wells or that would come off these wells if they were knocked down, et cetera, as well as the concentration of methane. So we do that testing, and, and we do it we do two rounds of it in order to really establish the baseline of the greenhouse gases that are being emitted. And then we work with contractors to plug those wells utilizing a method that the original operator should have in the first place, which is essentially to plug the well with cement and then remediate the well so that it's no longer in existence. So what what was happening is landowners have these wells on their property, generally in, in farm country. They're not responsible for them because they were not the operator. But they are a hazard. And not only that, they're in the way in terms of the ability to farm the land. So it's a real benefit to landowners to finally take care of these, of these wells. And many of them are really old. They could have easily been drilled in the 1960s and seventies, and they're still leaking methane to this day. Anyway, so we go ahead and we, we plug them and remediate the land. Return, the land such that it can be utilized by the landowner. And the climate benefit is also meets a 99.99% efficiency, through the, plugging activity. So it's a nice project type that I think it's challenging, that our challenges are to find these wells and to then validate them. It takes quite a bit of field work to do this as well as to work with landowners and seek permissions and coordinate with the state and make sure that our program is aligned with the state agencies, the regulatory agencies, et cetera. But our, plan here is to develop a very nice pipeline of those projects initially here in the United States. Then we are looking at other countries to, to see whether the same sort of conditions exist elsewhere as they do in the United States, which unfortunately, those conditions include irresponsible well, operators where there was independent producers as opposed to state or government controlled, production, where there were individual producers that may have walked away from these sites. And why that's important is because the, the real key here is additionality. You know, we we're, we're not in the business of doing other people's work for them, you know, so if there is a responsible party, that responsible party should be doing this work and they should be paying for it, and they should be held responsible for a leaking well that they have left behind. So what we're doing is we're coming in where there is no responsible party and we're bringing private finance through climate finance to make sure that these wells get plugged and that there is a, a strong permanent and additional thus high quality climate benefit that derives from the work.

Tom Raftery:

Fantastic. And the money that's funding this, it's coming from you selling the offsets for this. How does that work? Do you use some kind of offsets platform or do you sell 'em directly or you know, how, how are you selling those offsets and getting that, that finance in?

Tim Brown:

So when we sell carbon offset credits into the compliance market, it's really very easy. So let's just take the California Cap and Trade program. That program allows for carbon offset credits to be utilized by regulated entities to meet some of their compliance obligation. I think it's 4% of their compliance obligation can be met from carbon offset projects that are eligible under the California program. Ozone depleting substance, i e refrigerant collection destruction is one of those eligible projects. So in that, in that context, in that market, there's a built in demand for the, carbon offset credits that we create. But the California program is restricted to projects that are developed in the United States and in many cases that have a direct environmental benefit in California. So the majority of our work now is outside of the United States and as well as includes project types that are not eligible in California. So, for example, the plugging of abandoned and orphaned leaking oil and gas wells is not, eligible in California. So we need to find other buyers and that puts us into the voluntary market. Where we are looking for climate facing companies is what, how we refer to it. So companies that have made a commitment a net zero commitment, for example, or some other sustainability commitment that has them really accounting for their emissions either scope one, two, or three, and that are looking to support projects that render a very high quality carbon offset credit. And so that's who we are selling to now. And it's been a, a very nice experience because there's just a lot more interest in these kinds of credits. You know, that, nature-based solutions and, strategies that draw down CO2 from the atmosphere are really important and key to our fight against climate change, but the gases that we are collecting and destroying cannot be removed from the atmosphere. There isn't a drawdown or nature-based solution for them. So the, permanence and the additionality of the gases that we are going after really are sort of fit and adjacent to investments in nature-based kinds of projects. And I think that we're, well, I know that we're starting to see a great deal of interest in, in what we're doing from some of the real forward leading companies that really are taking climate seriously and want to do something meaningful and permanent and additional. And so that's who our buyers are gonna be. I think that the global nature of our work now allows us to really participate in a global market, which is really exciting as well. So I think that there's a really nice path forward to establish the demand for the climate benefits that we are creating through our collection and control and destruction work.

Tom Raftery:

Okay. And where to next for Trade Water? I mean, what are your plans? I know you said for 2023 you want to get to 3 million tons a year, but what do you wanna be doing by 2028?

Tim Brown:

By 2028, I would like to have looked back on the past five years and know that we've done at least 20 million tons of impact. So as we sit here in 2023, we're actually taking a five year view. And we think that we can do at least 20 million tons in impact through this kind of work. And for us that's really exciting and a real challenge to be able to do this work at that scale. And who knows, we may be really underestimating it and if we talk again in 2028, I might say well Tom, we actually got 40 million tons out. would be very exciting.

Tom Raftery:

Cool. All right, Tim we're coming towards the end of the podcast now. Is there any question that I haven't asked that you wish I had or any aspect of this we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to think about?

Tim Brown:

Well, I think I just wanna mention that when we started this endeavor we didn't appreciate the global nature of the work. You know, we were very US-centric at that time. But it's been really interesting to us to understand the global dimension of the work and to have the opportunity to work around the world. And It's put us in contact with a lot of interesting people. We're always looking for partners and people who are knowledgeable about where these gases may exist. We've done projects and are working in Honduras Dominican Republic, Chile Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Zimbabwe, Egypt Thailand. And we have an intention in this year to evaluate about 16 more countries. So we're always looking to, to find these gases wherever they are. And so I think that the, global dimension of the work really sort of speaks to the, the magnitude of this problem. But it's also really very interesting to figure out how to work in a global context. You know, that's new for us. And uh, working in different cultures and different time zones and having staff scattered around the world and really trying to do our best to bring this up to scale and find the right people around the world to work with. And that's what fighting climate change requires. It is a group effort, . And it's a multicultural effort that we're engaged in now and are, are looking forward to, doing as best job of it as we can certainly and over the next five years.

Tom Raftery:

Sure. And, and the atmosphere doesn't care where you're based. You know, the methane or the refrigerant gases that get vented to the atmosphere in Saudi or in Zimbabwe or in the Dominican Republic will, will damage the atmosphere just as much as any refrigerants released in Chicago, for example. So it, yeah, so the fact that you're working globally is, is great. Fantastic.

Tim Brown:

Absolutely these gases are fungible in the atmosphere. No matter where they are, collecting, controlling, and destroying them will benefit everybody. And I think that's that as well speaks to the global nature of this work.

Tom Raftery:

Superb. Superb. Tim, if people would like to know more about yourself or Trade Water or any of the things we discussed in the podcast today, where would you have me direct them?

Tim Brown:

Well, they can always come to our website trade water.us. They can find me on LinkedIn. And Would be more than happy to connect with folks that are interested in this work wherever they are.

Tom Raftery:

Fantastic. Tim, that's been really interesting. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.

Tim Brown:

Well, thank you. It's been a pleasure to be with you.

Tom Raftery:

Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about the Climate Confident podcast, feel free to drop me an email to Tom raftery@outlook.com. Or message me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you like the show, please, don't forget to click follow on it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks, catch you all next time.

(Cont.) Climate Impact: The Work of Tradewater in Collecting, Controlling and Destroying Greenhouse Gases