Atmospheric methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is rising at an accelerated rate, and is currently contributing ~0.5°C to global warming. Achieving any of our climate targets depends on quickly reversing this trend. The primary driver of increasing atmospheric methane concentration is anthropogenic emissions, from fossil fuels, agriculture, and waste. Atmospheric methane levels are also driven by natural methane emissions, already rising, and its atmospheric and terrestrial sinks which may change over time.
We must do everything we can to reduce anthropogenic methane emissions and atmospheric methane levels. Despite methane causing one third of anthropogenic global warming, methane mitigation efforts currently receive less receive less than 4% of international climate philanthropy. Reducing the climate impact of methane as much and as rapidly as possible will take a portfolio of efforts, all of which need dramatically more support:
Rapidly expanding work on each of these areas is critical. Outside of these RFPs, efforts by Spark and other leaders in the field are focused on methane emissions reductions. However, research towards understanding potential atmospheric methane removal approaches is particularly nascent and will take years. Additional support now will be transformative to scientific understanding of future methane sinks and potential atmospheric methane removal approaches, and timelines on which approaches could become available. None of these approaches are currently ready for deployment.
Methane has about a decade-long atmospheric lifetime due to various methane sinks, including atmospheric processes and bacterial consumption. Better understanding of methane sink dynamics and possible ways of augmenting them may offer future pathways to shorten methane’s atmospheric lifetime and help address climate-change-induced natural methane emissions and mitigate overall climate risk. Approaches to enhance methane’s sinks include harnessing methanotrophs, atmospheric radicals, or catalysts to break down methane. However, much more scientific research is needed for each of these approaches.
Scientific exploration of these approaches is just beginning — we don’t yet know if any of these approaches may be feasible, safe, and highly-scalable, and there are undoubtedly potential approaches that haven’t yet been discovered. A major goal of this program is to accelerate scientific exploration in this emerging field towards the identification, assessment, and advancement of possible approaches. There are multiple current categories of potential approaches, leveraging atmospheric chemistry, microbiology, and materials science, each needing further scientific assessment, and in some cases, technological breakthroughs to achieve feasibility. Many mechanisms of potential methane sink enhancement are yet to be explored at all.
Potential atmospheric methane removal methods depend on oxidation of methane, accelerating its conversion to carbon dioxide or biomass, rather than capture and removal. As a result, storage and transportation aren't required, and there aren't reversal risks. Energy requirements of these systems can also be much lower than the cost of separation.
The grant program was designed and is being managed by Spark Climate Solutions, in partnership with our expert advisors. The funding program is supported by the Grantham Foundation. Spark’s work across atmospheric methane and other areas is supported by all of our philanthropic partners.
Additional funding will extend the number of grants and rounds available through this program and other RFPs planned as part of Spark’s Atmospheric Methane Research program. Contact us if you’re interested in getting involved.