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A big oil company just bought a climate tech business for $1.1 billion. Here's why that's a big deal

  • Occidental Petroleum, one of America's large fossil fuel and chemicals companies, bought Carbon Engineering, a greenhouse gas capturing technology developer for $1.1 billion

  • The deal is the latest example of oil companies trying to move into what could be a $4 trillion market for carbon capture and storage or reuse

  • For the developing direct air capture industry, the $1.1 billion acquisition -- following on over $3 billion in funding from the U.S. government for new projects shows how valuable the tech can be

  • Oxy's acquisition is also a great signal for the investors in new technologies that need to see financial returns for these types of companies

After working together on developing direct air capture projects for the last four years, the big oil company, Occidental Petroleum, bought the greenhouse gas sucking business, Carbon Engineering, for $1.1 billion on Tuesday.

It's the latest sign that fossil fuel businesses are beginning to embrace the climate economy and shows that there's a lot of money to be made in that banana stand.

In the era of late-stage capitalism where money changes everything, a big push by big oil into the climate solutions that fall squarely within their wheelhouse counts as a pretty big deal.

The same skills that allowed oil companies to extract oil and methane gas, convert those commodities into other products, and move them around the world will be needed to take the greenhouse gases emitted by their production and either store them underground or turn them into something useful.

It's probably one of the few lifelines that these businesses have if the energy transition succeeds -- and these are companies that employ thousands of people who will need assurances that they will have jobs in a renewable energy future.

Since, carbon capture, storage, and use is projected to be a $4 trillion dollar business over the next 30 years... that's a meaningful number for companies that are used to markets that are measured in trillions of dollars.

Still, these are companies that have known about the devastating impacts of continued reliance on their sole (and hugely lucrative) moneymaker for decades and decided to do nothing to change course. Indeed these companies have actively slowed down the energy transition even as the implications of their inaction became more clear.

“The climate crisis is in the main a fossil fuel crisis,” former Vice President and longtime environmental advocate Al Gore told The New York Times. “If the world is not permitted to discuss the phasing down of fossil fuels because the fossil fuel companies don't want the world to discuss it, that's the sign of a very flawed process.

What's equally important about the Carbon Engineering acquisition is that it serves as a price signal for investors in what's still a very, very new industry.

Companies developing new technologies these days tend to rely on money from specialized investors at venture capital firms to grow. Those investors, in turn, need some kind of assurance that their bets will pay off -- and in the world of sustainable technologies those assurances have been harder to come by these days.

Investments in meat and dairy alternatives have underperformed in recent years and the jury's still out on the slew of electric vehicle companies that raised money on public markets.

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