- Are Açaí Bowls Even Healthy?
- Pumpkin Papaya Superfood Acai Bowl
- Super Mango Pineapple Açaí Bowl
- Açaí Banana Peanut Butter Bowl
- Berry-Licious Açaí Bowl
- Raw Chocolate Açaí Bowl
- Everything You Need To Know About Açaí Bowls + 17 Recipes
- What is açaí?
- Açaí + Breakfast Criminals Story
- How do you make an açaí bowl?
- 15. Pumpkin Papaya Açaí Bowl Recipe:
- Want more? Check out the Breakfast Criminals eBook for a ton more delicious breakfast recipes:
- Acai Berry Bliss
- Keyword(s): acai bowl recipes
- Acai: A Nutritional Powerhouse
- How to Make Acai Bowls
- Best Garnishes for Acai Bowl Recipes
- More Ways to Use Acai
- Get Started on a Three-Day Cleanse
- Superfoods for a Diabetes-Friendly Diet
- Are Acai Bowls Healthy? Calories and Nutrition
Are Açaí Bowls Even Healthy?
Seemingly overnight, everyone started eating up the “nutritional perks” of açaí bowls. (Glowing skin! Super immunity! Superfood stud of social media!) But are açaí bowls even healthy? Turns out, there might just be a hot purple health halo radiating from the trendy dish.
“You should really look at açaí bowls as more of an occasional treat, not something you'd have as a meal,” says Ilana Muhlstein, R.D., a registered dietitian in Beverly Hills, CA, who heads up the Bruin Health Improvement Program at UCLA. “Think of them as a replacement for ice cream.”
So what's the health hang-up? The açaí bowl is basically a “sugar bomb,” says Muhlstein. “Açaí bowls can have 50g of sugar [the equivalent of 12 teaspoons], or double what the American Heart Association recommends for women for an entire day,” she says.
To put it into perspective: That's four times more sugar than most doughnuts. And if you go heavy on the toppings, that number gets even higher.
For example, Jamba Juice's acai bowl has a whopping 67g of sugar and 490 calories! (Here are other so-called healthy breakfasts with more sugar than dessert.)
Here's the thing: Alone, the açaí berry is legit. It's loaded with antioxidants (10 times more than blueberries!) and fiber-things that do help with heart health, digestion, and aging. And it's a fruit that's relatively low in sugar. But since the berry comes from the Amazon, and is highly perishable, it won't be popping up at your farmers' market anytime soon.
That begs the question: If açaí berries aren't available, what's in your açaí bowl anyways? The berries are often sold in powder or purée form, which most people prefer to consume mixed with something-nut milk and frozen fruit are popular options. And thus: The sugary açaí bowl was born.
There are ways to blend with benefits, though. Here's how to eat your açaí without getting bowled over by the sweet stuff.
Always BYOB (bring your own bowl).
Instead of ordering one from the trendy juice place in your neighborhood, make it at home. This allows you to control exactly what is going into your açaí bowl and the size of your serving. (Related: How to Make Your Own Smoothie Bowl)
Cut it down.
Speaking of sizes, to help decrease the sky-high sugar levels, make only what can fit in a mug, Muhlstein says. You'll eat a fraction of the sugar and won't even notice. Sweet!
Mix it up!
Use unsweetened açaí packs to make your bowl ($60 for a 24-pack, amazon.com), and then combine it with water instead of juice. If you prefer to use a nut milk, opt for an unsweetened version. And think about blending in savory additions, steamed beets, leafy greens or sweet carrots, not just fructose-filled fruit.
Think over the toppings.
What you add to the açaí bowl is where things can get excessive (and the calories high), so limit yourself to one or two items. Always opt for fresh fruit over dried, and skip any sweetened drizzles, honey. Try a scoop of plain Greek yogurt or peanut butter instead to help steady out your blood sugar. (Related: Everything You Need to Know About the Latest Alternative Sweeteners)
Now that we've answered “what is an açaí bowl?” we're ready to dig into these five colorful and healthy recipes. Blend one up with us and Instagram away.
Pumpkin Papaya Superfood Acai Bowl
Break the berry rut with this pumpkin and papaya recipe (left) from Breakfast Criminals, a blog entirely composed of superfood breakfasts, with an emphasis on vegan, gluten-free and raw recipes. (If you're loving the fall flavor, also try this autumn acai bowl recipe.)
“When I think of pumpkin, the first thing that comes to mind is pumpkin pie-not the healthiest food out there, is it,” says New York City-based blogger Ksenia Avdulova.
“This Pumpkin Papaya Açaí Bowl creates a delicious pumpkin breakfast or dessert alternative for those who're looking to eat healthier.
It's a nutrition powerhouse that will nourish your body with antioxidants, potassium, healthy fats, vitamins and a boost of clean energy.”
- 1/2 can organic pumpkin
- 1/2 cup papaya
- 1 frozen unsweetened açaí smoothie pack
- 2/3 ripe banana
- 1 tablespoon maca
- 1 tablespoon each cinnamon and pumpkin spice
- 1 cup almond milk
- Combine in blender and blend.
- Top with granola, remaining banana, papaya, cashews, goji berries, and pomegranate seeds.
Super Mango Pineapple Açaí Bowl
Los Angeles-based blogger Kristy Turner and her husband, dedicated food photographer Chris Miller run the show at Keepin' It Kind, which chronicles their adventures in deliciously healthy vegan eating-of which their Super Mango Pineapple Açaí Bowl is a prime example.
“Açaí bowls are my favorite way to start the day. They're light, flavorful, and filling,” says Turner.
“This one in particular is packed with nutrient-dense superfoods from the acai itself to the hormone-balancing maca powder and the goji berries, cacao nibs, and hemp seeds it's topped with.
There's even some kale hiding in there!” (Related: 10 Green Smoothies EVERYONE Will Love)
- 1/4 cup coconut milk (from the carton, not the can) or other vegan milk
- 1/2 banana
- 3/4 cup loosely packed kale, chopped
- 1/2 heaping cup frozen mango
- 1/2 heaping cup frozen pineapple
- 1 açaí packet
- 1 heaping teaspoon maca powder
- 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup granola, separated
- 1/2 banana, thinly sliced
- 3-4 strawberries, thinly sliced (optional)
- 1/4 cup fresh mango, chopped (or other fresh fruit of your choice)
- 1 tablespoon goji berries
- 2 teaspoons cacao nibs
- 1 teaspoon hemp hearts (shelled hemp seeds)
- Choose the bowl that you are going to serve the açaí bowl in, and place it in the freezer (optional, but this will keep the finished product colder longer).
- Prepare your toppings, such as the slicing the strawberries and the half banana. Set aside.
- Combine the first 7 ingredients in your high-speed blender, and puree until smooth. You may need to scrape the sides a few times or stir it to break up clumps. This will be a thick smoothie.
- Remove the bowl from the freezer and pour 1/4-cup granola into the bottom of the bowl. Gently pour the smoothie on top of the granola (If the smoothie has started to liquefy, you may want to place the blender canister in the freezer for about five minutes before pouring into the bowl). Top with the 1/2 cup of granola and sliced fruit. Sprinkle the goji berries, cacao nibs, and hemp seeds on top of the fruit and serve immediately.
Shop Smart: The Best Blenders for Any Budget
Açaí Banana Peanut Butter Bowl
This Açaí Banana Peanut Butter Bowl (right) from Hearts in My Oven is packed with extra protein, for those times you need a little extra boost in the morning.
“I love this recipe because it's incredibly simple and easy to make. Plus, it's healthy and tastes awesome,” says Southern California-based blogger Lynna Huynh.
- 3.5-ounce package frozen pure açaí
- 1/2 cups frozen berries
- 1 1/2 banana, sliced, divided into one and half
- 1/4 cup yogurt
- Drizzle of agave nectar
- 1 to 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- 1 cup granola
- In a blender, mix together the açaí, berries, 1 banana, yogurt, agave nectar, and peanut butter until smooth and combined. Scoop half into a bowl.
- Layer with half the granola.
- Top with the rest of the açaí mixture.
- Top with granola and 1/2 of banana slices.
Berry-Licious Açaí Bowl
While many açaí bowl recipes launch from frozen açaí, there are also some that can be made from açaí powder- this berry-packed one (center) from Los Angeles blogger Jordan Younger, author of The Balanced Blonde.
“I come from a background of a tumultuous relationship with food, mainly due to severe stomach problems and food intolerances, and going plant-based has greatly enriched my quality of life,” she explains.
“Many açaí bowl recipes contain an overload of sugar and toppings to the point where they contain more calories than a Big Mac. I to keep my recipes simple and tasty with all whole, plant-based ingredients.
- 1 banana
- 4 strawberries
- 3 blackberries
- 1/2 tablespoon açaí powder
- 1/2 cup almond milk
- 2 pieces of ice
- 3 blackberries
- 1/4 cup blueberries
- 1/2 cup granola
- 1 spoonful almond butter
- 1 spoonful coconut yogurt
- 1 drizzle honey or agave
- Blend the banana, strawberries, blackberries, açaí powder, almond milk and ice. Once blended, pour into a bowl.
- Top with blackberries, blueberries, granola, almond butter, coconut yogurt, and drizzle with honey or agave.
- If you are choosing the more simple form of this breakfast, top it with whatever fruits or nuts you have around.
Raw Chocolate Açaí Bowl
This Raw Chocolate Açaí Bowl recipe from A Little Insanity is the best kind of “dessert” to start the day.
“I have always been passionate about eating healthy, but hated when people automatically assumed that meant I only consumed large amounts of tofu and wheatgrass.
So, I started putting my whole food recipes online in 2009 to show the world that eating healthy could be fun and delicious,” says Erika Meredith, who runs the blog from Maui, Hawaii.
“I love my Acai Bowl recipe because it's a fun way to eat healthy, and a tasty way to store and replenish energy using superfoods and essential minerals, especially from the maca powder, which is fantastic for post workout.”
This recipe makes enough for two, so your roommate won't have food envy first thing in the morning.
- 1 frozen açaí berry packet or your own açaí blend
- 1 ripe banana (fresh or frozen)
- 1 tablespoon raw cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa
- 1 tablespoon maca powder
- 1/4 cup sprouted almonds (or any nut or seed)
- Stevia to taste
- 1 cup of milk alternative (coconut, almond, soy, rice, hemp, etc.)
- 2 cups of ice
- Flax oil/meal
- Coconut oil
- Fresh fruit
- Raw superfood cereal
- Raw honey
- Coconut flakes
- Nuts or seeds
- Place the frozen açaí, banana, chocolate, maca, stevia, almonds, and milk into a blender.
- Starting at the lowest speed and working your way to the highest blend the ingredients until smooth.
- Add in ice and turn the blender back up to highest speed. Use your tamper or spoon to push the ingredients into the blades until the mixture is smooth.
- When it's finished, you should see 4 lumps form at the top of the container. Turn your blender off and serve with optional toppings.
- Store leftovers in airtight container or ice-pop molds in the freezer. The mixture can easily be re-blended to your desired consistency (just add an extra splash of milk, if needed).
Everything You Need To Know About Açaí Bowls + 17 Recipes
A delicious way to start your day with clean energy and one of my all-time favorite breakfasts, an açaí bowl is super easy to make. The best part is that you can make it completely your own – depending on what you have available. Here is a little more about açaí, some of my favorite ingredients and toppings, and top recipes for you to try!
Be sure to tag #breakfastcriminals if you post your creations on Instagram.
What is açaí?
The açaí (ah-sigh-EE) berry is a grape- fruit harvested from açaí palm trees, native to the rainforests of South America. You can find açaí in the form of frozen smoothie packs or freeze dried powder. We explain why frozen puree packs are always preferred over powder in this video.
Açaí smoothie bowls – simply frozen açaí pulp blended with fruits and berries, and topped with banana, granola, coconut and other goodies, is one of my all-time favorite breakfasts.
There are 5 things you need to know to make a great açaí bowl every time.
I share all of them in this video:
Açaí + Breakfast Criminals Story
I tried my first açaí bowl in Hawaii, where it’s also now big part of the food culture favored by surfers, since it provides clean energy and a feeling of satisfied lightness (you’ll know what I mean when you try it!) When I came back to New York, I realized that there’s no place that makes açaí bowls the way they’re meant to be – with soul.
So I started making my own and posting them on Instagram. That’s how Breakfast Criminals was born!
Açaí is an amazing source of antioxidants, fiber, heart-healthy fats, and minerals. It’s also low on sugar – just make sure you grab the unsweetened version. You can find açaí at health food stores and online.
My favorite brand is Tambor – their açaí products are wild harvested and non-GMO project verified.
How do you make an açaí bowl?
Now let’s get to the fun part. The cool thing about an açaí bowl is that you can make it completely your own.
After tasting açaí bowls in their most pure, fresh form in Brazil with nothing added but some guarana and feeling their healing, grounding power, I to have my açaí bowls naked, with nothing added (except for a splash of water to get the blender going and some raw cacao nibs on top).
On days when I want to get crafty, I do have my staple açaí bowl ingredients: banana, berries, coconut water, raw cacao to blend, and granola, coconut chips, almond butter, goji berries and blueberries to top the bowl.
You can experiment and increase anti-inflammatory benefits by adding greens (spinach, kale) and superfoods and adaptogens such as maca, lucuma, mesquite and ashwagandha. Adding avocado for satisfying creaminess will make your bowl… açaí-mazing! Here are a few of my favorite açaí recipes – feel free to follow the instructions, and add your own twist for more fun!
Here are all my favorite ingredients to make an açaí bowl. Mix, match, and use what you have to make it your own, or scroll down to follow my exact recipes.
15. Pumpkin Papaya Açaí Bowl Recipe:
- 1 açaí smoothie pack
- 1 ripe banana
- 1/2 cup raspberries
- 1 kiwi
- 1/2 cup coconut water
- Macadamia nuts
- Flax seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Raw cacao nibs
- Optional: amond butter, granola
- 1 açaí smoothie pack
- 1 banana
- 2 tablespoons raw cacao
- 1/2 cup strawberries
- 1/2 cup blueberries
- 2/3 cup coconut water
- 1 tablespoon maca
- 1 scoop raw chocolate protein powder for an extra kick (optional)
- chocolate granola
- strawberries & blueberries
- hemp seeds
- raw cacao nibs
- dried coconut flakes
Want more? Check out the Breakfast Criminals eBook for a ton more delicious breakfast recipes:
Here’s what people are saying:
Jessica Sepel, Qualified Nutritionist & Wellness Coach (Sydney, Australia) | @jshealth:
“I get such inspiration from Breakfast Criminals’ beautiful recipes. They’ve motivated me to whip up countless smoothies, oatmeals and pancake creations.”
Sasha Nelson, Yoga Instructor and Holistic Health Coach (New York, USA | @sashayogawellness:
“The gorgeous Breakfast Criminals ebook will inspire you to get creative in your kitchen, nourish your body [so it nourishes you back], and have fun while doing it.”
Acai Berry Bliss
Acai bowl with blackberry, blueberry, coconut and pumpkin seeds
Keyword(s): acai bowl recipes
When you think about eating healthy, what’s the first thing that springs to mind? Do you think about feeling more energetic or do you imagine being deprived of everything that tastes good?
If you’re looking for a delicious way to add healthy options to your menu, this article’s for you. We’ll give you an inside look into acai bowl recipes and important information you should know about the benefits of adding acai to your healthy diet.
Acai: A Nutritional Powerhouse
If you’ve never heard of acai bowls, you’re in for a treat. Acai is a dark purple berry that grows at the top of a tall slender palm tree in the Amazon rainforest. It’s about the size of a blueberry and tastes a vibrant blend of berries and chocolate.
The great thing about acai berries is that they’re high in antioxidants and low in sugar. Here is a summary of some of the nutritional benefits that Acai has to offer:
- Acai berries have a high polyphenol content, including anthocyanins, which contribute to antioxidant activity.
- The antioxidant content of foods is typically measured by an Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) score. In the case of acai, 100 grams of frozen pulp has an ORAC of 15,405, whereas the same amount of blueberries has a score of 4,669.
- Acai fruit contains essential fatty acids (Omega-3 and Omega-6) plus oleic acid (Omega-9) which are good for lowering Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) levels.
- Acai berries contain some trace minerals, including chromium, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus
Acai bowls use this superfruit as a base for a filling, delicious smoothie-in-a-bowl that you can enjoy at any time of day.
How to Make Acai Bowls
There are hundreds of ways to make an acai bowl. It’s up to you to decide how creative you want to be. You’ll need to buy frozen acai puree as a base. Look for it online or in your local health food store.
Try to buy acai puree that’s organic and packaged without added sugar. When you blend your acai bowl, you have the option of adding fruits bananas and strawberries that have natural sugars.
To make a bowl, take one or two 100 gram packages of frozen acai puree and put it into a high-powered blender. If you choose, you can add 1/2 cup of strawberries, 1/2 cup of blueberries, and one medium-sized banana.
Mix with 2 oz. of apple juice or almond milk and blend until smooth and thick. Serve the mixture cold in a large bowl. Acai does not contain sugar so you may have to sweeten it to your personal taste. We recommend monk fruit or stevia.
It might take some experimentation to find your own perfect combination of ingredients for you, but the journey will be delicious. The important thing is to blend your acai base thick a gelato. If it is too frozen it won’t blend well so you may need to add some liquid or fresh fruit.
Here are a few tips. Run the 100-gram acai bar under warm water for about 15 seconds to soften up. Cut the packet in half and dump it into the blender. Two bars make a good size bowl. I to use 1/2 frozen banana because it adds to the creaminess. If it is too thick for your blender, add a little liquid – apple juice, almond milk, etc.
Best Garnishes for Acai Bowl Recipes
The best thing about acai bowls is that you can top them with almost anything.
Here are some recommendations for toppings of your acai bowl:
- Fresh fruit
- Chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds
- Coconut flakes
- Almond shavings
- Cocao nibs
- Peanut or Almond butter
Making an acai bowl can be an artistic endeavor. Just take a look at Instagram or Pinterest and you’ll find hundreds of photos that show all the variations that people create.
Fresh strawberries, blueberries, banana slices, pineapple chunks, kiwi, all make excellent toppings for an acai bowl. The type of toppings will dictate how healthy you want your bowl to be. How about Nutella?
More Ways to Use Acai
Homemade acai bowls are just the tip of the acai adventure. You can use this versatile superfruit in many different ways.
Smoothies: Sometimes you need to take you acai on the go and smoothies are one of the best ways to do so. Acai adds more nutrition to your meal replacement or post-workout recovery smoothie.
Popsicles: You can make popsicles at home for the kids. Defrost some acai puree and mix with yogurt to make a delicious and healthy treat.
Cocktails: Defrost some frozen acai puree and add to your favorite alcohol. Add a little to you flute of prosecco. Add to vodka or rum for something different.
Get Started on a Three-Day Cleanse
Once you’ve perfected your acai bowl recipes, you may want to use it in a cleanse. For three days, skip products that contain sugar and flour. That includes:
- cookies and cakes
- coffee creamer
- fried foods
You can have an acai bowl for breakfast. For lunch, eat a protein-rich meal roasted chicken or egg salad. Instead of having yet another sugary cup of afternoon coffee, try an acai smoothie that will give you a boost of energy.
The most important thing is to try to eliminate as much sugar from your diet as possible. If you are practicing intermittent fasting, an acai bowl is a good meal after your fast. The nutrients will give you a huge boost.
Superfoods for a Diabetes-Friendly Diet
If you’ve been struggling with diabetes, you know how much food can affect your mood. You may have relied on sugary snacks and fast food for years, only to realize that they are not good for your blood sugar levels.
Acai bowl recipes are a great way to start lowering your blood sugar. Acai has been shown to be a strong anti-inflammatory. This is important because high insulin levels create an inflammatory state and inflammation causes aging.
Superfoods are also good for people with diseases asthma, arthritis, and colitis. Their antioxidant levels help the body fight inflammation and return to a state of balance.
At Nativo, we offer wild-harvested, organic, frozen acai puree with zero sugar. We also have an acai-guarana mix that tastes just the acai on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Nativo now offers another superfruit called Pitaya a.k.a. dragonfruit in raw, frozen fruit cubes.
Once you check out our products, you can contact us directly with any questions.
Are Acai Bowls Healthy? Calories and Nutrition
By 2050, Smith added, the company was aiming to remove all of the carbon they had ever emitted since being founded in 1975.
The firm's promises won plaudits from conservationists and climate conscious Microsoft employees, but also attracted big questions: how are they going to actually deliver this?
Much of its plans lean on nascent technology. Critics, meanwhile, see the move as a gamble aimed at justifying Microsoft's ongoing deals with fossil fuel firms.
Microsoft releases less carbon a year than Amazon and Apple, but more than Google.
The company has 150,000 employees across offices in more than 100 countries, and is still focused on developing the software and consumer electronics that made them a household name – Windows, PCs, Xbox.
But after a temporary slump following their heyday in the 1990s, they have also once again become innovators, developing world-leading artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing products.
The company hopes to bring that innovative approach to its climate policies, in part by widening how it calculates its carbon footprint, beyond most corporate responsibility plans. Historically, Microsoft has only counted those emissions that fall within the scope of their own business operations – employee travel, company vehicles, heat and electricity in company buildings, and so on.
From now on, it plans to take responsibility for the emissions produced by its entire supply chain, including the full lifespan of the products it makes and the electricity that customers may consume when using its products.
Meanwhile, increasing the scrutiny on Microsoft's plan are its dealings with fossil fuel companies, which have been highlighted by some as evidence of hypocrisy as it makes climate pledges.
In 2019 alone, the technology company had entered into long-term partnerships with three major oil companies, including ExxonMobil, that will be using Microsoft's technology to expand oil production by as much as 50,000 barrels a day over the coming years.
The staggering amount of carbon this would release into the atmosphere would not be included on Microsoft's expanded carbon ledger.
For Microsoft, however, partnering with oil companies is not considered hypocritical.
The company is hedging its climate bets on carbon capture and removal technologies that they believe will be able to offset some of the environmental harm caused by fossil fuels during the transition to a more sustainable future, despite such technologies being still in their nascent stages and not yet proven to work at scale.
Those who devised the plan at Microsoft argue that they are responding directly to a new reality: cutting emissions is not enough and all routes to non-catastrophic temperature increase will also require removing carbon from the atmosphere. So, as well as shifting to a 100% supply of renewable energy for all of their data centers, buildings and campuses by 2025, Microsoft outlines a number of carbon reduction methods it is backing to try and hit its bold targets.
To begin, Microsoft will focus on protecting forests and planting trees to capture carbon.
This strategy has long been used to offset emissions, but Microsoft is hoping to improve their outcomes by using remote-sensing technology to accurately estimate the carbon storage potential of forests to ensure no major deforestation is occurring in their allotments.
To achieve these goals, Microsoft will be partnering with Pachama, a Silicon Valley startup that will survey 60,000 hectares of rainforest in the Amazon, plus an additional 20,000 hectares across north-eastern states of the US for the company.
According to Kesley Perlman, a climate campaigner at the forest conservation NGO Fern, Microsoft's commitment to hi-tech reforestation is encouraging, but she stressed that conservation is a complex, multifaceted process that goes beyond technical issues. “It's not only about how much carbon a forest can hold but also who traditionally uses the forest, how they might be kept out, and how biodiversity will be prioritized,” she said.
Microsoft will initially focus on nature-based solutions to reduce their carbon footprint over the next five or so years. But in order to start drawing more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit by 2030, it will need to shift to technology-based solutions that can scale up and accelerate carbon removal.
To this end, Microsoft is betting on biomass energy carbon capture storage, otherwise known as BECCS, to transform how energy is generated. Instead of burning coal, a BECCS power plant burns biomass, wood chips.
The carbon produced when burning the biomass is captured before it is released into the atmosphere and then injected at a very high pressure into rock formations deep underground.
Not only does this remove carbon from the natural cycle, the biomass absorbs CO2 as it grows.
A world powered by biofuel, however, raises two looming questions. First, scientists are not yet certain if biomass energy will be carbon neutral.
The second concern is that the transition from coal to biofuel would require setting aside vast tracts of arable land – some estimates say one to two times the size of India.
According to climate campaigner Perlman this would mean that the energy industry would probably have to compete with food production in a world where 10 billion people will need to be fed, while vastly enlarging industrialized plantations and reducing biodiversity.
“We would ly see massive land use change and massive private purchases of land, the knock on impacts of which could be quite dangerous,” she said.
Perhaps the most futuristic of the technologies outlined in Microsoft's carbon negative plan is direct air capture (DAC). This involves machines that essentially function highly efficient artificial trees, drawing existing carbon the air and transforming it into non-harmful carbon-based solids or gasses.
While the image of air-conditioner- machines sucking carbon the air is captivating, capturing CO2 directly from the atmosphere requires a lot of energy and is very expensive. In 2011, extracting carbon from the air cost $600 a ton of CO2.
In 2018, estimates brought this down to anywhere between $94 to $232 a ton. But given that Microsoft expects to emit 16m metric tons of carbon this year, if they were to reach carbon zero using only DAC, their bill might cost as much as $3.5bn.
According to Lucas Joppa, chief environmental officer at Microsoft, a large part of the reason why carbon removal remains so expensive is because the markets around these technologies are still immature.
The company's strategy over the coming decades is maturing these markets through intensive and directed investment. “We're making a bet on certain technologies that don't exist at the scale or price point we need them to,” he said.
“But if we want to get them, we need to start investing.”
The company, he said, already has a model for raising funds internally to support climate innovation.
In July 2012, Microsoft became one of the first companies to institute an internal carbon price, charging different divisions in the business $15 a metric ton of carbon emitted.
The funds raised were then used to pay for sustainability improvements, which helped the company achieve their goal of going carbon neutral.
Previously, this carbon price only extended over emissions Microsoft was directly responsible for. According to their new plan, in July this year Microsoft will extend this internal carbon price over emissions produced across direct and indirect emissions.
The increased revenue raised from the expanded internal carbon tax, along with a $1bn climate innovation fund, will be used to invest in capture and removal technology. “What we're going to do is put this money in the market in a way that is highly additional,” Joppa said.
“This is how we're going to get nature-based solutions and tech solutions at a price point and scale we need.”
Microsoft's plan for intensive investment in this industry is exciting for those working in the field.
Klaus Lackner, a theoretical physicist working on DAC, has been arguing since the 1990s that carbon removal is the only feasible way to stop significant temperature rises. “We've shown that this method is technologically feasible, but nobody has wanted them,” he said.
“Microsoft have said 'we get it.' It will cost them money, but it will allow the technologies to come online and for the next company to follow their footsteps.”
While the technologies that Microsoft are betting on are still in their nascent stages, in the past few years there has been some encouraging progress in the negative emissions industry.
Lackner and Arizona State University recently signed a deal with Silicon Kingdom, an Irish-based company, to manufacture his carbon-suck machines. The plan is to install them on wind and solar farms, and then sell the captured carbon to beverage companies to make carbonated drinks.
In the UK, Drax power plant, which was once among Europe's most polluting, transitioned from coal to biofuel this year.
But many attempts at scaling carbon negative projects have also failed. The Kemper Project in Mississippi, which was billed as America's flagship carbon capture project, was abandoned in 2017 – it was $5bn over budget, three years late and still not operational.
Given the not insignificant risk of failure, some propose that relying on nascent or future technology as a solution to the climate crisis represents a moral hazard – the promise of carbon removal functions as an incentive for governments and major polluters to not change their behavior now.
According to Chris Adams, a tech worker who organizes an online community of technology professionals agitating for climate action from within the industry, the fact that Microsoft is still partnering with big oil companies demonstrates the moral hazard in action. “They are protecting the fossil fuel industry from changing while the rest of the world will pay most from this gamble if it fails in the long term,” he said.
Adams added that many of the encouraging ideas around carbon reduction in Microsoft's plan have come from internal organizing from concerned employees, but that this mostly goes unacknowledged in Microsoft's official vision.
Emphasizing future technology while overlooking activism in the present, Adams said, represents a certain way of approaching problems that is typical of technology companies.
“If you have spent the last 10 years amassing influence by approaching most problems with technology it's understandable you see all problems through this lens, particularly if you don't have to have conversations about power,” he said.
When asked about this concern by the Guardian, Microsoft's Joppa responded that in the short term, the energy demands of a growing global population will probably still need a mix of renewable and traditional energy sources.
By remaining in discourse with these industries, he said, Microsoft hopes to help them change and transition to a better model in the future. “It's extremely hard to lead if there's no one there to follow,” he added.
As to whether the technology outlined in their plan will scale, he said there is inherent risk, but this is why they call it a “moonshot.” “When it comes to our plan it's not we've got it all figured out,” he said. “We're just trying to do what the science says the whole world needs to do. There's really no other choice.”
This story originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.