A giant algae farm in the middle of the ocean aims to be a global carbon sink

A giant algae farm in the middle of the ocean aims to be a global carbon sink

The data overwhelmingly confirms that rising greenhouse gas emissions are locking us into a scenario of destructive climate chaos, motivating scientists and corporations to invent ambitious carbon capture solutions.

A Seafields Solutions concept seeks to make use of unlikely real estate by developing a giant seaweed farm in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean capable of capturing a gigatonne of carbon dioxide per year.

This England-based company aims to be at the forefront of the “ocean-based agricultural revolution” by expanding the farm to 60,000 square kilometers in the North Atlantic gyre, where it will swirl and largely remain in place .

The planned location for the giant seaweed farm.  (Marine Solutions)
The planned location for the giant seaweed farm. (Marine Solutions)

In an interview with The Weather Network, John Auckland, director and co-founder of Seafields Solutions, explained that not only is removing carbon from the atmosphere a pressing issue to mitigate the severe impacts of climate change, but that seaweed can be used to create sustainable solutions. products like biofuel and bioplastic.

Sargassum is a type of seaweed that was chosen by the company due to its high capacity to store carbon in its biomass, its buoyant nature and its ability to double in size every two weeks.

Once the sargassum reaches a certain size, it will be harvested and compressed into bales destined for the ocean floor. Seafields Solutions calls these balls “carbon batteries” because once sunk, the carbon trapped inside them will remain at the bottom of the ocean and out of the atmosphere for thousands of years.

The compressed sargassum becomes a
The compressed sargassum becomes a “carbon pile” and sinks to the bottom of the ocean. (Marine Solutions)

Sea trials are underway in Saint-Vincent to see if the company can be the first to domesticate sargassum. Once the company has proven that algae can grow inside the offshore barrier, the next phases will be to test the scooping and sinking methods and to prove that leaving the balls on the ocean floor n has no impact on the environment.

“The bullets sink from the surface to a depth of 4,000 meters in seven hours. That means it moves so fast that it’s very difficult for an animal to eat it on the way down, and that’s also very important,” Auckland explained.

Staff test and monitor Sargassum growth.  (Marine Solutions)
Staff test and monitor Sargassum growth. (Marine Solutions)

The team is also designing “pipes” that will carry cold, low-salinity, nutrient-rich water from a depth of 350 meters to the surface where it can be used by growing algae. This waterborne transport requires no energy input, but Auckland notes that while the pipe technology has been around for several decades, it has yet to be tested and scaled up in an economically viable way.

The seaweed farm won’t be a stand-alone operation — about 2,000 on-site employees will work in three-month cycles while living in “city-standard land-based facilities and homes.”

“It’s like building the International Space Station in the middle of the ocean,” Auckland said. The company hopes that this employment opportunity could attract people from the offshore oil and gas industry who are interested in the sustainability sector.

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Given the novelty of such a vast carbon sink, Auckland said there were hopes for potential tourism.

“Victor Smetacek, our visionary founder speaks of the ‘Sargasso Republic’ as a tourist destination. People will want to come and see this golden rainforest that stretches as far as the eye can see. It’s going to be beautiful and really meaningful tourism [opportunity]“, said Auckland.

Auckland says Sargassum can be used to make sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel-based products, such as biofuels, bioplastics and emulsifiers.

“The cosmetics industry is absolutely dependent on petroleum because it needs emulsifiers, which cause oil to mix with water. This is absolutely essential in many cosmetic products and in our food,” Auckland explained. .

“Our partners, CarbonWave, have succeeded in creating an emulsifier from Sargassum, the first potentially commercially viable alternative to a fossil fuel-based emulsifier. So we will soon be able to start supplying this to the cosmetics industry.

Dr. Mar Fernández-Méndez, Senior Scientist, analyzing growth rates of Sargassum samples.  (Marine Solutions)
Dr. Mar Fernández-Méndez, Senior Scientist, analyzing growth rates of Sargassum samples. (Marine Solutions)

As with any initiative under development, Auckland recognizes that headwinds lie ahead.

“We could be prevented from doing so. There may be regulations that prevent us from operating in international mid-ocean waters. There are currently no regulations that legally stop us, but there are certain frameworks in international policies that we should adhere to,” Auckland said.

Other potential hurdles could be the perceived environmental impact of a giant 60,000 square kilometer algae farm. Although the company’s research indicates that the project would have very few negative impacts, there are nearby ecosystems that will require environmental assessments and monitoring.

Commercial viability is also a top priority, which Auckland says carries “incredibly low” risk because all aspects of this initiative incorporate proven concepts and technologies.

The company aims to raise £5m in seed funding by early 2023 and then a further £20m to reach a stage where the algae farm is functioning and available for investment in carbon credits. Auckland estimates that it will take around a decade before the algae farm operates at the scale of capturing a gigatonne of carbon per year.

“What we’re seeing is that investors really understand that the open ocean has a tremendous amount of space and potential. So that belief is really quite strong and carries us quite far,” Auckland concluded.

Vignette: A carpet of wild Sargassum growing in the ocean. (Marine Solutions)

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