Here at re:char, we are often bombarded with requests for proprietary information about our technology. “Can you please provide schematic diagrams for your pyrolyzer systems?” “Can you provide the details of your bio-oil upgrading processes?” Although we believe in the open-source model, it’s exceedingly difficult to have a completely transparent tech development process while remaining a competitive, for-profit enterprise. That said, we would like to provide the public with a better sense of how we generate ideas, and broadly what we see as the future of biochar and carbon-negative energy.
Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with our new science advisor, Dr. James Lovelock. Working with someone as brilliant and creative as Jim is a great honor. His ideas are often so forward-thinking that within a few minutes of discussion, my mind is blown. Dr. Lovelock has been recognized recently for his assertion that mankind continues to ignore and drastically underestimate the looming threat of global climate change. Like Jim, we believe that an aggressive rollout of biochar and carbon-negative energy systems is vital to preserving the Earth as we know it. However, according to our calculations, a carbon-negative energy scheme based on pyrolysis of agricultural waste could sequester a theoretical maximum of 2 billion tons of CO2 per anum. The execution of such a plan would likely constitute one of humanity’s greatest technological achievements, but without corresponding emissions reductions, 2 billion tons would only be a drop in the bucket. In the event that we fail to reduce emissions in a timely manner, a more abundant source of waste biomass may be necessary to ensure our survival. That source could be ocean algae.
According to Dr. Lovelock, ocean algae represents over 70% of Earth’s biomass. In addition, overgrowth of ocean algae is largely responsible for the phenomenon of aquatic dead zones. From our research, we know algal biomass is a viable and compelling feedstock for pyrolysis. While the task of cultivating and extracting biodiesel from algae is complicated and expensive, the process of converting algal biomass to biochar and bio-oil is relatively straightforward. What remains elusive, is an efficient and cost-effective way to collect ocean algae. Fortunately, Dr. Lovelock has a suggestion:
Take a place like the Gulf of Mexico… theres a good steady ocean current that flows through there called the Gulf Stream… there are also lots of platforms there, disused oil platforms. These platforms could be good locations for starting some biochar experiments.
As it turns out, the Gulf Stream plays a significant role in the formation and growth of harmful algal blooms. There is strong evidence that blooms in the Gulf, such as Florida’s Red Tide, ride the current into the Atlantic, where they can devastate ocean life. A strategically-placed ocean platform, outfitted with appropriate collection systems and pyrolysis technologies, could capture the biomass generated during these algal blooms, efficiently converting a global hazard into valuable products. On a large enough scale, the potential carbon sequestration benefit would dwarf that of land-based systems.
Obviously, the notion of pyrolysis of ocean algae is still in its infancy. Many technological and logistical hurdles exist before preliminary trials are even feasible. However, given the threat of global climate change, and humanity’s reluctance to cut emissions, we believe such ideas are worth exploring. We invite you to discuss via the comments.