Discover more from MCJ Collective Newsletter
Our Oceans are the Carbon Solution
by Benjamin Slotnick, Ph.D., Founder & CEO of Lillianah Technologies
Human civilization has been thriving for several millennia. Most people attribute societal success to access to inexpensive energy in the form of oil and gas, and to food security due to better agricultural techniques. Continuous improvement in medical care has resulted in greatly increased life expectancy as well. Most of our society’s growth during this time has been in the past 200 years in which technological innovations driving the industrial revolution have taken place. A negative development, the unintended consequences due to the burning of low-cost fossil fuels, have caused major unabated climatic-driven impacts that are only worsening through time. Part of our problem is an ever-increasing energy demand (e.g., ~60 million barrels of oil per day were produced when the Arab Oil Embargo took place in the 1970s but today daily oil production ranges between ~89-95 million barrels - Rodrigue, 2020).
What are we to do? We can either choose not to make major adjustments burning fossil fuels, an option that downplays all the ecologic and climatic driven devastation currently taking place, or we can be proactive by deriving new technology to help alleviate these issues.
What does a beneficial and meaningful solution look like? Let us consider that humans already emit ~50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year, a number that has increased nearly 40% in the last 30+ years. For meaningful change, billions of tonnes of CO2e must be removed annually and must be removed at scale cheaply, reliably, and efficiently. To operate at a grandiose scale, the best option is to focus on optimizing our planet’s largest carbon sink, our oceans. No option on land nor in the subsurface can account for as much carbon. Numerous scientific works indicate our oceans already remove up to 30% of global human emissions (e.g., Bindoff et al., 2019). Oceans cover ~70% of our planet’s surface, hold over 95% of all carbon in short-term reservoirs, and are the source of over half of all the oxygen we breathe. It is no wonder they are the right target. Not even human ingenuity in most high-technology sectors can approach their solution scale.
We must consider how our oceans function to think through how we can derive the right set of solutions. If we realize our oceans operate through the integration of physical (e.g, currents and waves), chemical (e.g., water composition), and biological (e.g., the life that thrives) oceanography, we are limited to three options. We can modify how water moves around our oceans, change or constrain water composition, or optimize how life functions. The best option is to work with life, the ultimate driver of carbon regulation in our oceans, via the biological pump. Success will mean more carbon dioxide uptake from our atmosphere and more carbon shifted to longer-term reservoirs all while minimizing the chance unintended ecological impacts result, an issue chemical-only solutions cannot properly constrain.
One might ask: what is the biological pump? As others have so eloquently stated, the biological pump in our ocean is the natural drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere and land runoff through biological processes to the deep ocean and to seafloor sediments. It is the sum of multiple life-based processes as part of the oceanic carbon cycle that enables organic matter via phytoplankton activity. This results from photosynthetic activity and carbonate (CO3) production from a combination of microscopic and macroscopic organisms. It is how carbon is generally delivered deep into our oceans. The total amount of carbon the biological pump removes, which is on the order of 10-12 billion tonnes CO2e per year, is estimated by a combination of how much carbon accumulates (carbon reaching the seafloor) and remineralization (carbon released back into the atmosphere).
There are two options when optimizing our biological pump. We can focus either on macroalgae (e.g., kelp) or on microalgae (e.g., certain varieties of phytoplankton). However, concerns raised around kelp growth rate relative to other forms of life, whether kelp sinks to depth in our oceans at scale, and whether it includes all the carbon captured add problematic uncertainty. Ultimately, the best option is to work with phytoplankton to derive the optimal biological solution as it is the remnants of these microscopic forms of life that already transport carbon to depth. It is still not that simple as certain aspects of microalgae-based carbon removal solutions should also be considered with scrutiny. Iron fertilization does not clearly yield additional carbon removed since other nutrients get exhausted faster. Furthermore, artificial upwelling approaches can actually cause more carbon to be degassed back into the atmosphere than can be removed through artificial nutrient cycling with their associated phytoplankton blooms. So what does this leave? Plain and simple: cultivation and release of the right forms of microalgae dispersed under the right conditions following controlled and safe protocols.
Lillianah Technologies was created to provide society with the right biological carbon solution, one that optimizes the biological pump correctly in our oceans. It enables meaningful volumes of carbon to be removed in a process-efficient, scalable way that is cost-competitive, robust and backed by decades of academic research. Lillianah’s process is based on our founder Dr. Benjamin Slotnick’s cutting-edge research at Rice University and San Diego State University, namely the past is the key to our present and future. Ben’s research is directly applicable with a full integration of biological, chemical, and physical oceanography during intervals of climatic perturbations such as the early Eocene, when large carbon cycling fluctuations wreaked havoc with Earth’s exogenic system. Applying the knowledge we have gained by better understanding and assessing the rock record of the past enables us to better understand how our oceans will respond to human-caused changes in the future. This is the key to our approach, one we can implement in a controlled and safe methodology, all while being independently confirmed by external auditors.
We at Lillianah are working with top tier universities to push forward meaningful global carbon solutions on many technical and business fronts. Our solutions are scalable and within reach and will result in the removal of billions of tons of CO2e per year. In doing so we are decreasing the possibility atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will reach life threatening levels!
You have the opportunity to help. Please reach out for additional information. Let's make a difference together!
✍️ The Draw-down
Weekly climate art by our MCJ Artist-in-Residence, Nicole Kelner.
🍿 The Lean Back
Learn about Symbrosia in the latest Pique Action film.
🎙My Climate Journey Podcast
💧 Jason talked to Felicia Marcus, the Williams C. Landreth visiting fellow at Stanford University's Water in the West program, about this untold climate story and some of the risks to this critical resource, as well as what we can do about it.
🏠 Cody caught up with Lauren Salz, CEO and co-founder of Sealed, about home weatherization, how her company helps consumers finance projects via energy cost savings, and how the IRA promises to accelerate this space even more.
8️⃣2️⃣ amazing new members have joined the MCJ community over the past two weeks! Help us give them a warm welcome in the #o-introductions channel.
👩💻 Climate Jobs
🗓 November Events
Be sure to click the event title for details & RSVP info. For more climate events, check out the #c-events channel in MCJ Slack.
👨🌾 AMA with Josh Svaty: Our next MCJ Ask-Me-Anything guest was featured in our Skilled Labor Series. Josh Svaty is a farm owner and operator who also happens to be the former secretary of agriculture of the state of Kansas, among other hats he's worn. Check out his episode here. (11/16)
🤝 MCJ Career Transitions Meetup: We will be inviting a panel of hiring managers & founders of companies in climate to discuss their mission, domain and the problems they are solving. Panelists include representatives from Breakthorugh Energy, Carbon Direct, Rocky Mountain Institute, and more! Details here. (11/16)
🧑💻 Climatebase Live: Tech Careers in Climate: Meet six exciting climate tech companies, including WeaveGrid, SINAI Technologies, Form Energy, Patch, ReGrow Ag, and Aurora Solar… all are actively hiring tons of tech talent. (11/17)
🤗 MCJ Community Welcome Call: Connect, share and learn with MCJ team and community members. (11/17)
🧠 MCJ Monthly Idea Jams: These sessions provide a chance for MCJ members to get help with roadblocks, meet co-founders or future employees, connect with investors, or people working on similar topics. This month’s theme is: built environment. (11/18)
💭 If you have feedback or items you’d like to include, feel free to reach out.
🤝 If you’d like to become an MCJ community member, apply today.