Too Much Information
Welcome to the Seaweed Generation “Frequently Asked Questions/Blog” zone. Here you can find more information about what we are doing, why we are doing it and how we are doing it. If you have any questions, sign up to our newsletter and get in touch with us and ask away. We will group your queries into themes and one of our expert team members will reply. Seaweed Generation has been in existence for about 6 months now, and the following represent common questions we have been asked.
Carbon Removal With Seaweed
For millions of years the Earth’s climate has cycled in and out of glacial and interglacial periods, triggered by orbital wobbles, plate tectonics and other planetary factors. However, the current increase in our planet’s temperature is very different.
Sargassum, like all seaweeds and plants, relies on the light of the sun to photosynthesise and grow. One of the elements it needs to do this is carbon which it obtains from CO2 in the surrounding water, the plant does not breathe air from the atmosphere. But the ocean and atmosphere are constantly jockeying for equilibrium and, by means of some complex chemistry and physics, as carbon dioxide is removed from surface waters, it is replenished from the atmosphere.
First and foremost let’s be clear, with current growing practices it is totally unviable to sink healthy cultivated seaweed that could be made into any number of valuable products. There are over 11,000 types of seaweed, and each should be used for the highest possible value use case. Given the small-scale, high cost, labour intensive nature of seaweed farming, Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) would not currently be viable.
That’s a great question. As you probably know, there are many climate positive applications for seaweed. These get shouted about a lot. They include cosmetics, nutraceuticals, food, fertiliser, animal feed, plastics, fuels, of course carbon dioxide removal, and much, much more.
This is an important question. The very valid criticism of offsets is that activities are not always additional. Additional means that the activities of an entity to remove carbon wouldn’t have happened - naturally or otherwise - anyway. Carbon removals are just that, the actual removal of additional carbon from the atmosphere. Not avoiding emissions, not emissions reduction, removal. So how does that work with sinking Sargassum?
We sincerely hope we do get to a point where the Sargassum is under control, and only hitting coasts at a manageable level! That would be a great success for our project. 100 million tonnes of Sargassum equates to around 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide removal. In parallel are looking at ways of growing algae in order to sequester CO2.
Computer models to project future scenarios are constantly being refined in order to improve their skills and accuracy. As such, they can provide useful guidance in how we approach and understand challenges, and seek solutions. However, models should not be relied upon wholly to provide accurate assessments. Models are only as good as the data they are supplied with and should always be regarded as best guess rather than absolute fact. Seaweed Generation is determined to supply more information to inform models and will use them to guide further research.
A member of our Scientific Advisory Board, Andy Watson, took the time to explain things in mathematical terms.
Seaweed Generation continues to be involved in using seaweeds for a whole range of products but due to the immediacy of the climate crisis is concentrating on utilising Sargassum’s excellent ability to sequester carbon to help reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations.
Climate Change and Carbon Dioxide Removal
Easy: yes! Initially scientists exercised rigorous caution as our world began to show symptoms of change. But, more and more research across scientific disciplines has led to the inexorable conclusion that we are currently undergoing unprecedented changes that will affect our climates with potentially calamitous consequences for both our own livelihoods and the natural environment that sustains all life on Earth.
The Climate Emergency can be addressed and we can get the world back in balance – but we have to act now.
Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) is the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmospheric carbon cycle. That removal must be additional to removal that would have happened if no action were taken. The IPCC has projected that we need 10 billion tonnes of this additional removal every year by 2050, if we have a hope of remaining below 2 degrees of warming.
We need a plethora of different solutions all working in parallel towards the shared goal of planetary CDR. For us, it’s not about competing with other technologies. If we try and fail, but other people succeed…. Then we all win.
If we all fail or not enough of us succeed, then we will all fail. That is the simple reality.
We need to remove around 10 gigatonnes every single year to remain below 2 degrees of warming, and there are terrifyingly few methods that have a chance of working.
We believe ocean based Carbon Dioxide Removal is without doubt one of the most scaleable pathways available to us.
For the Love of Seaweed
Seaweeds are fascinating organisms and the more we study them the more potential we see in them: they are globally distributed occupying many ecological niches and support valuable ocean ecosystems. We are only now scratching the surface of seaweed potential.
The vast majority of our seas and oceans remain inaccessible to permanent structures. Co-location of different types of development could help.
All About Sargassum
Since 2011, due to explosive growth of invasive Sargassum, seaweed has spread prolifically in the Central Atlantic. It is South of and separate from the Sargasso Sea, which has been present since records began. The amount of Sargassum has been increasing each year, and is caused by excess fertiliser, raw sewage and soil runoff.
Throughout 2022 there have been a number of news reports about the record amounts of Sargassum that is washing up on the shores of Florida, the countries that border the Gulf of Mexico, the islands of the Caribbean and the countries of West Africa. Different solutions to using or dealing with these “golden tides” have been proposed and trialled, to try and overcome the huge socio-economic impacts these tides are having on what are often the most vulnerable coastal communities.
What is not highlighted is the other impact these huge rafts of Sargassum are having.
Like all lifeforms, Sargassum growth is held in check by, among other things, nutrient supplies. The ‘rogue’ Sargassum we are interested in only grows where artificially high nutrients are available, these result from human activities like agriculture and run-off from land. The Great Sargassum Belt has exploited these excess nutrients. By collecting and disposing of Sargassum in deeper waters, we are helping to maintain more natural levels, and hence supporting important local ecological conditions, while removing large quantities of carbon away from the atmosphere.
Sea turtles face a bewildering range of human induced threats, from hunting for flesh and eggs, bycatch in drifting fishing nets, wounding from power boats as they approach coasts, habitat destruction in feeding grounds and damage to traditional nesting beaches. It is a miracle that any turtle has survived to maturity and egg laying, but now there is another threat. Removing this threat can go some way to helping turtles back on the road to recovering former numbers. Turtles face a terrible situation as Sargassum drifts into new areas, invading their breeding areas and disrupting crucial parts of their life cycle.
Like most great innovations, the AlgaRay robot is surprisingly simple.
We’re really proud to have gained support from the Improving Observation Capabilities of Biodiversity in UK Waters program. Innovate UK is working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to invest up to £1.5 million for innovation projects that can improve the observation capabilities of the UK’s waters, towards improved assessment and evaluation of the status and risks to natural capital assets.
We believe that the potential for seaweed as a base material for sustainable industry and carbon dioxide removal is enormous. The costs involved have to come down about 100x for the lowest value use cases, and between 10-50x for the mid range. Bringing automation and robotics together to solve challenges, is now a real proposition. Apart from that they are both incredibly cool.
The Deep Ocean
This is absolutely top of mind for us, and something that we will be monitoring very closely. Biomass based carbon dioxide removal (CDR) in the oceans will only be viable if there are no side effects, or if the trade offs are worth it. This potential pathway to removing the 10 billion tonnes of CO2 a year from the atmosphere that IPCC projects that we need is just that, a potential pathway. We need all of the potential pathways that we can get. There are not many of them, and the alternative is absolutely unacceptable
We fundamentally believe that leveraging the biological carbon pump is going to be an essential part of carbon dioxide removal and reversing the climate crisis. The oceans represent the largest carbon sink on earth, and macroalgae represents one of the fastest ways to absorb large amounts of carbon.
This is a really interesting question, and one which addresses important questions about seaweed as a Carbon Dioxide Removal method. There are strict regulations concerning dumping at sea to prevent the seabed becoming a convenient out-of-sight, out-of-mind refuse tip and to ensure that pollutants do not enter marine food chains. By doing what we propose we will be reducing the risk of Sargassum polluting beaches and shallow coastal waters.
Early purchasers of carbon dioxide removal will help us to do one main thing: move the conversation forward. We need to prove that carbon dioxide removals with seaweed can be viable as quickly as we can. We thought very long and hard about offering purchases, and ultimately decided to based on the following principles.
Who are you working with?
We believe that working together is the best way to achieve our goals and reach net zero targets. That’s why we’re committed to be open, collaborative and impactful in our work. We’re so proud to be working closely with some incredible partners and together we’re tackling climate change for a more sustainable future for our planet. A huge THANK YOU to all of our partners and supporters.
Through our Chief Science Officer, Professor Mike Allen, we have some really strong ties to Exeter University and the academic community. This means we can tap into the next generation of scientific talent to help us develop our processes, technologies and ideas; whilst providing them with experience of working on applied research with an industrial approach. It’s a win-win for everyone.