On of the richest people on the planet is sick of climate change and has launched a venture capital firm to slow down global warming. Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) funds companies that can make a marked reduction on annual carbon output while also being profitable. Using capitalism to undo what capitalism has caused isn’t a new idea but hopefully it’ll work. So far BEV has funded some really neat initiatives from better batteries to cutting edge biofuels manufactured by plants.
“We are a unique fund with investors who are patient and flexible,” says Rodi Guidero, executive director of BEV. “Our goal is to find the companies that will have the greatest impact on accelerating the energy transition and help them in whatever way we can.”
To help him find those companies, Guidero draws on an in-house group of scientists, technologists, and entrepreneurs, along with a network of 140 academic institutions and large corporations. They provide expertise on the vast range of technologies that BEV is interested in.
To be eligible for BEV’s money, a startup needs to showcase a scientifically sound technology that has the potential to reduce annual global greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 500 million metric tons. Global emissions currently measure about 40 billion metric tons a year.
Highways are loved in America due to their ability to allow single occupant vehicles to move uninterrupted, thus they crisscross the entirety of the United States. This makes for a lot of land covered by asphalt, cars spattering litter, brake dust, exhaust onto the roadside, and large swaths of manicured grass. The highway side grass is expensive to maintain (people need to be paid to cut the grass) and does little to deal with the exhaust blasting out of automobiles. Kansas as a solution to this grassy knoll – better grass. Kernza is being tested on a Kansas highway because it requires barely any landscaping and captures more carbon than regular grass.
The plant was bred at the Kansas-based Land Institute from a type of wheatgrass related to wheat, but unlike more common grains, like corn, wheat, and barley, it grows perennially, rather than having to be plowed and replanted every year. As it grows, its roots stretch as far as 10 feet underground, helping make the plant more resilient, preventing erosion, and capturing more carbon in the soil.
The plant was highlighted in Paul Hawken’s book Project Drawdown as an effective tool for fighting climate change. Hawken, who has connections to The Ray, helped introduce the organization to the plant. They’d previously considered growing other plants, such as bamboo, but realized that the roots of fast-growing bamboo could be destructive to pavement.
With the amount of carbon in the atmosphere at a level never before witnessed by human civilization we need to know how what to do about it. Obviously we need to cut back on all emissions and wasteful consumerist consumption. Beyond that we need to actively support carbon sinks. A new way of measuring carbon sinks can help us determine which type of coastal forest needs the most protection (or revitalization).
Nóbrega hopes to build a library of soil reflectance fingerprints for mangrove soils throughout the world. He doesn’t want to stop with mangrove soils, though. “Ultimately, we want to expand to other coastal environments, such as saltmarshes, seagrasses, and tidal flats,” he says.
Eventually, it might be possible to equip a drone with the required sensors. “Then we could obtain vital information without disturbing sensitive ecosystems,” says Nóbrega. “We could monitor carbon levels in large, inaccessible areas.”
This week it was announced that carbon in our atmosphere has reached levels not seen for 800,000 years. Clearly we need to do better to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and the releasing of carbon (and other waste) into the atmosphere. While reduction efforts continue, we need to do something now. And doing something now is what an international coalition of agencies is doing in Brazil. They are going to plant 73 million trees to bring life back to the amazon. They will be planting the trees on rainforest land that was previously cleared for factory farming using a new technique to see how well it works.
“This is not a stunt,” Sanjayan says. “It is a carefully controlled experiment to literally figure out how to do tropical restoration at scale, so that people can replicate it and we can drive the costs down dramatically.”
The muvuca strategy demands that seeds from more than 200 native forest species are spread over every square meter of burnt and mismanaged land. The seeds are purchased from the Xingu Seed Network, which since 2007 has acted as a native seed supply for more than 30 organizations, thanks a collection of more than 400 seed collectors–many of whom are indigenous women and local youths.
When fish farms kill their fish for food some of that food is ground up and fed to other fish as nutrient pellets. It’s well known that current fishing practices are really bad for the environment and that fish farms aren’t good for their local environment. Anything we can do to help reduce the damage done by fish (and eating fish) will make this world a little better.
A new company, NovoNutrients, has created a solution to the fish feed problem by addressing another global issue: too much carbon. The company has a process which takes carbon from factories and feeds it to microbes, which in turn grow to become fish food.
The startup’s process uses carbon dioxide, along with other emissions, to feed microbes that can then become protein for companies that make pellets of food for fish. Those microbes are similar to ones that evolved to live near gas vents in the ocean; the startup arranges them with other species into “microbial factories” that work together to make the whole process more efficient.
The company is also developing new microbes, using synthetic biology, that can produce particular nutrients–vitamins or probiotics, for example–that can also be used as ingredients in feed. All of this will happen in pipes that help the gases dissolve in water, rather than in the large tanks that are used for fermentation in a brewery or some pharmaceutical companies. The pipes can connect directly to a cement plant or other industrial emitter and then into a fishmeal factory next door. Hydrogen, which can be produced through electrolysis of water using solar power, can provide energy for the system.