The simple kelp plant could help us suck carbon out of the air in large quantities, and if so then we need more kelp – and fast! Kelp is a seaweed that naturally grows up to two feet per day, which puts it on a similar growth rate to algae which is similar and we’ve looked at before as a carbon sink. Kelp is so good at using carbon that a startup is currently creating a kelp factory that functions as an industrial carbon-removal service.
The company produces groupings of kelp that float on water and absorb carbon, when they get heavy enough the groupings fall to the ocean floor. It’s an imperfect idea and still being tested, but we must remember that climate change will be addressed by thousands of little solutions and not one grand gesture.
At its core, carbon removal is “a mass-transfer problem,” Marty Odlin, Running Tide’s CEO, told me. The key issue is how to move the hundreds of gigatons of carbon emitted by fossil fuels from the “fast cycle,” where carbon flits from fossil fuels to the air to plant matter, back to the “slow cycle,” where they remain locked away in geological storage for millennia. “How do you move that?” Odlin said. “What’s the most efficient way possible to accomplish that mass transfer?” The question is really, really important. The United Nations recently said that carbon removal is “essential” to remedying climate change, but so far, we don’t have the technology to do it cheaply and at scale.