As you read this, the first seaweeds in the world cultivated for the purpose of absorbing CO2 before being buried under the sea floor are being planted in the sea off Trondheim in Mid-Norway.
This project is part of a family of climate change mitigation technologies towards the development of which SINTEF is now asking players all over the world to contribute.
We are talking about technologies that remove greenhouse gases from natural oceanic and atmospheric cycles.
Launching at the COP26 Climate Change Summit
Research in this field is currently grossly underfunded, but is essential if climate change mitigation targets are to be met.
With the aim of financing research into such technologies SINTEF is launching a global ‘Climate Fund’ during the COP26 Climate Change Summit in Glasgow. SINTEF is injecting NOK 21 million into the fund and is inviting contributions from external donors.
Necessary according to scenarios
The reason for this initiative is that even major reductions in man-made emissions will not be sufficient to fully mitigate climate change. Reductions on their own will not be able to limit global warming to one and a half degrees.
Human beings have already emitted so great a volume of greenhouse gases that, according to all realistic scenarios, we will also have to ‘suck’ significant amounts of previously emitted CO2 from the atmosphere and oceans.
A new-born market needs a midwife
Major players such as Microsoft are currently promoting the creation of an emerging market for the technologies we need. The company has earmarked significant sums for the purchase of technologies that can ‘take back’ the greenhouse gases that it has emitted during its years of operation.
“However, there are too few of these technologies available, and those that exist are either inadequate or at too small a scale”, says SINTEF CEO Alexandra Bech Gjørv. “There is also a lack of financial backing for studies that can further advance and commercialise the many conceivable but as yet unrealised technologies in this field”, she says.
It is precisely studies such as these that charitable organisations, the business community and donors across the world are now getting the opportunity to support by injecting capital into the recently established fund, as compensation for their own emissions.
An appeal to organisations and the business community
On the international stage, the company Climeworks is well underway with its project to suck CO₂ directly out of the air.
Here in Norway, the company Fortum has planned to use chemicals to capture CO2 from the waste and energy recycling facility at Klemetsrud in Oslo, and then to sequester the gas in porous rock reservoirs below the seabed on the continental shelf. Since residual waste is for the most part plant-based, this process will also remove CO2 from natural cycles.
The aim of the recently established Climate Fund is to finance investigations into other concepts addressing the removal of CO2 gas that has already been emitted. The fund’s assets will be used to finance research that SINTEF is taking responsibility for carrying out. All the research will be peer-reviewed by international experts.
Backing from a major bank
Just before the fund’s launch in Glasgow, the Norwegian bank SpareBank 1 SMN has announced that it will be the first external investor here in Norway.
“It is a liberating feeling from our point of view to be able to put money into a fund that will be financing targeted climate change mitigation initiatives so close to home” says bank CEO Jan-Frode Janson. “It all serves to further strengthen our awareness and legitimacy. By being the first to invest in the Climate Fund, we hope that SpareBank 1 SMN will be helping to show the way and that we can encourage other companies, both in mid-Norway and across the country, to contribute. We choose to view this as a challenge”, he says.
The use of seaweeds in the fight to mitigate climate change forms part of three of the five projects that are already being financed by the fund, and which are looking into opportunities to create climate friendly ‘graveyards’ for the seaweeds.
“At SINTEF, we have already come a long way in the development of a technology for the cultivation of seaweeds in marine facilities”, explains Senior Researcher Jorunn Skjermo.
“Seaweeds are similar to other marine plants in that they absorb the CO2 that is dissolved in seawater. However, if we are to remove these CO2 molecules from natural cycles, we also have to prevent their re-emission when the seaweed rots, is eaten or is uncontrollably burned.”
Essential environmental studies of sea floor impacts
According to Skjermo, one way of achieving this is to lower the cultivated seaweeds to great depths, financed by climate quotas.
“We’re talking about depths greater than one thousand metres”, she explains. “Although even here the seaweeds will be broken down to release greenhouse gases. However, these will remain at depth because water in the deeper strata of the ocean does not mix with that in the upper layers. But before we can all start lowering seaweed into the ocean on a large scale, we must identify methods that are guaranteed not to cause local negative environmental impacts on the sea floor. It is this aspect of the process that we are currently studying”, says Skjermo.
Biocoal coal for agriculture
In parallel with these studies, SINTEF is also looking into the potential of converting seaweeds into a biocoal similar to wood-derived coal. This coal can be dispersed on land, possibly in agricultural fields and meadows. But not simply just to lie there without releasing CO2. It can probably also be used to improve agricultural soils.
A wide range of technologies
SINTEF is also currently financing its own studies into other possibilities. These include the following:
- New uses of carbon from your household waste. SINTEF is looking into the possibility of using ash generated by energy recycling facilities similar to that at Klemetsrud to capture CO2. The ash is then made into concrete building blocks.
- Removal of CO2 from seawater. Indirectly, this is the same process as is used to remove CO2 from the air because seawater itself carries CO2 from the atmosphere in solution and because the oceans and the atmosphere are in equilibrium. The process that SINTEF is aiming to exploit is similar to that which takes place when a soda bottle is opened and the fizzy liquid inside starts to bubble. The idea involves the use of a vacuum and ultrasound to release the CO2, which is then sequestered in deeply buried geological reservoirs.
- Exploiting phytoplankton to promote carbon capture. Phytoplankton are single-celled plants that account for almost half of all photosynthesis that takes place on Earth. The idea here is to stimulate the accelerated growth of phytoplankton, either by providing them with nutrients using bag and pipe systems on land or at sea, or by bringing deep, nutrient-rich water up to the surface where the plankton are exposed to the sun. Both of these methods will boost CO2 capture. Afterwards the plankton can either be allowed to sink to the sea floor, or be collected for subsequent sinking or conversion into biocoal.
New jobs in Norway
The good news is that projects like this can provide Norway with new industry and new jobs.
“If we invest now, Norwegian business will get a head start in a growing market while at the same time making a contribution towards meeting our global climate change mitigation targets”, says CEO Alexandra Bech Gjørv.
Alexandra Bech Gjørv
Tel.: +47 918 06193
Senior Research Scientist, SINTEF
Tel.: +47 982 45 040
CEO, SpareBank 1 SMN
Tel.: +47 909 75183