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Project Kilogram

Can we pull a kilo of CO2 out of the air using algae?

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Let's capture some CO2 using algae. This is a long-term project to understand the feasibility and challenges with using algae to sequester CO2. Please do let me know if you would like to contribute, there's a lot to work on.

Obviously CO2 sucks big time.

There's lots of fantastic ways to reduce emissions but if we really want to get anywhere we're going to have to start capturing CO2. This is because we've already emitted so much, and because some things just aren't getting to carbon neutral any time soon. Some great methods for carbon capture and storage exist but they are typically expensive and difficult to scale due to their use of complex technologies and energy intensity. Algae has been capturing CO2 for aeons so I wondered how it could be used in this case. Some basic calculations show it has potential but there are so many unknowns it's hard to say with any confidence. I started this project to try and capture a whole whopping kilogram of CO2 using some algae in my garden.

What is a kilogram of CO2? It's about 7 miles in an efficient European car (ignoring the footprint of making the thing or producing the fuel), half a pint of milk, or about a third of a burger. I'm under no illusion working at this scale will offset much damage - it may not even cover the CO2 cost of materials - but hopefully it will provide some interesting data, a productive distraction from the current pandemic, and some new challenges to solve.

I also felt that I had to do something impactful, beyond the reasonably low emission lifestyle I already lead. Pat the Bunny said "I do what I got to, to be able to breathe!", and that feels pretty relevant right now.

  • Version Zero

    Toby04/05/2020 at 09:33 0 comments

    I'm a big fan of iterating on designs so I made version zero to just place in our south-facing living room for now. It's just a USB/battery/solar powered air bubbler connected to a 5L water bottle - as basic as possible to get something going while I figure out other components. I bubbled the water for a few days before adding half of the algae as I wasn't sure how high the chloramine content was. For an algae species I chose Nannochloropsis as they're often used in research due to their efficiency, and they're easily available too. I added a bit of algae nutrient too, both from UK aquatics supplier Reefphyto.

    The algae look like they're doing great after about a week. I want to get them outside where it's sunnier but the ideal location is about 50M from the house - I'm working on a solar powered controller for the pump that will also let me record some environmental stats via radio/WiFi.

    So far the biggest unknown is how to measure algae growth, which will be essential for gathering good data and making decisions like when and how much to harvest. One for a future post.

    Version zero

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