Beating CO2 with cyanobacteria and marine algae


Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam CO2If you’ve been watching the eyebrow dragging Trump administration grovelling to Big Oil like everyone else, you’ve probably got the message. Oil is God, and humanity can go to hell with as much pollution as it likes. Easy to mass produce marine algae and cyanobacteria could change that.

CO2 levels have been rising at a fantastic rate throughout human history, and particularly recent history.

According to New Scientist (8 April 2017), the average American (remember them?) produces about 16 tonnes of CO2 per year. The average European produces 7 tonnes.

Both are way too much Why should any human produce 70 or 360 times their own mass in CO2? . It doesn’t matter at this point. The story now is that all this CO2 is causing climate change. The other story, such as it is, is that +2C is the target, and +3C will have “apocalyptic” ramifications. Sea level rise could be 2-3 metres, which I think is way too optimistic. I think about 8-10 metres is more believable, and even that may be under the mark. All previous estimates of ice melt have been on the shallow side so far, excuse the pun.

Note: I consider the mean level of CO2 in ppm as the only provable, working definition of CO2 levels. CO2 levels have risen from 313 ppm when I was born to 400 ppm last year. That’s a gigantic increase.  Forget Little Ice Ages and paleo historical excuses; in all climate change scenarios, adding CO2 doesn’t do anything but warm up the planet. Adding 36 billion tonnes per year, therefore, can’t do anything but speed up the heating process.

Marine algae and cyanobacteria to the rescue?

So – How to reverse global warming? With machines? Expensive and probably slow, with possible inefficiencies, and no guarantee of adequacy of scale to meet needs. With chemicals? Same story, basically. Bio agents which can absorb CO2, on the other hand, are easy to mass produce, hence the interest in cyanobacteria and marine algae, which can be produced by the giga tonne.

The fact is that simply cutting emissions now won’t do enough fast enough, thanks to the oil lobby and their subhuman political pets. An accessible, 100% reliable way to physically reduce CO2 levels is required.  The algae and cyanobacteria are just that.

Marine algae and cyanobacteria

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This book is all about creative ideas. Nobody has yet died of reading it, but it’s a pretty tough call for those not familiar with working with ideas. “Passive voice”, eh?

Most CO2 is captured by marine algae, not trees and plants. Marine algae are a huge global biomass which basically drives the carbon cycle through the oceans. Marine algae can be produced in gigantic quantities and released in to the oceans. The worst side effect is likely to be massive increases in the number of fish. (That’d be a great outcome if the fish weren’t full of micro-plastic, of course.) The algae will act directly on any CO2 they encounter. There is some reason to believe that acidification and water temperature negatively affect marine algae, but warm water species could be used to mass produce the required amount of algae.

Cyanobacteria, a (very) rough analogue to marine algae, are one of the world’s oldest forms of life. They’re super-tough; they’ve survived everything, and they’ll survive global warming better than anything else. They’ll survive because they’re major beneficiaries of everything humanity does wrong – CO2, nitrogen compounds, phosphate/fertilizer soil mass murder, and more. All the crap humanity produces won’t affect cyanobacteria. They can live through plagues of volcanoes asteroid strikes and even human city sewer and drainage outlets. You can grow cyanobacteria anywhere on Earth, and they’ll be fine.

They can be grown in dams, ponds, and anywhere on land with enough fertilizer. All they need is light and as much CO2 as they can get. These bacteria fix nitrogen and CO2, so they’ll be right at home anywhere in a greenhouse environment and Earth’s hopelessly mismanaged land areas. No level of human incompetence can stop them.

One of the early suggestions for growing marine algae was to deposit iron in the seas to encourage their growth. There was much criticism of this idea for various reasons. One of the most persuasive reasons is that natural processes could be too slow and diffuse. That’s probably right.

The need for marine algae and cyanobacteria will have to be predicated on mathematics, not the natural cycles of these organisms, anyway.

The equation is this:

X marine algae (ma) will absorb X amount of CO2.

Allowing for losses through predation (P), Xma will be slightly under the target amount in any given application.

So Xma – P = Y, the actual, measurable CO2 reduction.

The obvious solution is to add projected P as a production factor so that Xma + P = Y. Couldn’t get a lot simpler, really.

Add to this that 35 billion tonnes of CO2 is emitted globally. A fair percentage is absorbed by plants and algae, but the net increase is still adding to CO2 in the atmosphere.

If E = over absorption level emissions, you get a real time need for absorption which reads:

Xma + P = E – Y. Meaning your added absorption has to include the new emissions, while also dealing with the excess CO2 as it happens.

To reduce net excess CO2, defined as 1900 levels, pre auto and mass production, you need to quantify:

A = current levels

Ex = 1900 levels

Therefore, A – Ex = Y as the target for absorption to physically reduce CO2 levels. You can set whatever target you like for Y, there’s plenty of CO2 to go around, but it has to deliver a clear reduction back to bearable levels on an ongoing basis.

By “ongoing”, I mean forever. More CO2 will simply generate more algae and cyanobacteria. The problem should strike a balance with adequate absorption. Let’s fix this problem, permanently, and idiot-proof the future with proper atmospheric management.

Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam, Paul Wallis books