Carbon captureEmission reductionSustainable agriculture

While you can’t reduce it, capture it (with algae)

Pond Technologies’ platform generates value out of CO2

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The idea is simple: if (or while) you can’t reduce it, capture it. We are talking about carbon dioxide, and algae are among the most efficient ‘machines’ in nature at absorbing and re-processing CO2. Wouldn’t it be great if we could take advantage of them to develop technologies that help us to capture some of the renowned greenhouse gas? And what if at the same time we could generate some value out of this?

Pond Technologies did both. This Canadian-based company is specialized in designing and operating systems that achieve CO2 capture from industrial emissions by means of algal cultures while generating revenue for the hosting site out of it. Pond aims to offer systems that ‘effectively close the carbon loop and create wealth from waste’, somehow converting the most abundant by-product of our society into new, valuable resources (and making the world a better place).

How bioreactors (or ‘vessels’) work

Pond's photobioreactors. Courtesy of Pond Tech
Pond’s photobioreactors. Courtesy of Pond Tech

The proprietary system developed by Pond is a scalable add-on that is intended to be installed on existing industrial facilities, where CO2 emissions generate, and it can ‘use unfiltered emissions straight from industrial smokestacks’. The growth platform can be used on any industrial facilities and in any geography and climate.

The bioreactors, or vessels, in which algae are grown, are automatically regulating the inflow of CO2 and nutrients so that the first crops are ready to be harvested and processed in a few days. This guarantees an immediate reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions, as well as a rapid and steadily-growing revenue stream.

In terms of C02 absorption, according to Pond’s estimates, one tonne of algae sequesters nearly two tonnes of CO2, so that the volume of algae that would be cultivated in a 1-million-liter site could capture up to 3,700 tonnes of carbon dioxide, as if we were taking 600 cars off the road for one year. Beyond CO2, some algae can also help to reduce the emission of smog-causing gases, such as Nitrogen oxides (NOx) and Sulfur oxides (SOx).

Pond’s exciting business is one of the first in the ‘cleantech’ sector to make the most of algae in the attempt to optimize atmospheric CO2 capture. Scientific foundations of this approach have been explored more and more in the last years (see for instance this 2016 article by Moreira and Pires), as well as the ‘economic viability of the process’, which offers a new perspective on achieving sustainability using the tools nature designed.

Algae production

Blue Spirulina, which Phycocyanin is extracted from, grown by Pond Tech. Courtesy of Pond Tech
Blue Spirulina, which Phycocyanin is extracted from, grown by Pond Tech. Courtesy of Pond Tech

Algae are extremely versatile and valuable in nature and in our economy. On the one hand, they are among the most abundant ‘primary producers‘ on earth, i.e. they are at the base of the food chain,  on the other hand as ‘products’ they can be employed in a variety of ways, e.g. as ingredients to process supplements for human consumption in ‘nutraceuticals’, to feed animals and to produce other goods like cosmetics and biofuels.

The algae species that Pond tech have farmed at scale so far are Chlorella (Chlorella Vulgaris), Spirulina (Arthrospira Platensis), and Astaxanthin (Haematococcus Pluvialis). All of them are guaranteed by the company to be ‘clean’ and safe since they are grown in ‘a fully sealed, closely monitored environment’. According to Pond tech, Astaxanthin is currently considered one of nature’s strongest antioxidants with relevant usage as an aquaculture food additive. On the other hand,  Phycocyanin, which is extracted from Spirulina, is a natural food colorant with antioxidant properties and important applications in medicine and genetics. The company estimates that the market size of these two products together is currently exceeding 2 billion USD and growing.

Pond’s patented technology is ultimately aimed to monitor and optimize growth factors in biomass cultivation like e.g. temperature, humidity, nutrient level, or light levels. It is then so flexible that it can be applied to other crops aside from algae, including plants grown in a greenhouse, and this is precisely what the company is currently experimenting with.

Pond Tech system. Courtesy of Pond Tech.

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