I already got irritated at the glib claims being made when this was posted elsewhere, so here’s a copy of the screed I wrote. TLDR: it might work as well as they claim, it probably doesn’t, and it’s not solving the underlying problem that we’re still burning way too much fossil fuel.
First, it’s going to need a substantial amount of electricity to power it. The artist’s impression shows it has the algae in tubes inside it. Anyone who has looked at the operation of grow-rooms knows what that means. Where’s the light coming from? How’s the heat being managed, where’s the cooling coming from? What’s circulating the water? How’s the fresh air getting to the machine? How is the machine getting cleaned? How is the algae getting separated out, dried and stored? How much power does the “machine learning” need? So, how much electricity is this machine and process using in total? Has the company offset the monetary and carbon cost of that electricity in its calculations, or has it handwaved some solar panels into existence?
How much carbon do these machines actually sequester? Are the figures from the company based on realistic averages from production models, or best-case extrapolations based on theoretical models? Do they account for downtime, and degradation of equipment and ingredients over time? How quickly does efficiency drop once biofilms form on the tubes?
When will the first machine be production-ready? Will it require maintenance by the buyer? How highly trained will the maintenance team need to be? How quickly will the machine break down with inexpert or infrequent maintenance? Does it work with any algae, or is a special strain required? Can you use any old water, or does it need to be sterile? What level of minerals is acceptable? How and where are you storing the algae that is generated? What happens if the algae contaminates local water sources? Will it cause poisonous algal blooms? What’s the environmental requirements for housing the machines? Do we have enough existing unused building space, or are we going to have to build new ones? How well do they manage with poor quality or intermittent electricity supply?
How many of these have been sold? What’s the selling price? Who’s making them, and where? How scalable is this operation? How long before they can make one million a year? What’s the carbon footprint of manufacture and shipping? Does the company require a service contract to be bought? How much is that? What does it cover? What are the common failure modes, and how catastrophic is each? Which parts are considered consumables and need to be replaced regularly? How much do they cost? What’s their carbon footprint? What’s the expected lifetime of each machine? How recyclable is it—theoretically and practically?
What’s the business plan of this company? How will they make money? Do they use IP laws to stop you making your own parts locally? What happens if they increase their servicing prices tenfold in five years time? What happens if they go bust? What happens when they decide your 100,000 machines are “out of support”? What happens if your government goes bankrupt, or is overthrown, and stops paying support fees, or stops generating electricity? Will the machines require to be internet-connected? How vulnerable are they to hacking? How disastrous could that be?
This machine might work perfectly, and the company may have convincing answers to all these questions, and the technology may work exactly as planned when rolled out, and there may be no hidden snags or costs, but that’s normally not the case.
If you want to invest massively in carbon sequestration today, you can simply plant trees. Starting today. Using unskilled labour. With little capital cost. And negligible maintenance costs. At very high volumes. Ethiopia recently claimed to have planted 350 million trees in 12 hours, which is perhaps around 1 million acres of trees, so the equivalent of installing one million of these machines.
Sure throw some attention and money at these innovative solutions, but watch out for snake-oil and keep your attention on known working solutions.
And as I understand it, carbon sequestration shouldn’t even be the main focus: that still needs to be reducing carbon emissions.