Slipstream Terra’s Technology, Simply Explained

As simple as capture wind, grow algae

There’s a lot of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

We put it there, and it makes the planet warmer, because carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. A greenhouse gas forces the Earth to trap heat from the Sun by preventing that heat from being radiated back into space. This makes the Earth warmer.

By ZooFari — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5776439

This is a bad thing, because it increases the likelihood of extreme weather events, raises the levels of the oceans, turns the oceans themselves into acid, and a contributes to a whole host of undesirable things.

Some people say we can solve this problem by just not putting any more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Right now, we put about 400 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. Let’s pretend we manage to stop emitting all of that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2020, and we switch to renewable energy, like solar and wind.

The Earth won’t get much cooler.

All of that carbon dioxide we’ve been emitting since the 1800s is still in the atmosphere, continuing to warm the planet.

It’ll take until the end of the century for us to see any noticeable effects. And by then, it might be too late.

We can fix this by literally sucking carbon dioxide out of the air

Imagine a bunch of giant sponges, like the kind you would wash dishes with.

We can saturate these sponges with chemicals that capture carbon dioxide straight from the air. The carbon dioxide in the air automatically binds to those chemicals as it passes through the sponges (through the wind), and emerges out the back of those sponges, relatively carbon-free.

Basically, an artificial tree. Put a bunch of them on top of city rooftops, and we’ve built an artificial forest, capable of absorbing 10x the amount of carbon dioxide as a regular forest.

Those sponges don’t isolate the carbon dioxide into a pure stream of gas. They just capture it in a different form, usually a dissolved salt.

There’s not much you can do with that dissolved salt, so most sponge companies go through really expensive, energy-intensive processes to separate the pure carbon dioxide from that salt. This results in sky-high prices — the current cost to capture one metric ton of carbon dioxide is $92.

Slipstream Terra found a way to avoid going through all of those energy-intensive processes

It turns out, we actually can use those dissolved carbon salts. This (along with other technology we’ve developed) helps us bring the cost down to as low as $15/mT of captured CO2.

We use those dissolved carbon salts as a feedstock to grow algae.

Algae are basically microscopic plants. Just like normal-sized plants, they use carbon dioxide and turn it into biomass (use it to grow). It turns out, certain types of algae can use those dissolved carbon salts as a source of carbon dioxide.

That way, we avoid the costs of separating and transporting gas, and we also make it cheaper and easier to grow algae, by using the liquid form of carbon dioxide.

By IGV Biotech — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25767678

But what’s so great about growing algae, anyway?

Well, you can obviously use it as a food source, and some companies use them for cosmetics.

Another area of active research is biofuels.

Algae can produce oil. That oil can be isolated and used to create jet fuel or diesel or ethanol or basically any other type of fuel. It’s also not very efficient.

But algae is just a bunch of plants.

We can burn plants for energy.

We plan on burning that algae and using it to generate electricity. But now you say, “doesn’t that just release the carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere?” and you’re absolutely right.

That’s why we leverage existing technology to capture that carbon dioxide before it reaches the atmosphere. Maybe we even use those sponges and place them on top of the smokestacks. Maybe we use industrial CO2 scrubbers and bury the captured carbon dioxide deep underground, where it can never reach the atmosphere (side note: the US government pays us $50/ton of CO2 buried).

Catch Wind, Grow Algae

That’s how Slipstream Terra’s technology works, on the most basic level.

We use giant sponges to absorb carbon dioxide out of the air as the wind passes through them. That absorbed carbon dioxide (in the form of a dissolved salt) is used to feed algae, which we can burn to produce renewable electricity.

If you have any more questions, feel free to contact me on Twitter.