Companies That Create Wonders from CO2 with Microorganisms
Our forests, the lungs of the world, are being destroyed at an exorbitant rate for various reasons, including livestock, growing plants, and urbanisation. According to satellite reports, with every passing 60 seconds, a rainforest area equivalent to three football fields gets destroyed in Brazil for farmlands. We are now at a point where reducing CO2 emissions alone is not sufficient to compensate for the damage we have done. That’s why it is essential to come up with technologies to capture the CO2 in the air and turn it into useful products.
Thankfully, biotechnology companies have taken initiatives to capture CO2 and other harmful pollutants in the air using a technique called carbon sequestration. Perhaps the most promising elements of this story are the tiniest ones: microbes.
By leveraging bacteria and yeast in bioreactors the size of your wardrobe, these companies are not only capturing CO2 but also recycling it into a useful form. The best part is: they are doing this without exploiting land and resources. Here are some highlights.
NovoNutrients: From CO2 To Fish Feed
Who would have thought it would one day be possible to make fish-feed from air pollutants? NovoNutrients has made it a reality.
The major problem in salmon farming is that farmers use billions of small fish as feed. This is not only harmful to the marine ecosystem but also to our bodies since these small fishes get contaminated in polluted waters. So, when we consume the salmon, we simultaneously consume the contamination. In fact, there is even research linking farmed salmon to increased cancer risk .
NovoNutrients has been cultivating specialty microbes that capture industrial CO2 emissions and produce protein flour, which serves as fish feed. This solves two problems at once, the industrial CO2 emissions and the unhealthy salmon farming methods.
Mango Materials: Plastic Alternatives From Waste Gas
Imagine how much more sustainable our lives would be if toxic gases could be turned into plastic alternatives. Mango Materials could already have the solution.
The company uses bacteria to capture waste gases like methane and CO2, which get converted to biodegradable polyester. This material can be used as raw material for apparel, shoes, backpack, toys, electronics casings, packaging, and various other products that were normally made of non-degradable fiber and plastics.
So, similar to NovoNutrients, Mango Materials tackles two issues at once: reducing the industrial waste gases and replacing plastics and fibers with sustainable alternatives.
Soil Carbon Co: Industrial Gases to Increase Soil Quality
The carbon content in the soil can severely impact the fertility of the crops. That’s why microbes have been continuously used to convert CO2 to a form that can be stored in the soil.
Soil Carbon Co’s choice for the subject matter is a specific type of fungi. When introduced to the soil, these fungi can improve the soil quality for higher crop fertility while also protecting the crops against diseases.
With Soil Carbon Co, crops can capture waste gases and use them to increase their yield. This would surely help with the reduction of CO2, but it indirectly reduces the land needed to produce plant-based food. After all, if the soil quality is better, we can obtain the same amount of food from a smaller number of crops.
Deep Branch: Turning CO2 Into Valuable Soy Alternative
The making of quality meat from chicken and pigs requires a lot of soy for animal feed. Because 80% of the world's soy fields are in South America, soy production is strongly linked to deforestation in the Amazons. If we could produce a protein alternative to soy, this could slow down deforestation dramatically.
The UK-based startup Deep Branch uses yeast strains (which are commonly used in breweries) to produce animal feed. The microorganisms draw the waste gas emitted by the surrounding industrial sites and use these gases to produce high-value proteins. The project offers multiple benefits at once. Obviously, it aids in reducing the local industrial CO2 emissions. Besides, the alternative animal feed eliminates the need for soy production, which requires massive land and a tremendous amount of water resources.
Newlight Technologies: From the Ocean to IKEA
The microorganisms in the oceans are more beneficial than meets the eye, and they can even facilitate the production of furniture in our houses.
Newlight Technologies cultivates marine microorganisms that naturally convert greenhouse gases into a material called AirCarbon that can easily be molded and melted into any form. Currently, many companies have partnered with Newlight to produce biodegradable packaging, including Dell, Hewlett Packard, and the Body Shop. In 2016, IKEA signed a deal with Newlight to manufacture biodegradable furniture, so it won’t be long before these microorganisms make an entrance into our homes.
 Foran, Jeffery A., et al. "Risk-based consumption advice for farmed Atlantic and wild Pacific salmon contaminated with dioxins and dioxin-like compounds." Environmental health perspectives 113.5 (2005): 552-556.