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Microsoft is betting on algae to reduce its growing ecological footprint

by Ana Lopez
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Like all of its peers in the tech industry, Microsoft has a problem with carbon pollution.

The software giant’s emissions are emergingdespite a commitment from the future company carbon negative by 2030. This ticking clock explains Microsoft’s latest deal to address its toll on the environment: Running tide to offset some of its ocean emissions.

Running tidewhich is also worked with stripe And Shopify, wants to use this money to lock up massive amounts of carbon dioxide. Running Tide has said it will do this by, say, growing loads of kelp on biodegradable buoys, with the intention that the algae will eventually sink to the ocean floor. The startup has a white paper about his work, but if you’re looking for a little more detail, here’s what head of business development Jordan Breighner told businessroundups.org today:

“We combine wood and alkaline minerals to form a small carbon buoy that we can seed with algae seed and deploy deep into the open ocean,” Breighner said. “The buoy floats, the alkaline minerals dissolve, reducing ocean acidification and removing carbon through a process that improves ocean alkalinity. The algae grow quickly and absorb CO2. After less than three months, the buoy and algae and embodied fast carbon sink to the bottom of the ocean, and if they sink below 1,000 meters, the carbon is gone for about 1,000 years.

“Not all buoys have been sown, however,” added Breighner. “That’s based on ocean conditions that are optimal for algal growth.”

Overall, carbon removal activity is still in its infancy. It has not yet proven that it can absorb carbon sustainably on the scale it eventually wants to achieve. Some scientists also worry that fully developed, corporate-backed sequestration programs, such as giant kelp farms, could inadvertently harm ocean ecosystems, MIT Technology Review reported last year.

So far, Breighner said Running Tide has “only removed less than 1,000 tons of carbon in test and research deployments.” The startup plans to remove up to 12,000 tons in two years for Microsoft alone.

The deal is valued in the single-digit millions, Running Tide said. A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on the price.

Microsoft’s most recent sustainability report showed a 21.5% increase in emissions from 2020 to 2021. The software giant attributed this to scope 3 emissions, which he said were related to data center development and more customers using its products more frequently. In other words, Microsoft grew its cloud and gaming business, and its net emissions increased at the same time. Company wants to be carbon negative in the next seven years or so, and the plan to get there depends on carbon removal.

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