Frontier portfolio

Ocean

Maximizing the world’s largest carbon sink and reducing ocean acidification

Permanent carbon removal

3% of fund spend

The ocean is the world’s largest carbon sink, absorbing 25% of the CO₂ humans have emitted and more than 90% of the heat generated by climate change.Footnote 1

The problem is that too much of this carbon is stored close to the water’s surface. This increases water temperature, throws off the pH balance, and makes the ocean more acidic.

Ocean acidification wreaks havoc in all kinds of ways. It slows down currents that churn deep, cold water to the surface; weakens the shells of crustaceans; and kills off many species of plants and animals. Satellite images of the Atlantic show a 4%–8% decline in biological activity every year.Footnote 2

To combat this, we need to maximize our “blue carbon”—all carbon captured by the ocean and coastal ecosystems. Sea grasses, mangroves, and salt marshes along the coast absorb a great amount of carbon faster than trees can, so preserving these ecosystems is one example of a valuable natural solution. We can also speed up natural processes that increase the amount of carbon stored deep in the ocean and reduce ocean acidification.

Ocean-based projects are valuable because they address multiple issues: our carbon problem, ocean health, and biodiversity.

The ocean is the world’s largest carbon sink

Company spotlight

Planetary Hydrogen

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in our universe, which is good news because it has high potential as a green fuel. It offers two to three times more energy than other common fuels and emits only water vapor when converted to energy. The problem is that right now, 96% of the world’s hydrogen is produced using fossil fuels, and creating clean hydrogen is really expensive.

Enter Planetary Hydrogen and their patented technology. Powered by renewable energy, they produce hydrogen through conventional water electrolysis: using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Planetary Hydrogen’s key innovation is adding a mineral salt to the electrolysis process, which creates a byproduct called mineral hydroxide. This spontaneously binds with carbon dioxide and forms a bicarbonate, similar to baking soda. When that bicarbonate is added to the ocean, it acts as an antacid and helps counter ocean acidification. The whole process consumes and stores as much as 40 kilograms of CO₂ per kilogram of hydrogen produced.

Their vision is to combine this green hydrogen with biofuels to create carbon-negative fuels that work within existing vehicles. With the launch of a pilot plant in Halifax next year, they’ll test the economics of their technology. Shopify’s purchase of the captured carbon credits from their pilot project will fund further research and help them scale to their first fully-functional plant.

“We put CO₂ into the world’s largest carbon sink. We store it in the ocean’s chemistry, and that’s a natural, normal thing the earth does all the time. We just speed it up.”

—Mike Kelland, Planetary Hydrogen CEO

Company spotlight

Running Tide

Marty Odlin grew up on offshore boats near Portland, Maine. He saw firsthand the impact of climate change on the fishing industry, so he started Running Tide to help ocean aquaculture.

Running Tide grows oysters: a zero-carbon superfood that naturally stores carbon within its shell. But oysters are only the beginning.

Marty’s grand plan is to use the ocean as a lever to solve the climate crisis, and he believes one of the most powerful tools to do this is with kelp, a type of seaweed. Running Tide grows kelp specifically to sequester carbon and sink it deep into the ocean.

Kelp is a powerful CO₂ storage system with its ability to grow many times faster than trees. Kelp forests can store up to 20 times more carbon per acre than land forests.Footnote 3

Running Tide plans to attach kelp to a biodegradable buoy with a timer. After six to nine months, the timer pops the buoy, flooding it with water and sinking it to the ocean’s depths. Marty calculates that kelp sunk 1,000 metres deep will store CO₂ for at least 1,000 years.

His ambitious plan involves scaling this project quickly to grow as much kelp and store as much CO₂ as possible. The goal is one billion tons of CO₂ by 2025. He’s testing his technology with a pilot project later this year, with plans for verification in mid-2021. Shopify’s purchase enables Running Tide to recover and monitor research data from the ocean to assess the success of this innovative approach. We’ll also fund future deployments when the time is right to scale.

“All work is important in carbon reduction, but some people have to try to kill the monster. Everyone should try to slow it down, but we should pick 15–20 technologies that might be able to stop the whole thing all by themselves. That’s what we’re trying to build.”

—Marty Odlin, Running Tide founder