26 April 2023
“Carbon buoys made from forestry residue and limestone, and seeded with kelp” isn’t a solution that jumps to mind when we think of tackling the carbon crisis. How did you arrive at that?
Even with my background in ocean operations, I didn’t actually start by looking at the ocean. I’m an engineer, so I started by looking at first principles. Carbon removal needs to become the largest mass-moving exercise in human history. According to the IPCC, just to keep the world from surpassing 1.5°C of warming, we are going to have to move 660 gigatons of carbon from the fast cycle (atmosphere, biosphere, upper ocean) to the slow cycle (geological reservoirs and the deep ocean). And +1.5°C itself is a pretty awful world. To stabilize the climate and secure the future for all life on Earth, we need to collectively move back the 2,000+ gigatons of carbon that we moved from the slow cycle to the fast cycle since the Industrial Revolution, primarily by burning fossil fuels.
That’s the overarching challenge, so I started looking at pathways for carbon removal. I’ve seriously considered and studied the operations of direct air capture and other high-order systems—but realized I couldn’t make the logistics work out. We have to move mass in ways that are energy efficient, ecologically restorative, and scalable. There is no better way to move mass on the planet than through the ocean, and nothing scales better than natural systems. The ocean’s biological pump is an already incredibly powerful natural carbon sink, transferring about 2 gigatons of carbon from the fast carbon cycle to the slow carbon cycle each year.
You are right that one iteration of our system will combine forestry residue, coated with alkaline materials and seeded with macroalgae. This iteration has a number of advantages. Our materials are sustainably sourced and designed to increase mass transfer of carbon from the fast cycle to the slow. Forestry residue and agricultural residue (which would otherwise be burned or left to decompose) is repurposed into our buoys. The buoy’s coating dissolves to combat ocean acidification. Macroalgae, of which kelp is a species, can grow very fast, and pull carbon out of the atmosphere and upper ocean as it grows. We are continuously iterating upon our system design to optimize for scalability and sustainability, so that we can best amplify the ocean’s natural capacity to restore itself.
Looking at what Running Tide does, John Muir’s line comes to mind: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” Because you don’t just create those buoys, but also restock shellfish beds, enhance macroalgae, plus a handful of other initiatives to restore the health of the ocean. Is there a risk, as a smaller company, in trying to tackle so many issues simultaneously?
Yes. Absolutely. But it’s the correct way to do it. We are building a platform to understand the ocean and find ways to intervene positively, and in that, the John Muir line is precisely right. You can’t build an ocean alkalinity company and ignore how the change in pH and aragonite affect the health and distribution of the flora and fauna in the surrounding waters. You must understand the system.
We are building Running Tide with the aim of being a platform for positive ocean health interventions. We have developed a sophisticated suite of ocean health diagnostic, monitoring and verification tools. This includes innovative and cost-effective hardware and software measurement systems and cutting-edge ocean modeling techniques that work in tandem to refine each other and our collective understanding of ocean health and ocean health interventions.
Your sources of revenue are selling oysters and clams, and will eventually include selling carbon offsets. What sort of growth are you envisioning—and what sort of financial returns?
Without getting into the financial details, at the highest level, we envision that Running Tide will be an operating system that connects capital to nature and assists the world-scale mobilization effort to save natural systems. We will be enabling a global supply chain to solve environmental challenges, and providing insights and understanding to a variety of partners and governments. Ecosystem service credits (carbon removal, offsets, nitrogen abatement, alkalinity enhancement, environment restoration) will flow through our systems into voluntary, commodity and compliance markets around the world. We will be partnering with governments, militaries and merchant marine fleets to execute Earth-scale solutions to the climate crisis. We will be supporting projects large and small in communities around the world, ensuring equitable participation and distributed benefits in the effort.
What’s the biggest challenge your business is facing at the moment?
This stuff is complex. It’s a new vision for how to integrate capital and natural systems, and the language and communications pathways haven’t been fully developed. So just getting out the message about what we do and why and how it will work today, tomorrow, or 10 years from now is difficult.
If you had every Fortune 500 CEO in a room, what would your message to them be?
Same thing I say to myself every morning: What will your children and grandchildren say about you and the mark you left on the world?
The carbon removal and climate services markets are unequivocally the biggest opportunities of the 21st century. Any company seeking to remove their emissions, attract and retain talent, win the next generation of consumers and make a positive contribution in the world while being at the cutting-edge of innovation should be looking at ways to invest in the natural capital systems. Ocean health and ocean ecosystem services like carbon removal offer unparalleled opportunities. They should be at the center of our collective efforts to restore the health of our planet, just as the ocean is at the center of our planet’s system.