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Solving Global Warming
Climate change, aka global warming, is becoming the central concern for most policies worldwide. A lot of proposed solutions look at it from mostly 2 angles:
- Reducing CO2 emissions through changing our energy systems away from fossil fuels.
- A technological solution to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and/or lower the Earth's temperature in some ways.
Most of these solutions are technologically oriented: EVs, fuel cells, renewable energies, utility-scale batteries, carbon capture, or even geoengineering.
This is ignoring that most climate change damages will happen through disrupting our ecosystems and food supply. Of course, rising sea levels or altered climate have much larger far-reaching consequences than just that.
But if we can help mitigate some of the damages, it will help us in multiple ways. First, it will limit our societies' disruption, helping us implant solutions better and limit human costs. And it will allow us to free resources for mitigating other issues.
A key to help make our food systems and ecosystems more resistant will definitely be biotechnology.
And maybe some biotechnologies could even help solve climate change by reducing carbon emissions, capturing carbon, or maybe even bypassing the need for farming entirely.
EVs are taking over the car markets. But there are going to be a lot of fuel-powered cars for decades. And oil is even harder to replace for trucks, ships, or planes. So, finding a carbon-neutral alternative to oil is needed.
That is the promise of biofuels. After all, oil and natural gas were created from organic matter, slowly decomposing and accumulating over geological time. So, recreating this process ourselves could allow for turning plants into CO2 pumps and fuel-creating machines.
The most promising avenue for this technology is algal biofuels, as it avoid competing with food production for fertile soil.
This is a topic we investigate further in our article “Algal Biofuel: The Next Energy Revolution?” covering the technology's details and the two forefront leaders in the field, Indian Reliance Industry (RELIANCE.NS) and “Big Oil” ExxonMobil (XOM).
Another possible “fuel” is biogas from organic matter and farming waste. Many companies produce biogas in ecological and carbon-negative or carbon-neutral ways, for example, Scandinavian Biogas Fuels International AB (BIOGAS.ST), OPAL Fuels (OPAL), or EnviTec Biogas AG (ETG.DE)
Soil is one of the greatest carbon reservoirs on Earth. The erosion of topsoil and the loss of organic matter in soil is among the top sources of global carbon emissions.
This is why Gingko Bioworks (DNA) is working on modifying microbes and fungi to increase soil biomass.
By combining “mechanical” carbon capture with biogas, Bloom Energy Corp (BE) is one of the rare carbon capture companies able to avoid emissions and perform actual removal of carbon from the atmosphere.
Reducing Farming Emissions
Farming is a big carbon polluter, and a few things could be done to reduce the sector's CO2 production.
One option is to remove the need for fossil fuels in farming. This could be done either by electrifying tractors or removing tractors entirely and replacing them with a fleet of smaller, more efficient robots. We covered This idea further in our article “Investors Should Take Note: Robots Are Taking Over Farming.”
Another option is to reduce the need for fertilizers. Potash and phosphorus are mined, which is a carbon-heavy activity and damaging to the environment. Nitrogen fertilizers are mostly produced using natural gas.
A powerful greenhouse effect gas is methane. It is emitted by massive quantities of ruminants like cows or sheep, considering the size of herds grown for human consumption.
Another possibility is to modify crops and animals to make them less demanding (land, fertilizer, feed, etc…) or less emitting greenhouse gases. A central method likely to be used is CRISPR, a gene editing technology barely 10 years old but already widely explored for applications in human medicine and agricultural biotechnology.
We have explored this deeply in our article “CRISPR Beyond Human Health: The New Investing Frontier for Gene Editing.” New crops more resistant to drought, extreme climate events, or new pathogens will help feed the world despite climate change's harmful effects.
Removing Farming Entirely
Some plants are farmed only for a very specific compound they produce. An oil used in cosmetics, a scent or flavor used in perfume or food. Maybe a very expensive spice. Or an active compound, like in the case of cannabis.
Most of the time, the final product is less than 1% of the total biomass.
So, alternative methods would reduce the overall need for farming and environmental impact.
We explored this in our article “Top 5 Synthetic Biology Public Companies (April 2023)”. In it, we notably discussed Amyris (AMRS), producing fragrance and another high-value molecule in industrial fermenters. Another company doing the same is Calyxt (CLXT), using both plant cells in fermenters and CRISPR gene editing.
And Ginkgo Bioworks (DNA) is looking to produce cannabinoids in labs using microorganisms.
Another option could be growing food directly in the lab.
This includes vertical farming, allowing for a reduction of water consumption and land usage. A land that can then instead be used for carbon capture, rewilding, or growing forests. Some of the prominent stocks in the sector are,
It can also be lab-grown meat, something we discussed in “Top 5 Lab-Grown Meat Stocks to Invest In (April 2023)“, covering Tyson Food (TSN), JBS (JBSAY), Agronomics Limited (AGNMF), Cult Food Science (CULT.CN), and Steakholder Foods Ltd (STKH).
This is just a little bit of what biotechnology can do to help solve or at least reduce the damage of climate change.
More techniques will likely be added to the arsenal, like genetically modified trees, biochar (trapping carbon in charcoal and soil), kelp seaweed farms, fertilizing the oceans' microalgae with iron, etc…
Maybe the solution to a technological problem (carbon emissions) is not, or at least not entirely, in better or new technology. Maybe life itself, in all its forms, starting from microbes and finishing with trees, also holds part of the solution.