Climate Champs Brilliant Planet, Desert Soilization, and SeaForester!

by | Nov 28, 2022 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

Climate champions Brilliant Planet, plus Desert Soilization, and SeaForester!



Sure, you can run machines to decarbonize the air, but where’s the fun in that when you can invite Mother Nature to do the work for you? Brilliant Planet does just that: By using seawater and replicating the perfect growth conditions for algae blooms, the company has created what it believes are the perfect conditions for low-cost carbon capture.

And that’s precisely what Brilliant Planet is doing — using algae. The company believes there are many parts to carbon reduction — protecting forests, etc. — but that there are challenges around that, too, especially around price. It wants to get the price of a ton of CO2 removed from the atmosphere to a sub-$50 price point.

Brilliant Planet is unlocking the power of algae as an affordable method of permanently and quantifiably sequestering carbon at the gigaton scale. The company’s innovative processes enable vast quantities of microalgae to grow in open-air pond-based systems on coastal desert land. This is achieved without using freshwater, by harnessing a natural process that contributes to the health of oceans and air.

The process itself is essentially solar-powered — because the algae are effectively powered by the sun — but also needs to run pumps to move seawater around. There are two perks to its method: Unlike some other competitors the CEO is very careful not to name on the record, the company doesn’t use any freshwater in its process, and, in addition, the process helps de-acidify the ocean water it does use.

Why does brilliant planet matter to us? Raffael Jovine, chief scientist and co-founder at Brilliant Planet, said, “By using empty desert and seawater that would not have otherwise come to the surface, our solution creates ‘new’ Net Primary Productivity. In other words, Brilliant Planet employs underutilized natural resources to grow new biomass and draw down excess carbon dioxide. Per unit area, this approach sequesters up to 30 times more carbon per year than rainforests, while it also de-acidifies the local coastal seawater back to pre-industrial levels.”

DEEPER DIVE: Brilliant Planet, CrunchBase, Fortune



This week, the climate daily is highlighting climate champions who are also finalsts of prince william’s earthshot prize. This next story is about one of them. When fertile land becomes desert, farmers are forced to leave. Fewer farms means fewer crops, which exacerbates global hunger, particularly in the poorest corners of the world.

Professor Yi Zhijian and his research team from Chongqing Jiaotong University want to reverse this process. Using a technique called “desert soilization”, they are turning barren desert into productive, farmable land at an affordable cost and time. Soil possesses two mechanical properties: it’s in a solid state when dry and in a rheological state when wet. Rheology is a branch of physics; it’s the science that deals with the deformation and flow of materials, both solids and liquids. It applies to substances that have a complex microstructure, such as muds and sludges.

The unique mechanical properties of soil endow it with two important eco-mechanical attributes: self-repair and self-regulation, which is the reason why soil can support plant life in an endless ecological cycle. Soilization mixes a water-based paste with sand and applies it to the desert surface, giving it the same physical and ecological properties as soil – with the same capacity for water and fertilizer retention and ventilation.

As crops grow and roots decay, the soilized sand becomes self-sustaining. The solution is proven, with over 1,100 hectares of arable land- roughly equivalent to the size of London’s Heathrow Airport – already created in multiple locations of desert. The technique is so effective that the yield of some crops increases even up to four times. Why does desert soilization matter to us?  

  1. Soilized sand is water saving. The experiment in Ulan Buh Desert has shown that the amount of irrigation for different plants is far less than the water-saving irrigation quota required by the local authorities. 
  2. Plants thrive in soilized sand and biomass is generally higher than those grown in nearby natural soil. 
  3. Quantities and types of microorganisms increase rapidly. After soilization and planting, microorganisms in soilized sand grow rapidly, and just after one year the quantities and types of microorganisms exceed those in the neighboring natural soil.
  4. The ODI constraint material and the soilized sand are environmental-friendly. 
  5. Desert soilization is cost effective and has great economic potential. 

DEEPER DIVE: EarthShot, Chonqing University 



Human activities and the climate crisis are decimating underwater seaweed forests. Pål bakken and the seaforester team are on a mission to restore them.  Founder PÅL BAKKEN  started the first seaweed cultivation company in Norway (Seaweed Solutions AS). In 2016, he and his team began the SeaForester initiative in Portugal.

Seaweed is a powerful tool for capturing carbon, absorbing more CO2 than trees. At the same time they create more fish in the sea, making our waters healthier. However, rising sea temperatures, pollution, coastal developments and other factors are decimating these underwater carbon sinks.

In the past 50 years, half of the earth’s kelp forests have disappeared from our coastlines. These once vast underwater jungles have been reduced to expanses of bare rock. Not only are they unable to store carbon, but the loss of seaweed has destroyed marine ecosystems and wiped out local fishing industries.

According to SeaForester, this process is reversible. The team at SeaForester utilize an ingenious solution: “green gravel”. Unlike trees, seaweed needs no soil or fertiliser. Seaweed spores are seeded onto small stones and scattered into the ocean. The stones latch on to the underlying reef, the seaweed grows and multiplies, spreading across the ocean floor. The seaweed forest returns.

Why does SeaForester matter to us?  Because, according to its website, once planted, the underwater forests reverse acidification, build up depleted fish stocks, boost marine biodiversity, improve water quality and – crucially – capture carbon. And according to Bakken and his team,  using green gravel is cost-effective and easy to replicate at scale. SeaForester’s big goal is to to plant thousands of metric tons of seaweed by 2026. SeaForester is a 2022 EarthShot Prize finalist.