Below Zero: why Less is More for the Advanced Bioeconomy

November 3, 2022 |

Thank you for your Net Zero commitments. Now, throw them out.

Here in the bioeconomy we have to go past Near To Zero, or We Care About Zero, or Potemkin Village Zero, or Net Zero, or Our Kinda Funky Accounting Gets Us to Funky Zero, or True Zero.

The advanced bioeconomy is about Below Zero, because it is the only energy and materials platform that can go below zero, and the bioeconomy will supply that offset to the small, but not Zero, footprints of wind, solar, EVs and so forth. Only the bioeconomy goes Below Zero.  That’s your safe space to develop and deploy your technology with widespread support.

Above zero, the bioeconomy is just another path competing with EVs, or wind, or solar, getting grief over costs, or land-use, or diversion of feedstocks  Better to be the necessary helper than the competitor. Better together, kemosabe.

Here are the Ten Commandments of Below Zero.

1. Thou Shall Use Methane. Every molecule of methane has 20 times the greenhouse gas impact of carbon dioxide, some say it is far more harmful. So, when you grab a methane molecule, even when you combust it and release a molecule of carbon dioxide, you’ve healed the planet. Below Zero airplanes are Hoovers in the Sky, and when you fly more, you reduce greenhouse gases more. Or when you drive more, or power or heat more. More, more, more. So use methane.

2. Thou Shalt Let Sleeping Carbon Lie. Do not move it to the factory, do not move it to the vehicle, do not move it to the atmosphere. Let it lie. Pick it up and pet it, convert it to something useful like a fuel, then put it in a pipeline, sell the carbon attributes anywhere connected to that pipeline. It’s not hard to do the accounting, and not hard to see the sense of it. 

3. That Shalt Leave No Lignin Behind. If you deconstruct biomass, what are you doing with the lignin? You are what? Burning it? Bad person. Make things with lignin. If you can’t make things, make gas for the pipeline, see Commandment #1.

4. Gypsum mayest be thy bestie. Not enough attention is paid to gypsum. Is there simply no way to make limestone and (valuable) sulphur trioxide from gypsum and CO2? Seems to me that a valuable building material and a good commodity chemical is a nice target for sequestering carbon in solids rather than gases.

5. Thou Shalt Not Make Hydrogen from Sugars. Yes, you can do it, and you can ingest heroin by the pound too. Don’t do either. Hydrogen is less than 7 percent of sugar by weight. Ethanol from hydrogen is better, but where did you get the ethanol? Make hydrogen from biomethane, please. 

6. Farmer, Thou Shalt Use They Own Fuel. Drives us crazy in Digestville when farmers us fossiled fuels. It’s like the Coke bottler drinking Pepsi. Come on! Decarbonize at the

7. Thou Shalt Make Wearables. Biobased wearables make friends of biomass where-ever they go. If you can wear it, you get it.

8. Thou willst never have sufficient Phosphorus, so harvesteth with industry.

9. Think Gig(a) or Go Home. Yes, make some wearables to make happy consumers who see the benefits of biology in their everyday lives. But buildeth not companies with GHG-reducing technologies and make beauty products only. We need to pull 10 Gigatonnes of carbon from the sky. There’s trillions of dollars in that. Do that! Consider how many companies it is possible to do through due diligence on with the available engineering and science talent — 1,000 a year, 10,000? If you’re not knocking down 100,000 tonnes of CO2, you’re part of the problem. 

10. Make Thy Machines Studyeth Thy Steel as well as thy Bug. Seems to us like more than 50 percent of the cost of an advanced bioeconomy technology is spent on the last 12 months of commercialization — in the last scale-up step. It feels like a case of raise a million, raise a million, raise 10 or so, raise 40, then wham, bam, need a zillion, please.

Yet in scale up risk, we never get close enough to zero. We get maybe Near as Neptune To Zero, or We Care About Zero, or Potemkin Village Zero, or Our Kinda Funky Estimation Gets Us to Funky Zero. So, in biology it is a case of Design, Build, Test, Learn, in scale-up and commissioning it is all too often a case of Design, Build, Test, Burn. So, where are the repositories of engineering data, shared in order to learn before you burn?

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