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Brilliant Planet pioneers algae cultivation in the Sahara, offering a promising carbon capture method. Can this London startup reshape our climate future?

In the harsh environment of the Sahara Desert, a unique solution to the climate crisis emerges, courtesy of London's Brilliant Planet. The startup has acquired 6,100 hectares near the isolated coastal town of Akhfenir in southern Morocco, positioned between the Atlantic Ocean and the Sahara. Their mission? Cultivate algae.

For the uninitiated, algae play a vital role in absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen through photosynthesis. This process predates even the inception of land plants. According to Adam Taylor, the CEO of Brilliant Planet, the company has perfected a technique to exponentially grow algae, beginning in small lab beakers and culminating in expansive 12,000-square-meter seawater pools.

Astonishingly, a test tube of algae can proliferate to fill 16 of these massive pools—equivalent to 77 Olympic-sized swimming pools—in just a month.

According to CNN

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This cultivated algae undergoes a process where it's extracted, pumped up a 10-story tower, and then sprayed into the desert air. Within a mere 30 seconds, the desert's hot air dries up the biomass, producing hypersaline algae flakes. These can then be collected and buried shallowly, capturing their carbon for millennia, as per the company's assertions.

"Nature-based solutions are a great way of removing carbon,” Taylor shared with CNN. He emphasized the advantages of the desert, noting its affordability and lack of interference with farming or forests. 

The urgency to extract carbon dioxide is palpable. The IPCC, the UN’s climate change panel, suggests that trillions of tons of carbon dioxide need to be removed from our atmosphere by the close of the century to restrict global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

While various carbon capture methods have garnered attention, Taylor boasts that Brilliant Planet’s method can extract 30 times more carbon dioxide annually per hectare than a typical European forest.

Fatna Ikrame El Fanne, an environmental engineer and co-founder of Youth For Climate Morocco, lauds algae as an "innovative use of a natural process.” However, she warns of potential environmental repercussions on a grand scale.

With the pilot site in Akhfenir already in motion, Brilliant Planet is gearing up for a significant expansion. Their target? Extract one million metric tons of CO2 per year by the end of the decade, equating to the emissions of 217,000 cars. To achieve this, Taylor envisions using 10,000 hectares across various sites with an investment of roughly $1 billion.

While the feasibility of algae as the answer to the world’s climate woes is still under evaluation, Brilliant Planet is steadily gaining traction and support. As Taylor aptly sums up, "We are part of a cohort of probably 40 to 50 weird and wonderful ideas of how people can remove carbon from the atmosphere.” The world watches in anticipation.

Samira is an Electronics and Communications Engineer by profession, but deep inside, her heart is a nomad! She's a state champion debater, a public speaker, a scriptwriter, a theatre actress, but most importantly — A GREEN CITIZEN! She thinks of herself as a storyteller who thrives on enjoying the life at fullest and telling everyone the tales of life.

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