• Tech Tech

Company develops microscopic solution to massive problem, using soil technology to mitigate air pollution — here's how it works

"We believe our methodology is paving the way for companies to sustainably scale up activities."

"We believe our methodology is paving the way for companies to sustainably scale up activities."

Photo Credit: iStock

A climate tech startup called Andes, along with another company called EcoEngineers, has developed a method of removing carbon from the air via "microbial carbon mineralization."

Andes' goal is to cool the planet with "low-cost, gigatonne-scale carbon dioxide removal in years, not decades." The company had received $38 million in investments as of March 2023. 

As CEO and co-founder Gonzalo Fuenzalida explained in a promotional video, agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to the overheating of our planet, with 3% of all overheating gas pollution — according to the video — coming from nitrogen fertilizers. Other estimates vary between 2% and 5%, depending on the source.

In the United States, 11% of all planet-overheating pollution in 2021 came from the agricultural sector, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Andes seeks to replace these fertilizers with microorganisms that also speed up the conversion of carbon dioxide from the air into minerals, the process the company calls microbial carbon mineralization.

These microorganisms can be added to farming soil and into the seeds themselves. The captured carbon can then remain in the soil for centuries without harming plant life.

"We are … using seeds as vessels," Fuenzalida says in the video. "Most importantly, by putting the microorganisms inside the seed, we give them an unfair advantage in order for them to be able to colonize the root structure and interact with the plant from the very beginning and throughout the lifecycle of the plant."

The company says in the video that its technology has the potential to capture an amount of carbon equivalent to 254 million cars per year. It also hopes to achieve a 30% reduction in the use of synthetic nitrogen.

"We believe our methodology is paving the way for [carbon dioxide removal] companies to sustainably scale up activities, while promoting maximum visibility and transparency in methods," Fuenzalida told the Carbon Herald.

"Ideally, it could also usher in new wave novel projects that use microbial approaches to remove carbon from the atmosphere and promote collaboration to advance our collective understanding of the science."

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