Geoengineering for Climate

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Geoengineering encompasses a range of proposed techniques aimed at manipulating Earth’s climate system to counteract the effects of climate change. These technologies fall into two main categories:

  • Solar Radiation Management (SRM): These methods aim to reflect a small portion of incoming sunlight back into space, reducing the amount of solar energy absorbed by the Earth and thus lowering global temperatures.
  • Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR): These techniques aim to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in long-term reservoirs, effectively reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases.

Impact on climate action

Geoengineering, a moonshot innovation, aims to alter Earth’s climate through large-scale interventions like solar radiation management or carbon dioxide removal. If implemented responsibly, it could potentially mitigate climate change impacts rapidly. However, ethical, environmental, and governance concerns necessitate careful research and international cooperation to ensure its effectiveness and safety.


Solar Radiation Management (SRM):

  • Stratospheric Aerosol Injection: This proposed technique involves injecting reflective aerosols, such as sulfur dioxide, into the stratosphere, mimicking the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions.
  • Marine Cloud Brightening: Spraying seawater into the atmosphere could increase the reflectivity of marine clouds, reflecting more sunlight back into space.
  • Space-Based Reflectors: Deploying large mirrors or reflective materials in space could block a portion of incoming sunlight.

Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR):

  • Direct Air Capture (DAC): As discussed in a previous section, DAC technologies capture CO2 directly from the air, which can then be sequestered underground or utilized in industrial processes.
  • Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS): This technique involves growing biomass, which absorbs CO2 during growth, then burning it for energy while capturing and storing the released CO2 underground.
  • Ocean Fertilization: Introducing nutrients, such as iron, to specific ocean regions can stimulate phytoplankton growth, enhancing CO2 absorption.
  • Enhanced Weathering: Accelerating the natural weathering process of rocks can sequester CO2.

TRL : Varies greatly depending on the specific technology. SRM techniques are generally at a lower TRL (2-4) due to their complexity and potential global impacts. CDR techniques like DAC and BECCS are at a higher TRL (5-7), with some already being commercially implemented.

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Optimized Aerosol Injection Strategies: Researchers are using computer models to simulate the effectiveness and potential risks of different aerosol injection scenarios, aiming to minimize unintended consequences.
  • Biochar for Soil Carbon Sequestration: Biochar, a stable form of carbon produced from biomass, can be added to soils to enhance carbon storage and improve soil fertility.
  • Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement: Increasing the alkalinity of seawater can enhance its capacity to absorb and store CO2. This can be achieved by adding minerals, such as olivine, to the ocean.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Stratospheric Aerosol Injection
  • Marine Cloud Brightening
  • Space-Based Reflectors
  • Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)
  • Ocean Fertilization
  • Enhanced Weathering Techniques
  • Biochar for Soil Carbon Sequestration
  • Solar Geoengineering Methods
  • Carbon Dioxide Removal Innovations
  • Climate Feedback Mechanisms
  • Global Climate Modeling
  • Environmental Impact Assessments
  • Ethical Considerations in Geoengineering
  • Governance and Policy Frameworks
  • Public Perception and Engagement

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Climeworks:
    • Technology Focus: Climeworks specializes in direct air capture (DAC) technology, which involves capturing CO2 directly from the atmosphere. They use modular CO2 collectors with a focus on scalability and efficiency.
    • Uniqueness: Climeworks is unique for being one of the pioneers in DAC technology, aiming to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to combat climate change. They focus on creating market-ready solutions that can be integrated into various applications.
    • End-User Segments: Their technology targets industries and organizations looking to offset their carbon footprint, including energy, transportation, and manufacturing sectors.
  • Ocean-Based Climate Solutions, Inc.:
    • Technology Focus: This company focuses on ocean-based carbon sequestration solutions, such as ocean fertilization and enhancing natural ocean processes to capture and store CO2.
    • Uniqueness: Ocean-Based Climate Solutions stands out for its innovative approach to utilizing the ocean’s potential for carbon sequestration, potentially offering scalable and sustainable solutions to mitigate climate change.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions could be relevant for governments, environmental organizations, and industries seeking large-scale carbon removal strategies with minimal environmental impact.
  • Running Tide:
    • Technology Focus: Running Tide specializes in automated ocean-based carbon sequestration using biodegradable materials. They deploy vessels that distribute biochar in the ocean, enhancing carbon storage in marine ecosystems.
    • Uniqueness: Running Tide innovates by focusing on biodegradable materials and automation to enhance the efficiency and scalability of ocean-based carbon sequestration efforts.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions could appeal to coastal communities, conservation organizations, and industries interested in sustainable ocean-based carbon offset solutions.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Harvard University:
    • Technology Enhancements: Harvard researchers are pioneering advancements in geoengineering, particularly focusing on solar radiation management (SRM) techniques such as stratospheric aerosol injection. They are developing models and experiments to understand the potential impacts and feasibility of these technologies.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Harvard’s approach includes interdisciplinary research involving atmospheric scientists, engineers, and policy experts to address the complex challenges and ethical considerations of geoengineering. Their work aims to provide insights into the governance and risk assessment of geoengineering technologies.
    • End-use Applications: The research at Harvard has implications for climate mitigation strategies and adaptation to climate change impacts. Geoengineering technologies could potentially help offset global warming effects by reflecting sunlight back into space, thereby reducing global temperatures.
  • University of Oxford:
    • Technology Enhancements: Oxford researchers are exploring various geoengineering techniques, including carbon dioxide removal (CDR) methods such as direct air capture (DAC) and ocean iron fertilization. They are developing scalable technologies and assessing their environmental, economic, and social implications.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Oxford’s research integrates natural and social sciences to evaluate the feasibility and ethical implications of geoengineering strategies. They emphasize transparency and public engagement in decision-making processes related to geoengineering.
    • End-use Applications: The research at Oxford aims to provide alternative solutions for mitigating climate change impacts. Geoengineering technologies studied at Oxford could potentially sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or enhance natural carbon sinks to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations.
  • University of Washington:
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at the University of Washington are focusing on geoengineering methods such as marine cloud brightening and enhanced weathering of minerals. They are developing experimental studies and computational models to assess the effectiveness and risks associated with these techniques.
    • Uniqueness of Research: UW’s approach involves collaborations between atmospheric scientists, oceanographers, and climate modelers to explore innovative geoengineering solutions. They aim to provide robust scientific insights into the potential benefits and drawbacks of geoengineering for climate management.
    • End-use Applications: The research at UW has implications for global climate policy and adaptation strategies. Geoengineering technologies studied could potentially modify cloud properties or enhance natural weathering processes to mitigate climate impacts such as sea level rise and extreme weather events.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

No geoengineering techniques, particularly those related to solar radiation management, are currently commercially implemented. Due to the significant risks and ethical concerns associated with geoengineering, large-scale deployment of these technologies is highly unlikely in the near future.