Published 3 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
NetZero’s forthcoming “Mycelium Balls” will put the massive carbon-sequestration ability of mycelium — which can double the environment’s natural carbon-capture rate — into the hands of everyday people.
The world’s brightest scientists agree that we have about 10
to stop catastrophic climate change.
What many people don’t know is that atmospheric CO~2~ has a half-life of
around 1,000 years. So, even if the entire world switched over to 100 percent
clean energy tomorrow, the planet’s average temperature would still continue to
rise for another millennium.
“We need to actually draw down massive amounts of
– about 50 gigatons a year now – otherwise, the process will become unstoppable
and non-linear,” says Joseph Kelly, the brains behind
HiveMind — an organisation that has spent years
fighting the climate crisis by working with some of the world’s biggest
polluters, such as the fossil fuel
to help them stick to their carbon budgets.
He argues that planting
alone is not going to be enough. “Yes, they are good carbon sinks, but they are
not true carbon banks.”
The answer, according to Kelly, is mycelium.
Mycologists have written extensively on the benefits of long-term carbon
sequestration associated with the soils of boreal forests as part of our climate
fightback. Understanding that boreal forests are scourged by fire as part of
their natural life cycles, it has been found that the carbon doesn’t just go back
into the atmosphere. Instead, mycelium forms a network under the soil that
captures the carbon, even if the trees burn. Suzanne Simard’s 2016 TED talk,
“How Trees Talk to Each
explains the process beautifully.
Kelly and his team set out to find a way to harness this process — and they did.
The company’s carbon vault solution uses a blend of mycelium that can sequester
a gigaton of CO~2~e in a site the size of New York’s Central Park. And
the drawdown cost is US$35 per metric ton compared to US$100 for mechanical
solutions — and it doubles the capture rate.
“Certain types of mycelium form symbiotic relationships with plants under the
soil, extending the plants’ root system a thousand-fold and receiving up to 70
percent of the plant’s carbon in exchange,” Kelly says. “This is important for
carbon capture, as that carbon stays in the soil nearly indefinitely. It really
is the missing link for natural carbon-capture methods.”
Up until now, the company has been focused on selling to big oil, construction
and utility companies. It developed a mycelium-inoculated green roof for
Shell’s gas stations in London, for example. “But we grew tired of their
dithering,” Kelly said.
He recognised that, for his technology to have the biggest impact, projects
needed to grow and scale — “and do so in a way that enrolls, rather than
alienates, local communities who often lack a voice at the planning table.”
The result of his thinking is NetZero, a company
that literally puts the mycelium technology into the hands of everyday people.
Image credit: NetZero
NetZero’s forthcoming “mycelium balls,” which look a lot like bath bombs, can be
dissolved in a watering can — turning lawns, flower beds and pots into carbon
sinks; even in city environments. The mycelium extends the plants’ root system a
thousand-fold within thirty days, giving the plants access to water and
rate-limiting nutrients. In return, the plant gives the mycelium 40-70 percent
of its carbon.
Each NetZero ball is said to offset around one ton of CO~2~ per year. They
increase plants’ natural ability to draw CO~2~ out of the atmosphere — where
it is absorbed by, and remains in, the soil nearly indefinitely.
Next month, the company will launch a crowdfunding round on Indiegogo, with
all profits supporting the Sacred Rivers Climate
Project — which plants indigenous forests in
Nepal, Uganda and Bali.
Kelly, a 30-year veteran of entrepreneurship, is clearly excited: “US lawns
capture about 500 million tons of atmospheric CO~2~ a year — and with NetZero,
we can double that.”
But engaging consumers is tough — especially when the climate benefits are
invisible. Will this be enough to help turn the tide on our climate crisis? He
certainly hopes so, pointing to an app with an augmented reality component —
which will make it more fun and engaging to save the planet.
“[The app] will show users, through their smartphone, the size of their
footprint. 20 metric tons of carbon equals 30,000 square feet of atmospheric
CO~2~. It will also give them a real-time image of the forests they plant and
the ability to virtually walk through them.
“Think Pokémon Go, but for climate change.”
Published Sep 14, 2020 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Tom is founder of storytelling strategy firm Narrative Matters — which helps organizations develop content that truly engages audiences around issues of global social, environmental and economic importance. He also provides strategic editorial insight and support to help organisations – from large corporates, to NGOs – build content strategies that focus on editorial that is accessible, shareable, intelligent and conversation-driving.