Chair of Bioinformatics

    Global strategies

    Marine cloud brightening

    Marine cloud-brightening is a technique that could increase the albedo of marine stratocumulus clouds and thus help mitigate global warming. One of the articles linked here (1) explains how wind-driven spray ships are used to release micrometer-sized droplets of seawater into the boundary layer beneath marine stratocumulus clouds, increasing their ability to reflect solar energy. The technique takes advantage of the Twomey effect which states, that multiple smaller droplets provide a better ability to reflect solar radiation than a smaller number of larger droplets. The spray vessels used for this purpose can be powered by carbon-neutral Flettner rotors, which double as convenient housings for the spray nozzles. The article estimates that to cancel out the thermal effects of a one-year increase in global CO2 levels, it would only take the equivalent of about 64-127 million dollars to build the technologies used to do so. This article provides information on the wind-driven spray ships, powered by Flettner rotors, used for this purpose.

    This comparatively inexpensive method of curbing global warming also carries some risks, if applied uncritical, immediate and at the maximum, that cannot be seriously predicted. Another article linked here (2) includes studies showing that MCB can potentially cause changes in temperature and precipitation that can be both positive and negative depending on the region.

    This is why you should explore such such efforts first only on a really small scale (e.g. grid of 3 x 3 ships each separated by 10 km) for some years so that everything is still fully reversible - this is called a climate mitigation strategy. It is essential to see the difference between geoengineering and climate mitigation strategies: Irreversible geoengineering is rather risky, careful exploring all options to mitigate climate in a reversible way (soon after exploration is stopped, all small climate effects fade off, too) is essential to find a bundle of different options for safe action in ten years, when global warming becomes ever more detrimental.

    We are advocating to test a number of different climate protection strategies, so that we have a choice and can find the safest but also most climate preserving cocktail of countermeasures. Because the riskiest strategy in the fight against global warming is to do nothing at all due to possible negative effects and leave promising climate mitigation strategies such as MCB unexplored and untested.

    Another article linked here provides information on possible field experiments that could help to better assess the impact of the MCB on climate. (3)



    Marine biomass regeneration

    The protection of the global whale population and other large marine animals is not primarily of such high importance, so that later generations can also go "whale watchching". Without exaggerating, it can be said that the protection and regeneration of large marine animals is essential for the stability of the entire ecosystem "sea" and beyond. In an article linked here (1), the role of wale is said to play a key role in a healthy marine ecology by bringing limiting nutrients to the ocean surface, when they release fecal matter there.  These nutrients subsequently help to increase primary production, or photosynthesis, of the phytoplankton living there. A very important connection if you consider the numbers in another article linked here (2). There it is estimated that phytoplankton produces about 50% of the atmospheric oxygen. The microorganisms achieve this by binding atmospheric CO2 and converting it into oxygen, which lowers the CO2 content in the atmosphere. This natural process, can be used as an effective climate mitigation strategy.

    As the lowest link in the food chain, phytoplankton with its photosynthesis products provides the food basis for the entire marine fauna. Thus, it becomes clear that the ecosystem "sea" also represents a cycle, in which each link makes an important contribution to the preservation and stability. These processes are so finely tuned to each other that destabilization at one point always creates unpredictable problems at another, which, if overstimulated, can lead to the disintegration of the entire ecosystem.

    In order to distribute the nutrients transported by the whales to the sea surface also on land, other actors are necessary. Another article linked here (3) informs about seabirds as well as anadromous fish, which migrate long distances up the rivers from the oceans to spawn, making a considerable contribution to distribute nutrients from the oceans back to the mainland. The article also shows how much the efficiency of this natural nutrient distribution pump has decreased, due to massive reduction of the actors involved.

    One of the main culprits for this crisis is clearly the international fishing industry. Therefore, if you ask yourself as a private person what you can do against the progressive destabilization of the marine ecosystem, the answer is as simple as clear. You must no longer consume marine fish or products made from them. It may seem, that consuming fish from aquacultures is harmless and sustainable. That this is not the case is shown in a detailed article by Greenpeace on this topic, which is also linked below (4).



    Green kerosene

    The combustion of crude oil-based fuels, such as kerosene, releases CO2, nitrogen oxides and other particulates directly into the Earth's lower atmospheric layers, the troposphere. (1) Although aviation only accounts for about three to five percent of total emissions of harmful greenhouse gases, the sector is experiencing strong annual growth, making the development of climate-friendly kerosene increasingly interesting from a climate protection perspective. (1)

    One important approach to this is so-called power-to-liquid (PtL), i.e. the use of solar and wind energy to produce fuels from water and CO2. (2) Even though the cost of producing PtL can be expected to fall steadily, the production costs will still be significantly higher than the prices of the fossil fuels currently used. (3) A major challenge, is to reduce the cost of capturing CO2 from the air through what is known as "direct air capture" (DAC). In a publication on the prospects of DAC, half of the experts surveyed cited the lack of supportive policies as the main obstacle to the development of DAC projects. (4) Even among the best prospects for developing DAC technology, it can be said that its direct use, or for the production of PtL fuels, can only be considered as part of a comprehensive portfolio of climate mitigation strategies and cannot alone ensure that climate targets are met by 2050. (4) 

    Another approach to producing more climate-friendly fuels is so-called biomass-to-liquid (BtL), i.e., the conversion of biological feedstocks into synthesis gases. (5) Suitable for this are, for example, certain plants grown for this purpose, but also forestry waste, various residual materials, algae or animal fats. Challenges of the method are, on the one hand, the limited arable land required for biomass production, as the population is constantly growing and more and more land is needed for food production. This is a problem that would not arise with the PtL method, since the renewable energy farms needed for production function more effectively in desert-like regions anyway, where biomass cultivation is not possible. Another advantage of the PtL method, is the much lower water requirement, compared to various BtL methods. (6) 

    In summary, neither method offers an ultimate solution for the production of sustainable kerosene that can soon be used on a large scale. According to a study on BtL and PtL conducted for the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), the medium- and long-term volume demand for renewable kerosene can only be met if fuels developed on the basis of both methods are used. (7) 

    In order to promote the use of sustainable kerosene, a binding and appropriate pricing of CO2 emissions is of crucial importance. (8) This would lower the price of climate-friendly fuels relative to conventional fuels. As mentioned above, government support for the whole thing is a crucial factor. But also in the private one can make an important contribution to the conversion to climaticfriendly fuels, by booking for example its airline tickets only with airlines, which support the development and the use of lasting, kerosene. To do this, simply find out briefly on the Internet about the current situation and then select the airline that is the most suitable according to your own research. 

    Removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere

    In August 2021, the German government amended the Climate Protection Act to set a target of greenhouse gas neutrality for Germany by 2045. "There is a consensus in the scientific community that this goal cannot be achieved without actively removing CO2 from the atmosphere." (1) According to the projections, this means a removal of several hundred billion tons of CO2 in 2100, through so-called carbon-dioxide-removal (CDR) strategies. To achieve CDR on this scale would require extensive and global restructuring of infrastructures and enormous deployment of various CDR methods. "Since ecosystems, societies, or economies are also expected to experience critical side effects from these climate change countermeasures, the focus must be broadened: Research must not be limited to technology development alone." (1) What should be clear is that CDR, just like any other approach to climate mitigation, does not provide an ultimate solution to the climate crisis. None of the CDR methods offer the implementability and necessary results in the foreseeable future that would be needed to ensure that climate goals are met on their own. Rather, they are another important component of a comprehensive portfolio of climate mitigation strategies from which we must draw to ultimately avoid missing climate targets.


    Natural CDR methods

    Carbon storage in plants

    The most obvious natural approach is the storage of CO2 in plants. An important aspect here is reforestation, as well as the special protection of still existing forests. Planting areas with trees that store a lot of CO2 and plants that are particularly well adapted to the new climatic conditions play a central role here.


    Watering down peatlands

    Far less central to the discussion is the watering down of peatlands, "although in terms of efficiency, it actually outpaces forests in its function as a carbon sink." (2) Click here to go to the post on "Renaturalize peatlands".


    Agricultural restructuring

    Also of key importance is the restructuring of agricultural land, as soils are also very good carbon stores. (3) Currently, agriculture is predominant, with a tendency towards monocultures and heavy use of pesticides, which deviates strongly from natural ecosystems. The consequences are a strong loss of species and nutrient-poor soils. It would be recommended to restructure agricultural land into more productive self-sustaining ecosystems that guarantee diversity and permanence.  One approach, for example, is the principle of permaculture, which translates as "permanent agriculture" and which completely fulfills the above-mentioned advantages. (6) A similar approach, but with a different name, is agroforestry. A land use practice that combines crop cultivation, tree planting, and sometimes animal husbandry. The combination "can increase CO2 uptake in plants while promoting biodiversity." (1)


    Technical CDR methods


    Probably the best known and most promising technical method is the direct filtration of CO2 from the air, commonly known as direct-air-capture (DAC). The largest DAC plant is called Orca and is operated by the Swiss company Climeworks in Iceland. (5) Orca can currently filter about 4000 tons of CO2 from the air each year. Their new Mammoth plant is scheduled to come on line in 2024 and is expected to do so at about 36,000 tons of CO2 per year. (5) Despite rapid advances in technology development, when comparing current levels of CDR provided and needed, it is clear that drastic reductions in CO2 emissions coupled with the use of many different climate mitigation strategies, offers some chance of achieving climate goals.


    Hybrid CDR methods

    Carbon mineralization

    Some minerals naturally react with CO2, binding it to the solid. This process is commonly referred to as carbon mineralization or weathering and is a process that takes several hundred to thousands of years. (3) Engineering assistance can accelerate this process "by applying rock dust to cropland." (1)


    Bio-energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)

    This method aims to capture CO2 produced during the production of energy from biomass and either store it or reuse it. From new approaches to develop fuels from biomass (biomass-to-liquid (BtL)) or directly from CO2 and water using solar energy (power-to-liquid (PtL)), interesting combinations and networks of carbon utilization can emerge. Click here and scroll down the emerging page to go to the "Green Kerosene" post.


    Carbon storage in the ocean

    About 70% of the Earth's surface is covered by water, suggesting consideration of moving beyond land-based applications to CDR. One important approach to this is marine reforestation, if you will, which is the promotion and also protection of photosynthesis-driving creatures in the ocean. It is estimated that more than 50% of atmospheric oxygen is produced by marine photosynthetic microorganisms. (7) Together with all coastal plants and algae, this so-called phytoplankton thus converts a greater amount of CO2 than land-dwelling plants. Artificial fertilization is not recommended because the changes could be too drastic and the consequences cannot currently be assessed by small-scale experiments. Natural fertilization through regeneration and special protection of large marine animals has many advantages, which can be read about in the related article on marine biomass regeneration.