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Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: New technology to build huge ECO-Reefs, reduce CO2

Tim Nixon

02 Dec 2018

“We are looking at a project that could create huge ECO-Reefs and productive fisheries in areas that currently have low biodiversity and poor fisheries. This creates a win-win situation; corals are better protected and more food is produced.”

In this inspiring piece, we hear from Gerry Goeden, Co-Founder of a new Dutch-Malaysian based firm which is developing scalable artificial reef and CO2 sequestration technology.  It is creativity, inspiration and passion like Gerry’s which is crucial to our finding a pathway for preserving our planet.  Tim Nixon, Managing Editor, Thomson Reuters Sustainability.

Healthy Staghorn Coral. CREDIT: Gerry Goeden

Tim: Tell me about your new business.  What are your goals?

Gerry: Fizzy Transition Ventures is a young start-up, based in the Netherlands and Malaysia. We have a core of seasoned professionals that are genuinely concerned about climate change and aim to realize projects that ultimately will have a significant impact accelerating us towards a sustainable world.

Our goal is to assist in the transition from where we are now to a sustainable planet. The extraordinary technological developments of the last century have led us into a situation where our impact on natural processes is approaching a global tipping point. We cannot simply stop doing damage without better alternatives. With a focus on CO2 reduction, ocean and reef restoration, and renewable energy, we aim for large scale solutions that will slow environmental change and create a part of the picture for a sustainable future.

Tim: How is ocean-reef restoration a win-win for the environment and food-sourcing?

Gerry: A number of issues now challenge the health of the ocean; in fact, they challenge the food security and therefore the political stability of mankind. The issues are global warming, ocean acidification, and overharvesting and all of these impact coral reefs. About 70% of coral reefs are expected to disappear by 2050 and all may be lost by 2100.

As fish populations fall, fishers turn to more destructive means to catch the remaining few. Dynamite fishing totally destroys the resource and ends productivity for generations. CREDIT: Gerry Goeden

These issues are closely interrelated so our approach has been to develop a novel technology for creating very large scale structures in the ocean. I’ve used the word ‘structures’ because they are not artificial reefs as we know them.

Our ECO-Reefs embody most of what man has learned from artificial reef successes and avoid the many mistakes that man has made. ECO-Reefs are made of a new material composite called SynCoral. SynCoral can be applied to a variety of surfaces and has an extremely long life. Our research has shown that coral larvae will settle on the coated surfaces without hesitation to begin a new reef where none had existed before. Corals are readily transplanted to SynCoral surfaces and show rapid growth.

We have started using this material at Perhentian Marine Park to restore reefs damaged by bleaching and destructive fishing.

Growing more reefs in slightly cooler locations means that we can slow the impact of global warming and increase the amount of seafood that can be produced. In fact, we are looking at a project that could create huge ECO-Reefs and productive fisheries in areas that currently have low biodiversity and poor fisheries. This creates a win-win situation; corals are better protected and more food is produced.

The other side of our business is carbon sequestration. Less CO2 in the environment slows global warming and reduces ocean acidification. Because sequestration cannot remove all the CO2 we produce, the formation of massive calcium carbonate ECO-Reefs in the sea will help in a small way to turn the tide.

Tim: Is growing artificial reefs scalable?

Gerry: Absolutely! All our projects are scalable and each is designed to suit local environments and desired outcomes. At this time all our work has been limited by budget for prototypes and testing. The prototypes may look big but have been aimed at proving concepts. Bigger projects produce greater results per dollar invested and this is where we need to go. I think it’s important to remember that creating a coral reef and the businesses it can support has very long term benefits that will be measured in generations.

Experimental nursery is launched at Perhentian Marine Park. Different substrates will be tested to get the fastest growth rates for corals in this region. CREDIT: Gerry Goeden

We have economic projections for projects of different sizes and ECO-Reefs of several hundred hectares are currently achievable. If the Earth’s human population reaches 9-10 billion in the second half of this century we will need to be thinking of building much larger systems in the next 20 years.

Special formulations enhance attachment of coral fragments and advance growth on artificial substrates. The new system called ECO-Reefs surpasses artificial reefs for rehabilitation and productivity. This trial shows the rapid growth of coral using the proprietary “Compound 7”. CREDIT: Gerry Goeden

On the CO2 front, we aim to start with a 1 million tonnes per annum carbon transport and storage project in 2022 in the Netherlands, but as the design is modular and highly scalable we can double the capacity every 12 to 18 months.

Tim: Do you have customer interest yet?

Gerry: I’m happy to say we do. We have been discussing options with companies and government departments in several countries. But with new ideas, it’s always hard for people to dive in and I have the feeling that everyone is waiting to see who makes the first move.

We have received interest from fisheries and tourism departments of several countries in the Coral Triangle and are currently working on proposals for our first projects.

Our carbon transportation and storage service has received funding from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate of the Netherlands who are facilitating solutions for CO2 storage in empty offshore oil and gas fields. Our future customers are the large industrial point sources of CO2, such as waste incineration plants, bio-ethanol plants, steel manufacturers, and power stations. We’ve had preliminary talks with many of these potential customers and plan to meet with others in 2019.

One thing is certain; this is an exciting, new technology to suit a rapidly changing world. It will be a world very different from today and companies that embrace this change will be the winners in the long run.

Tim: On carbon sequestration, what is the method using old oil wells?

Gerry: The Fizzy Transportation System makes use of the huge volumes in depleted offshore oil and gas reservoirs. We are able to make use of the existing platforms and wells to refill the underground space left by the original hydrocarbons. The CO2 is compressed at the customer’s plant and transported in a specially designed vessel to the offshore platform where it flows to the storage space through the original oil and gas wells. Because we are using existing infrastructure and proven technology, we are able to shorten development and permitting times so we can start as soon as possible.

Our partners in the development of our first project in the Netherlands are Wagenborg Offshore, Royal Niestern Sander, Petrogas Gas Systems, FMD-Group, and Bureau Veritas. It’s a powerful team and we can quickly move the projects ahead.

Tim: Please tell me about how you could scale what sounds like a complex value chain?

Gerry: The system is highly scalable, both for single customers and globally. Unlike pipelines, we have no minimum volume requirements and can add vessels to meet increasing capacity. Our economic models show that we can offer completely flexible solutions ranging from tens of thousands of tonnes per year to several million tonnes per year per customer. We see the potential for sequestering 10-20 million tonnes of CO2 per year in the Netherlands alone and several hundred million tonnes per year globally.

Tim: What is your theory of change to stop climate devastation?

Gerry: I’m not sure that many of us have come to grips with the extent of change that will be necessary. It seems to be our nature to leave the problem solving to someone else and then complain that things were better “the old way”.

Our company’s approach is to view the change like a wave growing in the ocean; you have to paddle like crazy and then you can ride the change and actually enjoy being a part of it.

One of these waves is building up in the North Sea where wind farms are replacing oil and gas platforms. I’ve read there should be 30,000 turbines generating power by mid-century. Areas near the turbines are closed to fishing and could represent simultaneous opportunities to counter over fishing.

A boat sails past DanTysk wind farm, 90 kilometres west of Esbjerg, Denmark, September 21, 2016. Picture taken September 21, 2016. To match EUROPE-OFFSHORE/WINDPOWER REUTERS/Nikolaj Skydsgaard – D1BEUNDQUOAA

Our company will be there with CO2 sequestration and compatible energy storage and, I hope, ECO-Reefs designed to rehabilitate the North Sea’s overfished stocks. The synergy of sustainable wind energy made continuous through energy storage in a more biologically productive North Sea is a goal worth aiming for.

To answer your question, I think the North Sea could be the “big” model that much of the world follows. Where there is little wind, we have solutions for solar and tidal power generation. This is especially affordable in developing economies and generating that power would be a good future business.

Tim: What would you ask the senior leaders of today’s economy?  What would you suggest to them?

Gerry: I believe that business leaders are especially risk averse today; everything seems to be characterized by volatility. We are all walking down a path looking for things to trip over with each step we take. The trouble is we are walking toward an “ecological cliff” and we can’t see it coming.

I would suggest that business leaders try to put themselves in their children’s shoes; try to be totally honest with themselves and visualize the world 50 years from now. They really need to ask themselves, “What can my company do now that will make our children’s lives better?” Think of it as your company’s most important investment and your most important decision.

Tim: Your business has some very exciting ideas. But what do you see as your biggest challenges in getting started?

Gerry: All of our partners have experience with big business, big engineering, or large scale fisheries. We want to continue to think big because global solutions only come through big projects.

Unfortunately, many governments are lagging behind in terms of change. Those most interested in stepping into the future are not governments but the smaller companies. Unfortunately, their individual budgets can only make small differences and we are in a race against the clock. Our biggest challenge is getting a government to step up and do what is best for their citizens. Once that happens, I’m sure others will follow suit.



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