Microsoft is betting on algae to mitigate its growing carbon footprint

Microsoft is betting on algae to mitigate its growing carbon footprint

Microsoft is betting on algae to mitigate its growing carbon footprint

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Like all of its peers in the tech industry, Microsoft has a carbon pollution problem.


The software giant’s emissions are on the rise, despite the company’s pledge to be carbon negative by 2030. This countdown explains Microsoft’s latest deal to tackle its environmental record: it looks to Running Tide to offset some of its emissions via the ocean.

Running Tide, which also works with Stripe and Shopify, aims to use this money to lock in massive amounts of carbon dioxide. Running Tide said it will achieve this through efforts such as growing lots of kelp on biodegradable buoys, with the goal that the algae will eventually sink to the ocean floor. The startup has a white paper on its work, but if you’re looking for a little more detail, here’s what Jordan Breighner, head of business development, told TechCrunch today:

“We combine wood and alkaline minerals to form a small carbon buoy that we can seed with algae seeds and deploy deep into the open ocean,” Breighner said. “The buoy floats, alkaline minerals dissolve, reducing ocean acidification and removing carbon through a process called ocean alkalinity enhancement. Algae grow rapidly, absorbing CO2. After less than three months, the buoy and seaweed and embodied fast carbon sink to the bottom of the ocean, and if they sink below 1,000 meters, the carbon is gone for about 1,000 years.

“However, not all buoys are seeded,” Breighner added. “It’s based on optimal ocean conditions for algae growth.”

Overall, the carbon removal business is still in the early stages of development. It has yet to prove that it can sustainably tap into carbon at the scale it aspires to achieve. Some scientists also worry that wholly developed and corporate-supported sequestration systems, such as gigantic kelp farms, could unintentionally harm ocean ecosystems, the MIT Technology Review reported last year.

So far, Breighner said Running Tide has “only removed less than 1,000 tons of carbon in test and research deployments.” The startup plans to withdraw up to 12,000 tonnes over two years for Microsoft alone.

The deal is valued at single-digit millions, Running Tide said. A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on the price.

Microsoft’s latest sustainability report showed a 21.5% increase in emissions from 2020 to 2021. The software giant attributed this to Scope 3 emissions, which it said were related to data center development. and more customers using its products more often. In other words, Microsoft has grown its cloud and gaming businesses, and its net emissions have grown alongside it. The company aims to be carbon negative over the next seven years or so, and its plan to get there is based on eliminating carbon.


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