Sustainability is an integral part of global development that helps preserve the Earth’s natural resources.
As such, it is always a pleasure to highlight heroes that are finding more ways to help solve global issues regarding sustainability.
In this article we will take a look at Earthbarrier Atmospheric Sciences Corporation, another hero that is developing solutions to help with climate change.
Without further ado, let us have a look at an interview with the founder, Chris Kenyon, to learn more about Earthbarrier Atmospheric Sciences Corporation.
Dean: What got Chris started on what he's doing right now and what is Chris doing?
Chris: I'm a synthetic biologist. So synthetic biology is really an extension of the past, I don't know, fifty years of genetic engineering. And so if you, if you think back to the sixties or seventies, and you imagine, you know, what our parents thought of when they thought of like, science fiction genetic engineering in the future, that’s what synthetic biology turned out to become. You know, it's like we're on the cusp of building dinosaurs. The idea of a unicorn is not actually insane. It's really just manipulation of genetic information and restitching it into, into different patterns.
So essentially, I really have just been involved in this process of genetic engineering.
And so, at these kinds of like higher order scales, can you take life, and, and reprogram it at the DNA level to give it a new function – to solve difficult, interesting problems? And so you're taking advantage of a couple of interesting things about life. You're taking advantage of, as I just said, the programmability of it, it's like a computer program. Just as you write code, you can write DNA. You're taking advantage of four and a half billion years of evolution. It's like essentially, you know, nature evolved packages for us and, and we just gotta go find them and say, ‘Oh, this does that really well. Let me take it and install it in a new organism.’
And then also you're taking advantage of this really amazing part of life, which is self replication. And so, what you get out of that is two-fold. You get freedom, essentially. It's free to do, AND no one can stop you. And, that actually has this whole ethical thing tied to it.
But, but the freedom of, of it being free to grow things and the multiplicity of it, where two turns into four, turns into eight, turns into sixteen. The exponential nature of life is just this beautiful fundamental problem solver. So if you can figure out a way to tailor life to a problem you're interested in, you've got a system on your hands that can cover the world.
You know, it's the most scalable technology. Just by essence of self replication.
So I came to Boston, three years ago, to work in a community bio lab here called BosLab, which is where I’m doing the bulk of my work for this company. I lived in Buffalo, New York at the time, and I was trying to do science in my apartment and it wasn't going well.
There was no community there and it was hard to get, you know, tools. So I knew Boston was the hub of biotechnology and I said, ‘I gotta go there’. And I found BosLab and I came here and I found a job to stay. And I worked for two years and then I went to grad school and I did grad school for a year, a PhD.
And dropped out to start this, amongst a host of other interesting phenomena that were happening at the time. So, that was about three months ago. And, I've been working on this project, trying to help solve climate change, since. And essentially that's the background.
Dean: Okay. So how, how long have you been in school?
Chris: I was in – I was in undergrad for four years and then I did a fifth year because I wanted to go to medical school. And then after that didn't play out like I wanted it to – I wanted to do the M.D-Ph.D. as a dual degree but I didn't get in, so I applied to Ph.D. programs and I got into a program here in Boston, for bioengineering, and I did a year here and it was wonderful.
Absolutely wonderful experience. So six years total from the beginning of undergrad to now. And now I'm studying to finish my Master's, so six and a half.
Dean: So yeah, so we got your history. What's a good project that you're working on right now? Like in, let's say, either currently or in the next week or so?
So essentially, I'm trying to juggle, like, building things now and also kind of building out, preparing the field for the future, aspects of this project to come.
So, I guess I should explain hmm… So, what we're trying to do is develop an agent. A particle that binds together algae. And by making them clump together into large clusters it makes them fall faster so they sink. And so by sinking algae, you can pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
You can put it at the bottom of the ocean floor, and you can get paid for that. But to get paid, you need to make sure that you measure and report it correctly. You get audited, right? So the issue is that it needs to be very accurate. And so, there's different kinds of, like, degrees to the type of credit that you can be awarded. So what your goal here is to accurately measure exactly how much carbon you've pulled out of the atmosphere, that you're responsible for, and sequestered, in our case, at the bottom of the ocean floor.
And so that’s called MRV. So essentially it's like, if I put one particle into the ocean, and that leads to the sequestration of a picogram of carbon. I need to know that and I need to be able to model that. And if I can't model it perfectly, I need to be able to measure it very well.
And ideally one of the things we're trying to do is build a model that is informed by hard measurements, and update it continuously by measurements so that when you release, say, ten billion particles into the ocean, you know exactly how much carbon that's going to facilitate the sequestration of.
In the lab, I'm building the actual biological agent. And then, in the nebulous hyperspace of reality, I'm trying to tether together the other pieces where, you know, I'm speaking with companies that will be able to image from space to get colorimetric data from the surface of the ocean – ocean color. And so you know if you stimulate an algae bloom, you can see the green from space. But when you add our particles, that green disappears because it sinks to the bottom of the ocean floor. And so you can see that whole process from a satellite, but at the same time, that satellite, that’s not enough because it's not really highly accurate in terms of space or time.
So, you want to get multiple reads. You wanna get from the sky, but you also wanna get reads from the bottom of the ocean looking up. And so you want to kind of see, as that carbon falls down through the water, you wanna see how much you're actually catching. And so one of the things, one of the groups I'm considering partnering with is building technologies that are going to use lasers to essentially shoot light through the water column. And as particles fall, that occludes the light, and that occlusion, that absorbance, is related to how much carbon you've sequestered. And so, there are all these different technologies that need to be aligned, in order to kind of like bring this project into a nice little wrapper, into a ribbon.
Dean: So how did a bioengineer get so interested in a sustainable endeavor?
Chris: Yeah, I think it just kind of comes with the practice, you know, it's like, it sounds cheesy, but it's like, before I was a bioengineer, I was a molecular biologist. My undergrad was in molecular biology, and so I remember this one day, this particular moment, I was walking to my car in like sophomore year and it hit me.
I was like, oh, I study life. You know, it's like, it's just the coolest stuff in the universe to me where we get to be alive on this planet that has life on it. When life itself is such a, like a, a rare phenomenon. And so, you know, maybe it makes sense. So, I guess it's an appreciation for that that drives it. You know, and also it's like there's this future vision. It's like, one day I'd like to have kids. And so, this also sounds cheesy, but I think it's a nice picture, in my head.
But it's like, you know, the goal isn't to control the climate. The goal is to give my kids and my grandkids… Like the most exciting things in their lives shouldn't be solving world problems. It should be like way more mundane than that.You know? Just going outside and playing and, and as they grow up, it’s just, the most exciting things should be the ideas in their heads, you know, not worrying about planetary catastrophe.
Dean: In terms of sustainable missions, what would you want to tell someone who's looking to get started on a sustainable mission? Just like yours or similar to, or just, you know, in the field of sustainability.
Chris: That's a huge field. Yeah, the field. Yeah, it's good though.
So, okay. For one, it's wide open. I would just say get started, but like, there's so much to do, and there's so many interesting problems to solve right now. Like, I mean, whether you wanna jump in in the energy sector or, you know, join me in the climate sector or even just growing food, like, if you can figure out a way to more sustainably grow food in the United States at a local level, that’s awesome.
I mean, it is literally like, if someone wants to get involved in sustainability, it's as simple as going to your government and just like, sitting in on local office. Like, not even running for office, just sitting there, you know, and speaking up in town meetings.
Sustainability, that's fighting for your local community, you know? I would say just do it. Just go after something you care about. Do something small. Do something like, so easy. And then just do it again and do it again. The real answer is do something small and then do it again. And get your friends to do it.
Dean: Oh, of course. I mean, who else is gonna be for what you're doing, other than your friends?
Chris: *laughs* Exactly. You know, like make fun out of it. Make it a group activity.