Climos enlists plankton, venture funds to fight climate change

Shortly after rival Planktos folds, ocean fertilization start-up Climos is set to announce $4 million in series A venture funding.

Climos, a company that plans to grow plankton to capture carbon from the atmosphere, is in the process of raising an initial round of $4 million in venture funding.

San Francisco-based Climos plans to announce the series A funding on Monday or Tuesday, CEO and founder Dan Whaley told CNET on Thursday.

The funding comes only a few weeks after Planktos, another ocean fertilization venture, shut down because of a lack of money and what it called a "highly effective disinformation campaign."

The goal of these ventures is to stimulate the growth of large amounts of plankton in the sea by "seeding" it with an iron compound.

During plankton "blooms," which happen naturally, the plankton take the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as they grow.

After this growth phase, some of the plankton sink several hundred meters, at which point the carbon is considered sequestered and taken out of the atmosphere.

Climos intends to make money by selling carbon credits, which represent reductions in carbon dioxide emissions that are sold on voluntary and regulated markets.

There were 12 government-funded experiments to test the efficacy and safety of ocean iron fertilization between 1993 and 2004, Whaley noted.

Some of those experiments were led by Climos' chief science officer, Margaret Leinen (who is also Whaley's mother). The company has hired several other experts in oceanography and called for a code of ethics for ocean fertilization experiments.

"You might almost call Climos a public-private partnership," Whaley said. "We are taking private equity and funding credible, known researchers to help them resolve remaining questions."

These types of experiments have been funded by government sources because they are controversial and because funding is tight in general, he added.

Ocean iron fertilization, although meant to mitigate climate change, has drawn fire from environmental groups who say the technique is ineffective or too risky.

"To the skeptics, we say that we think it's important to keep answering these questions and not just to say we know everything and we shouldn't do this anymore," said Whaley. "The most credible scientists we know in oceanography say we need to keep asking."

In the next two months, Climos plans to enlist outside organizations to study the biological impact of ocean iron fertilization and to do an environmental review, he added.

The company also intends to approach permitting authorities, including the International Maritime Organization, before launching an experiment at sea after 2008, Whaley said. (In addition to its financial problems, Planktos is said not to have gained sufficient permits before launching its own vessel last year.)

Climos' goal is to use iron sulfate powder in a 100x100 kilometer area in the ocean.

"This is a big idea and potentially a large (climate change) mitigation tool," Whaley said. "It's not a silver bullet. It needs to be understood and well communicated to those who are obviously concerned about repercussions."

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