Norway's Turning Power Plant Emissions Into Fish Oil

With millions of tons of carbon dioxide billowing into the atmosphere from our power plants, one possible solution to the pollution is carbon capture—sequestering the greenhouse gas before it ever leaves the plant. But then what do you do with all that carbon? Norway has a interesting new plan: farm salmon.

Carbon capture has recently been the subject of intense interest and also intense debate. The technology is expensive, and we're currently left with a problem of what to with all that carbon dioxide. The predominant solution has been to inject it into the ground (what can go wrong?) and hope that the carbon reacts with stone become solid minerals after some number of years.

But there have been more creative and unusual uses. Like GreenGen in China, which sells its captured carbon to soft-drink companies. In that same spirit of making lemonade from lemons (or soda from carbon emissions), a consortium of Norwegian seafood companies wants to use captured carbon to make grow algae.

The project is centered at Mongstad, an industrial site in Norway that includes an oil refinery, a gas power plant, and a test facility for capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the aforementioned refinery and power plant. Algae, like plants, need carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide captured at Monstad will be streamed through seawater to grow algae.

The project's backers say that a ton of carbon dioxide can grow a ton's worth of algae mass, which can then be fed to salmon and ultimately turned into as much as 800 pounds of oil rich in omega-3 fatty acids—what you might know as fish oil. All fish, farmed or wild, actually get their omega-3 fatty acids from eating algae.

Norway is one of the biggest producers of farmed salmon in the world, and in the past it has worried about a ready supply of omega-3-rich algae for its fish. If the plan works, it would potentially solve two problems in one fell swoop.

The whole thing is an experiment right now, which will run for five years at Mongstad to suss out its financial viability. It might be weird to think about eating fish grown from power plant carbon, but it's not so different from how things already work. We emit carbon into the atmosphere, algae take up that carbon, and fish eat that algae. Norway's plan reflects, in a way, the natural carbon cycle, just condensed and streamlined. [BBC]

Top image: nordling/shutterstock