Trees are well-known means of tackling climate change by storing CO2 from the atmosphere while playing a vital role in our ecosystems. Paulownia trees are a type of fast-growing trees known for their exceptional ability to stabilize the climate and restore highly eroded and contaminated land.
RegenBiomass is a company developing regenerative biomass farms with Paulownia trees and bamboo, aimed to produce valuable sustainable products and act as a nature-based solution for decarbonization.
We interviewed Phil Cruver – the founder of RegenBiomass and KZO Sea Farms – an initiative developing seaplants and shellfish in Africa to tackle food insecurity and malnutrition while creating jobs. He told us more about his startups, how they mitigate climate change and what their stages of development are. We also talked about his motivation behind his motivation behind starting each one of them.
Before going into more detail about your companies, could you please tell me more about yourself and your background?
I am the founder and CEO of KZO Sea Farms which develops offshore mariculture farms for food security and also the founder and CEO of RegenBiomass that develops regenerative biomass farms for producing sustainable products as nature-based solutions for decarbonization. Previously, I was the Founder and CEO of Catalina Sea Ranch that developed the first aquaculture facility in U.S. Federal waters located six miles offshore California.
I am the founder of five additional start-up companies and recently served as Principal Investigator for over $1.2 million of federally funded R&D projects. As a pioneer in the wind energy industry many years ago, I founded International Dynergy, a publicly traded company that installed $50 million of wind turbine generators in Palm Springs, California.
Your enterprises – RegenBiomass and KZO Sea Farms, how do they help reduce emissions?
With RegenBiomass, terrestrial biomass farms are developed with Paulownia which are the fastest-growing trees on the planet reaching 20 feet in the first year and can be harvested for timber in the fifth year. Furthermore, Paulownia trees are regenerative so that when the trees are cut for harvesting, they will continue growing back for harvesting every five years.
Moreover, because Paulownia trees grow so fast, they sequester massive amounts of CO2 estimated at 5 to 10 times that of other trees for carbon farming the atmosphere and soil.
At KZO Sea Farms, we believe the colloquial nomenclature for seaweed should be changed to seaplant as “weed” has a negative connotation conflicting with its positive contributions. The seaplants we farm can double their biomass every two weeks sequestering massive amounts of CO2 as a nature-based solution for helping to decarbonize our planet.
The Voluntary Credit Market (VCM) reached $2 billion in 2021 and Blue Carbon Credits are in demand for combating climate change. According to the McKinsey Report Blue carbon: The potential of costal climate action May 2022:
“The science of blue carbon, such as unit volume of carbon dioxide absorption, is still in its infancy. If emerging solutions (such as seaweed farming) were implemented the potential would be 3 Gt CO2 or 7% of annual abatement. The cost would be about one-third and viable below $18 per metric ton of CO2.”
When did you decide to start each one of them? Why?
RegenBiomass coined the term “Timber & Carbon Farming” with the planting of 800 Paulownia trees in April 2022 as a pilot project in Southern California funded by a USDA grant. This pilot project allows showcasing the potential of Timber & Carbon Farming as a regenerative and resilient new green industry for producing sustainable lumber products and sequestering CO2.
In 2010, KZO Sea Farms developed a submersible cage for fish farming with engineering support from the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering at the University of New Hampshire and ISCO Industries, the largest HDPE fabricator and distributor in North America.
I recently reconnected with both entities for designing a Submersible Farming Platform for seaplants and shellfish constructed with HDPE pipes. The buoyant HDPE pipes can be filled with seawater by opening valves submerging the structure for protection from destructive storms and hurricanes.
The submersible capability also allows the structure to be vertically positioned in the ocean water column for producing greater yields and survivability. Research data shows that ocean depth significantly affects abiotic factors of temperature, sunlight, salinity, and nutrients which are critical factors for seaplant and shellfish survivability and growth.
KZO Sea Farms Africa exists to develop a Seaplant and Shellfish Mariculture Industry in ocean waters offshore the 38 African coastal nations for mitigating food shortages and malnutrition while creating jobs. In addition to feeding Africans, we intend to establish export markets for nutritious and sustainable seafood produced from pristine African offshore ocean waters.
What is your vision for both RegenBiomass and KZO Sea Farms?
I envision a major opportunity for reforestation and afforestation programs in Africa with RegenBiomass. Regarding reforestation, of the 10 countries in the world with the largest annual net loss of forested area, six are in Africa which loses an average of 40,000 square kilometers of its forests annually. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), indigenous (also known as “old-growth”) forests in Africa are being cut down at a rate of nearly 10 million acres per year about twice the world’s deforestation average.
These losses totaled more than 10% of the continent’s total forest cover between 1980 and 1995 alone. There are millions of acres of deforested lands in Africa that could be developed as Timber & Carbon Farms for producing valuable commercial timber while also curbing climate change by sequestering CO2.
Regarding afforestation, the Great Green Wall initiative is an epic ambition for growing an 8,000-kilometer wall of trees across the entire width of Africa. Led by the African Union, it was conceived to combat desertification and hold back expansion of the Sahara by planting a wall of trees stretching across the entire Sahel.
The project is a response to the combined effect of natural resource degradation and drought in rural areas. It seeks to help communities mitigate and adapt to climate change as well as improve food security. The population of the Sahel is expected to double to 160 million people in the next two decades, emphasizing the importance of maintaining food production and environmental protection in the region.
My vision for KZO Sea Farms for Africa has grandiose ramifications for feeding its 1.3 billion population that is projected to triple by 2100. Putin’s War has created a shortage of food and fertilizer for the African continent exacerbating the current crisis whereby about 300 million people currently suffer from hunger and the UN has warned that the conflict in Ukraine could make an additional 47 million people food insecure in 2022.
Consider that the offshore farming of nutritious seaplants and shellfish provides beneficial ecosystem services, does not require precious freshwater or land usage, and are renewable resources not requiring fertilizer.
Are you planning on the expansion of biomass farms? If yes, are you looking for investment to fund those projects?
We are targeting Africa and the Caribbean for the development of biomass farms to provide food, fertilizer, lumber, jobs, and foreign exchange with a robust export supply chain. There is an enormous amount of “social impact capital” chasing climate and ESG investments and Putin’s War has increased the demand for alternative sources of food and fertilizer that seaplants can produce sustainably.
We are working with investment bankers, bond experts, Sovereign Wealth Funds, African Development Bank, Arab Development Bank, World Bank, and the International Finance Corporation to structure a Blue and Green Climate Bonds for scaling offshore mariculture and Timber and Carbon Farming in Africa.
I must mention Intellectual Property as it relates to investment because this is a topic of keen interest by venture capitalists. I have drafted ten provisional patents for novel technologies and methods based upon a decade of real-world experience and research as an offshore mariculture pioneer and practitioner.
The decision to file and prosecute expensive patents will depend upon the complexion of future events reflecting the mission and goals of funders. I subscribe to Elon Musk’s pithy quote: “Filing a patent is a lottery ticket for a lawsuit”. However, to prevent patent predator “trolls” from filing patents that would build barriers to entry for climate causes, like Tesla, we may put the patents in the public domain to encourage investment in offshore mariculture for sustainably feeding and fertilizing the planet.
Could you explain in more detail what KZO Sea Farms does? Are you currently developing projects?
KZO Sea Farms is a pioneer for offshore mariculture and promotes the benefits of synergistic co-cultivation of sustainable seaplants and shellfish. There is wide recognition that mariculture will need vast expansion to help supply the growing demand for seafood globally and moving offshore provides the solution for meeting this expansion.
Near-shore production has limited capacity for growth due to competition for space and uncertain water quality. Offshore mariculture has shown greater growth rates with higher quality yields as compared with inshore farms. This is attributed to the lower stress, reduced turbidity, and better water exchange experienced at the offshore farms. These improvements in productivity rates give higher crop returns for the capital deployed.
KZO Sea Farms has partnered with the Ministry of the Waters, Forest, and Environment of the Republic of Gabon, led by Professor Lee White for a pilot project to provide environmental data and prove the efficacy of offshore mariculture technologies.
Gabon has been in the spotlight recently as an exemplary model of environmental conservation for protecting its forests, biodiversity, and oceans. A successful pilot project will de-risk investment for commercial expansion offshore Gabon and for scaling as a franchise to the other 37 African coastal countries. Discussions are currently underway with Mauritania, Sudan, Senegal, Ghana, Tunisia, Tanzania, Zanzibar, and Kenya.
What are the technologies and infrastructure used in building KZO Sea Farms? Could you please describe the development process/ stages?
The original Submersible Farming Platform design was developed as a cage for fish farming and has been modified for seaplant and mussel co-cultivation providing four transformative benefits.
1) The buoyant HDPE pipes can be filled with seawater by opening valves submerging the structure for protection from storms and hurricanes. The platform can be raised by removing the seawater by injecting compressed air from scuba tanks.
2) The submersible capability allows the platform to be positioned in ocean depth with optimum cultivation characteristics for producing significantly higher quantity and quality crop yields.
3) The platform employs cage culture for protecting seaplant crops from losses due to pest predation, epiphyte attachments, and storm shocks. Shellfish are suspended beneath the cages for significantly more productive crop yields with synergistic ecosystem services.
4) The platform provides a transparent system and secure chain of custody that is traceable to the day the marine crop was harvested for quality control and meeting sustainable certification standards.
Relatively little is known about the marine environment offshore Gabon; therefore, with the support of the Environment Ministry, KZO Sea Farms will conduct a comprehensive Marine Spatial Plan working with various national institutions including Gabon’s Oceanography and Meteorological Agencies as well as local Marine Biology, Chemistry and Physics specialists for the selection of appropriate sites.
Currently, five sites are targeted that are outside the Marine Protected Areas, oil industry zones, and other exclusion areas. The criteria for site selection are not only about optimal abiotic factors for mariculture but also about assuring harmony with the marine environment supported by scientific data for both planning and continuous monitoring of operations.
What are the sustainable products produced by KZO Sea Farms and RegenBiomass?
Seaplants are environmental champions that provide many ecosystem services. They are a zero-input nutritious food and specialty chemical crop not requiring precious fresh water, fertilizers, or land, and can be grown over massive ocean areas.
Consider that seaplants have 92 of the 102 essential minerals required for strengthening human immune systems for healthy living. They are anti-inflammatory, improve thyroid functions and have 28 times more iron than liver.
Mussels are one of the planet’s most perfect foods. They are extremely high in protein, calcium and iron, an excellent source of selenium and Vitamin B12, and a super source of zinc and folic acid, while low in fat and calories.
RegenBiomass develops regenerative biomass (thus the name) farms on marginal lands as reforestation and afforestation projects and for producing high-quality lumber branded as sustainable for the massive market of eco-conscious consumers concerned about climate change and seeking investments for decarbonizing our planet.
What markets are they serving? Are you planning on exporting them and if yes, to what countries/regions?
Africa has 18,950 miles of coastline and its 38 coastal nations have massive Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) that are ideal for offshore mariculture to help feed its growing populations. For example, Gabon with a projected population of 2.37 million people by 2025 would require about 48,000 acres of offshore mariculture production of seaplants and mussels to feed the entire country. This would be less than 0.1% of Gabon’s total EZZ aside the 26% dedicated for Marine Protected Areas.
The value proposition beyond food security for Africans is the potential for exports creating jobs and foreign exchange. Nutritious and sustainable seafood products farmed in pristine waters offshore will have marketing appeal to health and environmentally-conscious consumers across the globe for exports.
Is there anything else you would like to share that I might have missed?
According to data derived from the International Energy Agency, in 2040 oil and natural gas will still provide half the world’s energy needs, even if every country satisfies its emissions reduction commitments.
Therefore, Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) is being promoted as the rescue fuel for the transition to renewable energy since the combustion of natural gas emits about half as much CO2 as coal and 30% less than petroleum as well as far fewer pollutants per energy unit delivered.
Africa has massive offshore natural gas reserves and there are now projects worth about $100 billion on the continent which could replace as much as a fifth of Russian gas exports to Europe by 2030.
Coincidentally, hydrocarbon-endowed African countries are also prime candidates for sustainable afforestation, reforestation, and offshore mariculture that could provide the production of regenerative carbon sequestration biomass that would be eligible for carbon credits to offset the LNG CO2 emission footprint for achieving carbon-neutral status.
There is also an emerging debate about economic justice and the right of all Africans to have access to affordable and secure energy-creating employment and that the world must support a ‘just’ energy transition for all. In 2018, about 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa did not have access to electricity and nearly 900 million people lacked access to clean cooking fuels and technologies.
Carbon markets and offsetting are not a substitute for reducing emissions but can help unlock private and public sector capital for contributing towards the decarbonization of our planet. Offsetting should be considered as a near-term way to address emissions while the technologies to avoid and reduce emissions are developed at scale across value chains.
High-quality projects can deliver additional benefits, such as helping to fund the scaling up of pre-commercial climate-curbing technologies while also supporting local communities and biodiversity.
By 2050, Africa’s combined business and consumer spending are projected to exceed $16 trillion, making the continent an attractive market for producers and global exporters. This means that this continent with the youngest population will set trends in global trade, technology, climate sustainability and urban development that will dictate the future of the planet. If demographics are destiny, then Africa is poised to be the center of global affairs within a generation.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my vision supporting Africa’s rise as a future industrial powerhouse with sustainable offshore mariculture and regenerative Timber & Carbon Farming benefiting its people and the planet.