A new groundbreaking carbon removal technology turns CO2 into seashells. A team of scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles has transferred this technology into a startup called Seachange that turns to the ocean to find a solution for handling excess green house gas emissions into the atmosphere.
“What would be one of the best ways for us to start trapping CO2?.. Well, what about the formation of seashells?…How can we leverage that at a scale where it will start affecting atmospheric CO2 levels?”, says Dante Simonetti, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering when talking about the journey of the team.
So far, the scientists have tested the process in lab conditions. What it does essentially, is speeding up the natural CO2 sequestration into minerals. A machine pulls in water from the ocean that goes through a mesh to give it an electric charge. That triggers chemical reactions that combine dissolved CO2 with the calcium and magnesium in the water.
The process creates limestone and magnesite which are, in a nutshell, ground-up seashells. They can be released back into the ocean or disposed of on land. As the ocean water is famous for absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere – it could be released back to sequester additional emissions.
Benefits Of The Carbon Removal Technology
There are a number of benefits to this technology compared to other carbon removal methods. One of the advantages is that it requires less energy than direct air capture or carbon capture and storage for example. Seawater is very high in concentration of CO2 – 150 times more than the level in air.
That means when taken back to the ocean it will absorb more emissions without the need of electricity, counting on natural carbon sink processes. Direct Air Capture, on the other hand, requires a great amount of energy to take the CO2 out of the air and to concentrate it for storage.
Permanent geological storage is also energy demanding technology, as it needs some to inject it underground and then constantly monitor and evaluate the safety of the site for leakages.
Carbon capture utilization and storage also takes up a lot of energy resources, as the CO2 is manufactured into fuels or other materials that can release the carbon locked in them when burned. That applies to natural carbon sinks like trees as well – there is always the danger of losing the sequestered CO2 in cases of disease or fire.
With Seachange technology, the storage of CO2 is permanent for millions of years, without additional steps or worrying about leakages and natural disasters releasing the carbon.
Support From The Industry
The initiative is also receiving support from corporate players on the hunt to reduce their emissions. The technology company Stripe has expressed interest to purchase CO2 removal credits from the team.
What is left for the company is to transfer the tech from the lab to a demonstration site where they can prove the viability of the project with real-world performance data. The team also intends to work with other experts to make sure there is no negative impact on the marine environment from the technology.
The number of emerging carbon removal technology startups is constantly growing which proves that a new industry of carbon offset and removal is shaping up. Processes that remove carbon from the atmosphere are being evolved and developed, responding to the increasing need of companies, economies and countries to meet their decarbonization targets.