“Equatic Removes Carbon Any Way We Can – From The Ocean And From The Atmosphere,” Edward Sanders, COO

"Equatic Removes Carbon Any Way We Can - From The Ocean And From The Atmosphere," Edward Sanders, COO Of Equatic - Carbon Herald
Edward Sanders. Credit: Equatic

The acceleration of excess emissions in the atmosphere from human actives has already reached its tipping point which requires the rapid development of emission reduction and carbon removal technologies to clean up what has been done. Equatic is an innovative carbon removal startup that is developing a groundbreaking technology that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and uses ocean water to permanently sequester it while simultaneously producing green hydrogen at low cost – all within the same facility.

We interviewed Edward Sanders, Chief Operating Officer at Equatic to share more about how the process works, the uniqueness of the technology, and plans of future facilities.

Mr Sanders, when was the company founded? What is its story?

The company was founded in 2021 because our team recognized the need for scalable, high-quality, low-cost carbon removal solutions. The story began at UCLA where we were looking at which of the global systems can be most effectively replicated and amplified at scale – that brought the team to the ocean. 

The ocean system already stores carbon dioxide permanently and it does so on a meaningful scale, it just takes a very long time to do it. Equatic’s founders developed an approach supported by the Department of Energy to electrolyze seawater, enabling carbon dioxide removal to happen as part of that process much faster.

Why did you decide to join Equatic?

My background is in aviation and I know airlines are one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonize; long equipment lives, high fixed costs and rigorous safety standards add a unique layer of complexity to decarbonization in that industry. As a senior executive at one of the world’s oldest airlines, I was frustrated to find that we had spent 100 years emitting GHG and yet there were no trustworthy carbon offsets to buy.

That is what brought me to look for reliable, permanent technologies that had the potential to scale. I came across Equatic – a company supplying not only high-quality, engineered removals, but also hydrogen, a key feedstock for Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). Industry needs high-volume, low-cost solutions to get to net zero and that’s why I took the COO role.  

What is Equatic’s technology in more detail? How does it work? More specifically, how is the hydrogen produced? Additionally, do you capture and collect the CO2 or do you sequester it into the ocean accelerating the natural processes?

We do fast what the ocean does slow. At a commercial scale, we remove 1 tonne of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every five minutes while a section of ocean the same size as our plant would take 12 months to sequester that same amount of CO2. We joke that the process is built on high school level chemistry but it’s (mostly) true. What we do is:

  • Pump seawater through an electrolyzer, which separates the seawater into four components: an acid stream (liquid), a base stream (liquid), hydrogen (gas), oxygen (gas).
  • The acid stream is put into contact with rock. The rock raises the pH of the acid stream to the natural pH of the ocean to avoid degassing of CO2 and ocean acidification.
  • The base stream is put into contact with atmospheric air that contains CO2 (gas). When CO2 comes into contact with the base stream, the CO2 is mineralized in two forms: calcium carbonate (solid) and bicarbonate (dissolved ion). As more and more CO2 becomes immobilized, the pH of the base stream is lowered to the natural pH of the ocean.
  • Equatic then discharges the immobilized carbon back into the ocean.
Credit: Equatic

The CO2 immobilized by this process is stored securely by the ocean for between 10,000 and 1 billion years. The ocean is integral to regulating the planet’s carbon cycle and already stores 40,000 Gt of inorganic carbon.

Most importantly: Equatic does all of this on land, not in the open ocean so we can accurately measure how much carbon dioxide is removed. We take the measurement of the carbon from the ocean, the carbon from the air, and the carbon stored before it’s discharged as part of our MRV process. We don’t make claims on carbon accounting post discharge, like some open ocean solutions do. We capture the CO2 from the atmosphere directly inside of our facility, and if we don’t directly measure it, we don’t sell it.

So an actual decarbonization of the ocean water is not happening?

Equatic is not decarbonizing the ocean in the same way that the first wave of direct ocean capture (DOC) solutions do. There’s broad acceptance that advanced, hybrid solutions are needed to ensure that carbon removal is both large-scale and accessible. To be most efficient, Equatic removes carbon any way that we can – from the ocean and from the atmosphere – using the same facility and capital. 

How much hydrogen is produced per tonne of CO2 sequestered by the system?

30 kilograms of hydrogen is produced for each tonne of CO2 sequestered. The hydrogen is carbon-negative, considering it’s made from removing carbon from the atmosphere. If we sell the carbon credits separately, the hydrogen can be truly carbon neutral, unlike green hydrogen that still has cradle-to-grave emissions.

Credit: Equatic

Another way to look at it is as follows: for every 2 MWh of renewable energy that Equatic uses, we remove 1 tonne of CO2 and produce 1 MWh of energy in the form of hydrogen. So the net energy intensity of the process is very good. And we are not solely using renewables for CDR – we are making clean fuels vital for hard-to-abate industries to decarbonize. 

Isn’t pure water needed for the production of hydrogen, how do you make it out of seawater? 

Electrolysis is a very common form of hydrogen production but doing it with ambient seawater, like we do, is a first at this scale. Equatic uses proprietary oxygen-selective anode materials that were developed with funding from the US Department of Energy to avoid producing harmful chlorine gas.

This is why I’m so excited about this technology. Every other form of water electrolysis would need pure water, but we’ll need hundreds of millions of tons of hydrogen to decarbonize industries such as steel, shipping and airlines. Taking that much water can have a terrible impact on local communities, since drinking water and fuel production would be competing for the same supply of pure water. 

Now flip it around: Instead of taking water from communities in need, what if we could use renewable energy and seawater to produce a clean fuel critical for emissions reduction, all while permanently removing carbon from the atmosphere? Equatic opens up opportunities for low- and middle-income countries to participate in both the energy transition and remove residual emissions within the same industrial footprint.

Do you need any infrastructure to be built to deploy the technology, infrastructure like desalination plants, for example? 

All we need is to be located near the coast to access seawater and renewable energy to pump and react the seawater inside the plant. Other than that, we don’t need existing infrastructure – an advantage of this technology. We do not need to be coupled with desalination plants or need to be near CO2 transportation pipelines or geological restoration reservoirs.

Because we can be anywhere in any coastal area that has access to renewable energy, this lowers the cost of entry for communities to host an Equatic plant. 

You also mentioned the technology doesn’t fit into current ocean CDR categories? Why is that?

Credit: Equatic

The industry is rapidly growing and innovation is probably ahead of now-dated labels. The current “ocean CDR” label typically applies to companies that rely on the open ocean for most of the CO2 captured. As I’ve mentioned, Equatic captures CO2 from the atmosphere using a plant on land. We can monitor the process inside the boundaries of our plant, from intake to the point of discharge, which is a very different approach.

It’s important as it allows us to record how much CO2 is removed in real time rather than relying on equations and models for open ocean carbon accounting where the consensus around crediting is still forming. It also helps from an environmental point of view because we know exactly what the discharge is and can restore the ocean’s chemistry to match how it came into the plant.

Would you also please tell us about your largest plant that you are currently building? When is it expected to come online and where is its location?

We recently announced plans for Equatic-1, located in Singapore. We are constructing it now and expect to have the first units installed this year. It consists of 10 electrolyzers and each electrolyzer removes 1 tonne per day of CO2. We will have all 10 electrolyzers operating next year. It allows us to perfect a single modular electrolyzer unit ahead of replication and ramping up our manufacturing throughput for larger facilities.

Relevant: Equatic To Build The World’s Largest Ocean Carbon Removal Plant

What are you hoping to achieve with this facility?

Equatic-1 is really important for us as the demonstration facility will have around 3,650 tonnes of CO2 removal capacity annually. We will have the modular reactor operating at this scale for the first time. Equatic can then systematically duplicate the modular reactor and start benefiting from manufacturing at scale. We are numbering up units rather than scaling up the size of the electrolyzer – this is how we rapidly compress costs. Equatic-1 will also showcase our ISO 14064 standard MRV Methodology and approach for environmental impact assessment and monitoring.

Planetary Technologies Announces Ocean-based Carbon Removal MRV Protocol, Calls For Scientific Reviews - Carbon Herald
Image: katatonia82/Shutterstock

With this plant, we’re also demonstrating how we build partnerships with local stakeholders, regulators, buyers and the government to support the project. This creation of an ecosystem around carbon removal is really important for us to start scaling this technology. The next plant would have a capacity of 100,000 tonnes of removal per year, which is expected to come online in 2026. We expected to remove millions tonnes per year in 2030. This is going to happen thanks to the partnerships that will be supporting us. 

What are the next projects that you are planning to launch? 

The next project is Equatic’s first-of-its-kind commercial plant with around 100,000 tonnes of removal and 3,000 tonnes of clean hydrogen per year. At that scale, it would comprise around 300 electrolyzers. Singapore’s demonstration facility has 10 electrolyzers but the first-of-its-kind plant will follow exactly the same modular approach and will benefit from Equatic-1’s de-risking of operations, MRV and environmental systems and engineering design.

Do you plan to license the technology? What is your business model?

Equatic sells two products – the carbon credits and the clean hydrogen. Rapidly  deploying plants globally will require joint ventures with local operating partners. Equatic will continue with R&D to extend its technological advantage and manage long term offtakes of carbon credits and clean hydrogen.

How do you measure the CO2 sequestered by Equatic? 

We have multiple sensors that measure the amount of carbon at various points in the process. We know how much carbon is in the water when we pump it into the system and we know how much CO2 is permanently mineralized in the water before discharge. We look at the difference, which is our measurement. We also crosscheck how much CO2 is coming from the atmosphere to make sure our calculation is correct. Equatic operates as a continuous flow so we can take real time measurements of the carbon removed.

Relevant: Carbonx Climate Purchases 746 Tons Of Ocean Carbon Removals From Equatic.tech

Do you work with independent verifiers in the industry?

Yes. We actually just published ISO 14064-2:2019, a new methodology for MRV of electrolytic ocean-based CDR, that was developed in partnership with EcoEngineers and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). We have also published peer-reviewed papers about the MRV process and we use independent verifiers at the project level.

What are the impacts of Equatic operations on the local environment? 

As we are operating in a coastal ecosystem, we are programming our system to monitor discharge and have operating procedures to minimize the impact on the local environment. We are fortunate because we measure everything inside the plants so we know exactly what we are discharging. We work with local scientific and community groups to develop deployment plants that are responsive to local needs and identify localized benefits such as the production of clean fuel and calcium carbonate.

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