Our planet's oceans are already absorbing massive amounts of carbon dioxide and heat from climate change, but could new technologies turn them into giant CO2 sponges?
That's the goal of the SeaChange project, developed by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
SeaChange's pilot plants convert the CO2 absorbed by the ocean into minerals, allowing the ocean to absorb more.
The researchers estimate that about 1,800 industrial-scale plants would remove about 10 billion tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide annually, or about a third of the 37 billion tons emitted annually.
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The goal of the project is "to use the ocean as a big sponge," said Gaurav Sant, senior researcher and director of the Institute for Carbon Emissions Management (ICM).
Saint said, “The oceans are the world's emitters of carbon dioxide.
"This technology could electrochemically enhance and restore the oceans' ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere on a global scale, thereby mitigating ongoing and accelerating climate change."
The two pilot plants will use seawater, which contains 150 times more carbon dioxide than air, and convert the dissolved CO2 into two minerals: hard limestone and brucite (a mineral form of magnesium).
This is a similar process to shell formation in some marine organisms.
The CO2-soaked seawater can then soak up more greenhouse gases like a sponge being washed away, repeating the same process.
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Hydrogen gas is also produced as a by-product, which can be used as a clean fuel.
UCLA Professor Dante Simonetti, who is also the ICM's Associate Director of Technology Transfer, said, “These projects will establish protocols and strategies for measuring, validating and optimizing project deployment.
“You will also help develop operational best practices to ensure scalable, cost-effective and reliable carbon removal.
"Successful operation of these facilities will lead to rapid adoption of this technology on a broader scale."