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A Startup Wants to Make the Ocean Into a Larger Carbon Sponge

The ocean is a magnificent force for carbon sequestration. Phytoplankton alone absorbs the carbon dioxide equivalent of all the earth’s forests and land plants. Now, Equatic, a Los Angeles startup, wants to make the ocean into a larger carbon sponge while generating affordable green hydrogen. 

>>>READ: Wave Energy Could be America’s Next Big Renewable Power Source

The startup has been working on an electrolytic process to leverage the size of the ocean in absorbing carbon out of the atmosphere. Electrolysis is a process that passes an electric charge through a substance in order to enact a chemical change. In this case, the technology specifically uses electrolysis on seawater. 

Equatic is working with a process developed by scientists at the University of California Los Angeles’ Institute for Carbon Management. Explaining the technology in more detail, Equatic noted: 

“Our novel electrolytic process…is based on continuous (flow-through) electrolysis of seawater to permanently lock CO2 within stable carbonate solids and in the form of dissolved inorganic carbon. It is this permanent ‘lock-up’ that allows the ocean to draw-down additional CO2 from the atmosphere. The removal of CO2 from seawater is coupled to the generation of green hydrogen. The natural alkalinity of seawater is restored by dissolving alkaline rocks prior to discharge, thereby keeping the natural composition of sea water intact.” 

Green hydrogen comes in many forms (such as those that use nuclear or hydroelectric sources for power), and all forms are taking off in popularity across the country. Using seawater to generate hydrogen is a technique that is becoming increasingly popular and has been dubbed ‘blue hydrogen.’ Coupling carbon sequestration with profitable green hydrogen generation is an innovative move that could influence the future use of blue hydrogen. Equatic believes they can get the cost of generation down to $1 per kilogram, beating out other competitor prices. 

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Equatic’s ocean sponge technology is still in the testing phase but it looks promising. Two pilot projects, one in Singapore and one in the Port of Los Angeles, are currently operating. Each pilot plant is removing approximately 100 kilograms of carbon from the air every day. For comparison, a single tree absorbs approximately 167 kilograms of carbon per year. 

>>>READ: Why Is There Buzz About Pink Hydrogen?

These pilot plants are not yet capable of generating profitable green hydrogen as they only produce a few kilograms a day. But if the testing process continues to go well, Equatic will start to scale to full commercial size. The startup’s goal is to produce 35,000 metric tons of green hydrogen while eliminating one million metric tons of carbon every single year by the end of our current decade. 

Carbon sequestration is a critical component needed to fight climate change. Fuels like blue hydrogen can help provide clean affordable energy to power homes and businesses. Innovation that brings the two together could lead to massive strides being taken for the benefit of people and the planet.

Kelvey Vander Hart is a native Iowan, a member of the American Conservation Coalition, and a communications specialist at Reason Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

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