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Fritz Albert (left); Audobon Society
Larry Clark
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Green Beaches May Be Part of the Answer

Aug. 24, 2020
CLARK'S REMARKS: Our Florida-based sustainability columnist has always loved the beach. Now, science has given him yet another reason: the potential to recycle and store CO2 naturally.

Although I have a “real” career, my alter ego has always been a beach bum.

Growing up at the beach in Southern California and now living at the beach in South Florida, one might expect me to vacation in the mountains. Not surprising to those who know me well, most of my vacations are at Caribbean beaches. So you can imagine how excited I was to learn that beaches could be our next negative emission technology (NET).

NETs, sometime referred to as carbon capture and storage (CCS), is a means of reducing the carbon emissions in the environment by capturing them and safely (and permanently) storing them. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, NETs that remove and sequester CO2 from the atmosphere will be important in mitigating climate change.

Adds Princeton University Prof. Stephen Pacala, who chaired the Committee on Developing a Research Agenda for Carbon Dioxide Removal And Reliable Sequestration:

“Negative emissions technologies are essential to offset carbon dioxide emissions that would be difficult to eliminate and should be viewed as a component of the climate change mitigation portfolio. Most climate mitigation efforts are intended to decrease the rate at which people add carbon from fossil fuel reservoirs to the atmosphere. We [the committee] focused on the reverse – technologies that take carbon out of the air and put it back into ecosystems and the land. We determined that a substantial research initiative should be launched to advance these promising technologies as soon as possible.”

Far Away Project, a San Francisco-based 501(c)(3) non-profit, supports several environmental initiatives including the Coral Sea Foundation, Climate.Careers, and Project Vesta. Project Vesta intends to convert a trillion metric tons of CO2 into rock, using wave action at green sand beaches. Enhanced mineral weathering is the acceleration of a natural process in which rain falls on volcanic rocks and washes the resulting fine particles into the ocean. The ensuing reaction removes CO2 from the air and sequesters it in limestone on the ocean’s bottom.

Earlier this year, Project Vesta identified a Caribbean island which will be the study site for this process, using olivine. Olivine is a green-colored magnesium iron silicate volcanic mineral that has commonly been used as a slag conditioner in steel production. Project Vesta plans to spread olivine across one of the island’s beaches, allowing wave action to provide enhanced weathering, resulting in CO2 removal and permanent sequestering.

The basic process in not new. Earth has naturally recycled CO2 using mineral weathering for millions of years, and scientists have considered using artificial mineral processes for at least 30 years. In 1990, Swiss Prof. W. Seifritz published “CO2 disposal by means of silicates” and in 1995, Exxon researcher Haroon Kheshgi published “Sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide by increasing ocean alkalinity”. That work was premised on the use of limestone (quicklime), but was deemed too expensive to be a practical solution. Project Vesta believes that their process, once scaled up, would cost around $10 per ton of stored CO2.

If they are successful, green beaches will, indeed, be green beaches!

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A regular contributor to HPAC Engineering and a member of its editorial advisory board, the author is a principal at Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a south Florida-based engineering firm focusing on energy and sustainability. Email him at [email protected]