- Ground volcanic-rock beaches could help turn carbon dioxide into nonreactive limestone.
- Allowing sea creatures to fix carbon into seashells is a form of carbon sequestering.
- Project Vesta uses "enhanced weathering" of ground olivine to remove carbon.
Scientists with Project Vesta say their special green sand could help scrub a ton of carbon dioxide from the air. The nonprofit was established in 2019 to do this specific task to help slow climate change, and the company says a family of greenish minerals called olivine will help turn beaches and waves into captured carbon rocks.
Olivine is the term for a family of volcanic rocks that includes the gemstone form known as peridot or chrysolite. “Olivine can form when volcano eruptions spray magma high into the air, where the high crystallisation temperatures of magnesium iron silicates allow them to transform into bits of olivine, which are then encased in chunks of lava,” ScienceAlert explains.
Project Vesta’s goal is to turn olivine’s natural properties into a climate advantage. When waves wash over volcanic rocks like olivine, the water sets off a tiny chemical reaction on the surface—“olivine weathering”—and pulls a little bit of carbon dioxide, CO₂, out of the air. The byproduct of the reaction is hydrocarbonate, HCO₃, which serves to reduce and regulate acidity in both the human body and the ocean.
Once hydrocarbonate (also called bicarbonate) washes into the ocean, organisms consume it and turn the resulting product into seashells and coral structures. “Coccolithophores need carbon dioxide dissolved in seawater for photosynthesis, and bicarbonate ions, in equilibrium with carbon dioxide, to build their calcium shells,” the Independent explained in 2008.
At the time, the Independent was reporting on the surprising way these organisms were ramping up production to pull even more carbon out of the ocean. Indeed, adding more bicarbonate to the mix could increase production of harmless shells and other limestone and calcium items. Grinding up the olivine into sand creates more surface area in order to speed up the rate of carbon absorption.
Project Vesta’s work is open source and began at a young think tank called Climitigation. “There are many organizations, governments and people working on stopping or slowing the release of CO₂ in the atmosphere, but there is not enough of a focus on reversing the existing damage,” Climigitation’s website explains.
Because its work is just accelerating a natural process that involves nontoxic compounds, Project Vesta has accumulated decades of research about olivine “enhanced weathering,” carbon capture, and more to make one complete body of supporting work. “If deployed on just 2 [percent] of global shelf seas, this approach could capture 100 [percent] of annual human emissions,” Project Vesta says.
Carbonation, the idea of sinking excess carbon dioxide into rocks and minerals, is a huge subject of research interest on its own. So-called “carbon storage” is what enables record-setting carbon captures like Project Tundra, where CO₂ is piped into the bedrock.
By sequestering small amounts of carbon in dozens of complementary ways, scientists say, they can help to slow the effects of climate change. No single solution can do everything, but a variety of solutions can each do something.
You Might Also Like