UCLA to build world’s largest ocean-based carbon removal plant

It will be able to remove 10 metric tons of CO2 and produce 300 kg of hydrogen daily.

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According to the World Bank, the average global annual carbon emissions per capita in 2020 are about 4.3 metric tons. These rising CO2 levels are concerning, but there are experts working on solutions to this problem.

In a similar effort, researchers from the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering have been working to trap atmospheric CO2 from the oceans to reduce it. Following the successful launch and operation of two pilots in Los Angeles and Singapore in 2023, experts from UCLA and its spin-off company Equatic are eyeing the next phase of the project.

They are going to build a full-scale demonstration plant called “Equatic-1,” which will be the world’s largest ocean-based carbon dioxide-removal plant. It will be capable of removing 3,650 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year while producing 105 metric tons of carbon-negative hydrogen.

Supported by Singapore’s national water agency, PUB, the project is worth $20 million and will be built at PUB’s research and development facility in Tuas, located in western Singapore, over the next 18 months.

“Scaling carbon removal solutions requires technology, bold and committed partners, and a focus on timely and measurable success,” said Equatic co-founder and ICM director Gaurav Sant. “We have been very fortunate to create this shared vision with our partners in Singapore to scale Equatic’s solutions to the commercial scale and around the world.”

Equatic’s existing plant in Singapore has been successful in removing 0.1 metric ton (220 pounds) of carbon dioxide per day from seawater and the atmosphere.

Equatic-1 will be constructed in two phases, with the first phase starting in March. It is designed to remove 1 metric ton (approximately 2,205 pounds) of carbon dioxide per day by late 2024. The second phase will add nine more modules to complete the project, which will be able to remove 10 metric tons of CO2 per day. The technology could also simultaneously produce nearly 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of carbon-negative hydrogen daily.

The Equatic process involves using electrolysis, an electrical current is passed through seawater brought in from the adjacent desalination plants. It induces chemical reactions that break the water into hydrogen and oxygen while removing dissolved CO2 and storing it as solid calcium and magnesium-based materials for at least 10,000 years.

The process activates and expands the ocean’s natural ability to store carbon dioxide by removing dissolved CO2 while enhancing the sea’s capacity to absorb more of the greenhouse gas.

At full scale, Equatic-1 can remove as much carbon dioxide as what nearly 850 people emit annually. Once Equatic-1 meets its projected carbon-removal goal, the company plans to launch a commercial plant that can capture nearly 110,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of more than 25,000 individuals.

PUB has set a target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2045. This collaboration with UCLA and Equatic is part of Singapore’s broader efforts to source novel technologies, such as carbon capture, utilization, and storage, which could contribute to mitigating the impacts of climate change.

“We are pleased to further our collaboration with UCLA and Equatic to develop a solution that has potential synergies with PUB’s desalination plant,” said PUB chief engineering and technology officer Chee Meng Pang. “At PUB, we firmly believe that technological advancements, delivered in partnership with academia and the private sector, hold the key to addressing the complex challenges posed by climate change.”

Equatic-1 is being built in a modular system, which can help reduce the risks associated with scaling technology innovation. By staging and stacking individual units, they can prepare for rapid expansion. They’re using selective anodes that were developed with the support of the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E, which can produce oxygen and eliminate chlorine during seawater electrolysis.

This not only opens up a new pathway to carbon dioxide removal at a large scale but also produces hydrogen – a clean fuel that is important for decarbonizing transportation and industrial applications.

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