Olivin from green beaches can suck up huge amounts of carbon to help reverse climate change

When the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, 195 countries (including the United States) pledged to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5-2º C above pre-industrial levels. It is an uphill battle for every country to fulfill its role, and even if they do, we still face major environmental consequences, such as the decline in most coral reefs in the world and lower crop yields. But if we can stick to this goal, we can still avoid the worst disasters.

So everyone is working together to reduce carbon emissions and remove excess greenhouse gases from the atmosphere — and that means no solution can be left out. An emerging method of carbon removal of particular interest is inspired by the green beaches of the Earth. That’s not an eco-friendly word — we’re talking literally blue beaches.

More specifically, we are talking about harnessing the carbon-capturing power of green olivine crystals. Olivine is one of the most common minerals on Earth. It absorbs carbon dioxide through a chemical reaction similar to rusting iron metal – except that instead of iron + water + oxygen = rust, the reaction takes place olivine ions + carbon dioxide + water = silicate + calcium carbonate + magnesium. That makes olivine a natural air purifier, sucking carbon dioxide out of the skies and oceans and trapping it in harmless products that can form things like coral reefs.

There are over a trillion tons of olivine available, found largely in the Earth’s mantle. Volcanic eruptions bring it to the surface, and these green crystals may help form some natural blue beaches. In fact, there are four such beaches in the world, found in Hawaii, Ecuador, Guam and Norway.


Ashley Balzer Vigil and Leyla Gokcek

In these locations, olivine is helping to combat climate change — albeit slowly, on geologic time scales. Some scientists think we could dramatically scale up this natural process as a carbon capture solution known as enhanced mineral weathering. An organization called Project Vesta aims to prove it outright, with plans to deploy olivine sand in water along a beach in the North Caribbean and determine how effective olivine is at capturing carbon.

Research has shown that this method works best when the olivine particles are small and in motion. Natural wave action on the coast can stir the olivine sand and grind it into even smaller pieces, which will maximize the amount of carbon dioxide this process can remove. Preliminary studies suggest this approach could help reduce our carbon footprint.

“According to our analysis, we could remove one billion tons of carbon dioxide using less than 0.25% of the world’s coastal waters,” Project Vesta CEO Tom Green told. The Daily Beast. “That would be a huge contribution to our climate goals — far greater than any existing carbon dioxide removal solution.”

The benefits won’t stop there. As enhanced weathering occurs in coastal waters, it can also reduce ocean acidification. The ocean has absorbed most of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases, which has decreased by about 93% over the past 50 years. That comes at a heavy cost because as the oceans absorb carbon dioxide, it becomes more acidic, making it harder for some animals to build shells or bones, and possibly killing coral reefs. The effects are pervasive throughout the ecosystems of these organisms.


Olivin is found in New Zealand.

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If Project Vesta collects data showing that enhanced weather helps clean up the oceans, expanding the process could protect entire marine species (including fish and shellfish that maintain very much of the world’s food supply) and conserving coral reefs that act as storm breakers to protect coastal infrastructure, while combating harmful human carbon emissions for the terrestrial environment.

Project Vesta calculations suggest collecting one billion tons of natural olivine sand annually and distributing it over approximately 28,000 miles of coastline. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine estimate that the process could actually be expanded further to involve more than 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide annually.

But decades of research and theoretical models don’t make people invest time and money in these types of projects – the results are right. So it stands to reason that a lot of people are watching the Vesta Project test session with interest.

“Moving from paper theories to real-world experiments is an important piece of the puzzle, providing an opportunity to gauge how well the method actually works,” said Rosalind Rickaby, professor of biochemistry at Oxford University, told The Daily Beast. “Putting it into practice is crucial because regardless of the outcome, we will narrow the way forward by producing scientifically proven weather blue or red light.”

There are different ways to enhance the weathering process. The Rickaby study, which involved enhanced weather assessment of different terrains as part of an organization funded by Research and Innovation UK, aimed to determine how safe it is to fly. store carbon dioxide through this method. It also focuses on the potential side effects from the ions released in the process. Early results from the consortium are encouraging, and even suggest that ions can help replenish ion-depleted environments in the oceans and in farmland, improving plant growth. and algae. Project Vesta also states that the process appears to be ecologically safe based on preliminary toxicological data.

Enhanced weathering is just one of several carbon capture methods currently in development — all of which are still worth pursuing regardless of the outcome of Project Vesta. “We will likely need a range of approaches to create a safe path out of the climate crisis,” said Rickaby. “Using any of them on a global scale is likely to have negative side effects, so implementing some of them in moderation seems like a safer approach. “.

Given the state of our planet, we don’t have time to try every solution one by one. Pursuing multiple carbon-removal technologies, including enhanced weathering, in tandem offers our best chance of healing the Earth. Olivin from green beaches can suck up huge amounts of carbon to help reverse climate change

Russell Falcon

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