Project Vesta was created after a sweeping review of existing and proposed carbon dioxide removal technologies and techniques. While evaluating the potential for the various methods, the enhanced coastal olivine weathering stood out as having the greatest potential for global scale carbon dioxide removal. It makes sense, as it is a nature-based solution, which the Earth has used on geological time scales to balance CO2 emissions. The process is known as the “global thermostat” and the weathering of silicates and carbonate rocks itself is the process by which 99.9% of carbon on Earth has become stored in rock and sediment.
Knowing the process of weathering is Earth’s main mechanism for CO2 removal that can alter global temperatures, the next question becomes one of how we can harness and mimic this process on a timescale that is relevant for our current needs. If we can efficiently speed up the process, enhanced weathering offers us the ability to remove as much CO2 as is required. There are enough rocks available to bring the atmospheric CO2 levels back to pre-industrial levels. Project Vesta’s proposal to use beaches to mill olivine from nearby reserves is a solution for CO2 removal that is permanent, cost-effective, does not rely on the creation of any new technologies, and does not compete for scare arable land resources.
Previous proposals for weathering minerals have called for open ocean distribution of olivine from boats, but require fine particles (the size of flour grains) that would be able to weather before they reached the bottom of the ocean where it is cold and calm. These proposals are limited in feasibility due to the energy use required for grinding the particles to such a fine size and the energy use in distributing the minerals. Our process of using beaches was inspired by the work of R.D. Schuiling and Poppe De Boer, who in many ways were ahead of their time in proposing the innovative solution of using coastal environments to rapidly weathering larger grains of olivine. Unfortunately, there have been no real-world pilot projects to demonstrate the accelerated weathering rate of olivine in the coastal environment.
Project Vesta was formed to change that by deploying a pilot project. Our mission is to push the science forward and demonstrate to the world that safe, efficient, permanent, rapid, and inexpensive carbon removal is possible with coastal enhanced weathering. Project Vesta picks up where the work of these scientists and many others have left off, taking their science and experimental data from the lab and bringing it to the beach, as our poster from the American Geophysical Union’s Fall 2019 Meeting, titled “Enhanced Olivine Weathering From the Lab to the Beach,” lays out. Our methodology for overcoming the energy efficiency and cost limitations utilizes two innovations: 1) to minimize transport costs by using local reserves of olivine and 2) to minimize energy use in milling by utilizing high-energy beaches to to put the olivine in motion, creating grain-on-grain collisions that rapidly break down the rock and accelerate the weathering rate.
An initial Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of our process that shows if we limit our grain size of grinding to the millimeter level and transport distance to less than 300 km, we can remain 95% efficient. This means we are able to remove 20X more CO2 than is released in the process of mining, milling and transport. By utilizing the natural, free energy of wave-power on tropical beaches to accelerate the weathering process, we can overcome both the energy use needed for fine milling, and also accelerate the weathering rate greatly by constantly removing a coating that normally forms on partially weathered olivine.
Project Vesta is currently raising funds through direct donations and grants to help make this project a reality. We are hoping to get this project “on” the ground, with sand on the beach in 2020. We will start with a Phase Ia Safety Study in a bay to demonstrate the potential co-benefits of ocean deacidification and increased dissolved silica available to diatoms. Once the safety of adding olivine to a new location is established, we will carry out a Phase Ib Speed Study on a high-energy beach to demonstrate the real-world weathering rate of olivine when it is constantly tumbled, in warm, acidic water.
Once we have demonstrated the safety and the speed through our pilot projects and additional research, we plan to create and release a universal algorithm/model that can be used to determine specific weathering rates and life cycle efficiencies from the given set of inputs of any specific projects. This way, projects can be deployed all over the world and will be able to determine their net CO2 removal and annualized cost per tonne of CO2 removed. We plan to work with others and release this model to the world and to assist organizations and governments create a global network of green sand beaches working to counteract up to the entirety of the total current CO2 output by humans and eventually bring atmospheric CO2 back to pre-industrial levels.
Project Vesta’s overriding goal is to demonstrate that the coastal enhanced weathering process is safe, economically viable, and is able to remove CO2 quickly enough to help contribute to removing the 1 trillion tonnes of CO2 that will need to be removed by 2100 to give us even a chance at keeping global temperature increases below 1.5°C (2.7°F). We operate as a non-profit, under the fiscal sponsorship of Far Away Project, a 501(c)3 entity registered in California. We recently completed our first round of presenting scientific poster presentations to the scientific communities at the Drawdown Conference, Deep Carbon Observatory, and the American Geophysical Union and have laid our experimental design. We are now in the process of sourcing an optimal beach for our Pilot Phase I (a) Safety Study.
Our plan is to get this done the “right way” – by proving both the safety and weathering rate, and then working to deploy it on as many beaches as possible, as soon as possible. We are looking for collaborators of all kinds to work with to make the project a reality. Whether you are a concerned human being, a scientist, foundation, potential donor, student, government, policy maker, or just a rock lover if you can help in any way, do not hesitate to contact us. Climate change is a problem that no individual or country can solve on their own. To solve climate change, it will take a global [dis]solution.