We plan to make our experiment as open-source and collaborative as possible. We will publish our experimental design and seek input from the community so that any lingering questions, ideas, or criticisms related to weathering rates and effects on the ecosystem can be addressed through science and not speculation. We invite researchers who have ideas or methods the would like to see implemented in our experiments to contact us.
From Pilot Project to Global Scale Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Removal
Phase I: Pilot Test Beaches
Pilot Projects on real-world beaches to measure Safety and Speed
Phase I will be split into Project Ia for safety and Project Ib for speed.
Phase Ia: Safety Study
Phase Ia is a controlled experiment to demonstrate the safety of adding olivine to a new coastal environment. Two nearby bays with similar water characteristics will be located and monitored. One bay will serve as a control, while the other bay has a layer of olivine placed on its beach. We will then monitor various characteristics of the water content to analyze the effect of olivine weathering on ocean chemistry and wildlife.
Phase Ib: Speed Study
The Phase Ib experiment(s) will be designed to quantify the accelerated weathering rate of olivine in a high-energy coastal environment. We will experiment on how to optimize the weathering rate with varying grain sizes and other variables. We will also work to formalize a verified method to quantify the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere.
We are working with Dutch engineering firm, Deltares, to create an experimental protocol and formula that will be able to be utilized by future beach projects. As each beach will have slightly different olivine weathering rates, due to temperature, pH of water, and energetic potential of the specific beach. We will create a model that can calculate accurate olivine weathering rates based on the properties of a given beach.
For more detailed plans on Phase Ia, please see our poster presentation from the American Geophysical Union 2019 Fall Meeting, which was featured in the SF Chronicle:
"Olivine Weathering From the Lab to the Beach: Evaluation of data and deployment plan for the accelerated weathering reaction of olivine on beaches for carbon dioxide removal and ocean deacidification"
Phase II: Impact Beach(es)
The world's first intentional green sand beaches designed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
In the same way impact craters from asteroids altered the Earth’s environment and the course of history, we hope our Impact Beaches will alter the course of our history. These beaches will serve as a beacon of hope, as a way out of our CO2 nightmare, representing a functional, scalable and financially viable solution to proactively remove the massive quantities of CO2 we have put into the atmosphere.
While we will start with just one Impact Beach, the plan is to create a large network of these beaches all around the world in the tropics. As a decentralized, non-profit organization, Project Vesta will act as a scientific clearinghouse for vetting new beaches and providing scientific and technical oversight on their deployment, including calculating olivine weathering rates, environmental impact, and sourcing of local olivine.
We plan to work with local partners where we can find the trifecta of optimal beaches, friendly governments, and adequate olivine reserves. The Impact Beach(es) will serve as eco-tourism locations where people can learn about CO2 removal and serve as organizing headquarters for creating a movement that seeks to restore and protect our planet from CO2 induced climatic damage.
Phase III: Carbon Neutral Countries
As countries aim to reach carbon neutrality, they will need olivine sand beaches to help them achieve it
The race to become the first carbon-neutral country is on and even countries with 100% renewable power sources will struggle to offset the CO2 created from the internal combustion engines of non-electric vehicles and industrial factories. By removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the spreading of olivine on their coastlines, countries will have a scalable and financially viable technique available today, that can allow them to reach their goals.
As an example, Costa Rica, which is looking to decarbonize completely by 2050, has an issue that 60% of its emissions are currently generated by vehicles. Even though they had 300 days of 100% renewable energy generation last year, they still have to deal with the emissions of all those vehicles. It will take decades to switch to an all-electric fleet and requires new infrastructure and societal conditioning.12
Costa Rica has ample shelf-sea coastlines and warm enough water alongside the entire country that they could deploy olivine on a large scale nearly anywhere they desire. With a 2016 level of only 1.71 tons of CO2 emissions per capita, it would only require 1.368 tons of olivine to be weathered per person to remove 100% of their CO2 footprint. At that scale, even with the price of olivine at $20 per ton, it would cost just $27.72 per person for the country to be 100% carbon neutral (removing an equivalent of the country’s yearly total output of 8,328.9 kt of CO2). With a population of 4.9 million and a GDP of $57 billion, the $135,994,320 cost for the project would be less than 0.2% of their GDP.
Phase IV: Regional Scale Removal
The atmosphere spans borders, and so should our efforts to remove carbon from it
Regions can benefit by working together to take advantage of the varying distributions of resources, labor, and geography. By working together they can also reach a scale that dramatically pushes down the price per ton of CO2 removed from the atmosphere. CO2 put out by one country, affects the atmosphere of all countries, so it makes sense to work together toward a common goal and to hold each other accountable for our emissions.
In the case of Western Europe, there is an opportunity for countries to team up to offset a greater amount of CO2 than their output. There is an area of the ocean just off the coast of the UK, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, known as the Southern Bight of the North Sea. This area has extremely strong underwater currents (known as bed shear stress forces) that are capable of sediment transport that could essentially tumble olivine underwater without the need for beaches.4
Let’s look at the hard numbers on this project and the real logistics of loading, unloading, and transporting the olivine on a scale that would remove an equivalent of 1.5 gigatons of CO2, about 5% of the worlds yearly CO2 emissions, by weathering 1.2 gigatons of olivine. The plan involves transporting olivine by boat and utilizing an area of 35,000 km^2 out of an adequate area totaling of 250,000 km^2 that has underwater forces capable of transporting and accelerating the weathering of olivine.
- 1.2 gigatons (gt) of olivine is 3000 megacarrier loads of 400,000 metric tons of olivine.
- Based on a model for a 5,000 tonnes per day mine in the USA, the cost of mining and crushing volcanic rock is $7.32 / metric ton.
- For transport, we would use self-unloading megacarriers that can each hold 200,000 tons of olivine.
- Loading and unloading of mega carrier takes (4-5 days)*2 = 10 days
- Speed 15.4 knots (28.5 km/h; 17.7 mph) = 650 km/day
- Travel Outbound/Inbound (~ 2000 km)*2 = 4000 km = 6 days
- Cost of 200,000 ton megacarrier daily operations = ~$40,000/day
- Loading, travel to location, unloading, and travel back = 16 days (although can be less with partial unloading while traveling)
- 16 days x $40,000 = $640,000
- $640,000 operational cost of loading+dumping+travel/200,000 tons per boat = $3.20 cost to distribute each ton
- $3.20 (distribution cost) + $7.32 mining cost = $10.62 / ton of olivine to reach weathering destination in ocean
- $10.62/1.25 (1.25 tons of CO2 removed for each 1 ton of olivine weathered)
=~$8.50 per ton of CO2 removed from atmopshere and ocean
Phase V: Globally Distributed Beachheads
It will take the planet to save the planet
Project Vesta is based on research demonstrating that there are no insurmountable impediments to scaling this form of carbon dioxide removal all the way up to the level of yearly global CO2 emissions removal.
Each red dot above represents a large reserve consisting of greater than 90% olivine. We have more than adequate olivine reserves, mining abilities, and applicable coastlines.
Will it be easy? No, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.
Is There Enough Mineable Olivine?
There is more than enough olivine for global scale CO2 removal for the foreseeable future. Olivine is the most abundant mineral in the upper mantle, making up over 50% of it. There large reserves near the surface of a the formation called dunite, which consists of greater than 90% olivine.
Can We Mine Enough Yearly?
We already mine larger volumes of coal, barrel of oil equivalents, and construction minerals each year than the volume of olivine needed for the removal of humanity’s yearly CO2 output, which is about 10 cubic kilometers (or 6.34 cubic miles) of olivine. China alone employs more people in coal mining than people needed for global olivine mining (1-1.5 million people).
Are There Enough Coastlines?
6%-8% of the Earth’s shores are the type of high-energy, shelf-seas necessary to adequately accelerate the olivine weathering. Of those, we only need 2% to be put to use weathering olivine in order for 100% of humanity’s yearly CO2 to be removed from the atmosphere.
There is more than enough olivine on earth to remove all of humanity’s yearly CO2 output from the atmosphere through accelerated weathering. The optimal starting point is to utilize large individual large mines (over 100 million tons/year) in areas close to shorelines that would provide olivine for applicable beaches within 300 km of the mine. And then to further minimize transportation costs and CO2 footprint as we move to global scale, it is projected we would need 30-50 new mines located through the tropics.
Economy of Scale
At current prices, olivine is already among the cheapest solution per ton of CO2 removed from the atmosphere and is the most viable technique available to reliably remove carbon on a global scale. Today, crushed olivine can be purchased at the port of Rotterdam for about $25/ton, but through economies of scale and increases in demand, we hope to bring the price down to less than $10/ton of CO2 captured.
Climate change is going to cost the world trillions of dollars in damage and lost economic value, with models predicting a cost of up to $67 trillion from Arctic melt alone. For a comparatively “inexpensive” $250 billion per year, however, the entire world can remove an equivalent amount of the CO2 it releases each year with olivine. This is not meant as a free pass for countries to continue releasing their emissions but is meant as a mechanism to buy time for countries while they work to cease their CO2 release.
These are other aspects to keep in mind for global anthropogenic level CO2 emission removal:
- Involve the spreading of olivine grains over large areas for a number of years, as well as the monitoring of these operations.
- Weathering is most rapid in humid tropical climates
- Create a large shift in demand in the mining sector, moving olivine from a minor commodity into third place behind construction materials and coal.
- Larger the mines the better, with greater than 100 million tons/year, allowing maximization from the economies of scale
- We may utilize lower wages in developing countries with a lack of other valuable exports, to further lower the olivine price and also to maximize the benefit on society in developing countries by creating millions of jobs.
- Some dunites contain sub-economical contents of chromite, nickel or platinum minerals. By mining them for olivine, it may become economical to recover these by-products as well. This holds also for kimberlites, the host rock of diamonds, where marginal diamond grades may become economical if the rock is mined and crushed to spread kimberlite.
- Global CO2 sequestration would cost approximately $250 billion (which is cheap considering a recent paper published in Nature, estimated the economic costs of the Arctic permafrost melting alone could cost $67 trillion)
The only part of the equation that is truly uncertain at this point is if society will act in time to prevent catastrophic damage to our planet, but Project Vesta is here to help with that part, and we invite you to join us.
- World Bank: Championing Costa Rica’s Transition to Clean Transportation Systems
- Decarbonization Plan Government of Costa Rica(PDF)
- Costa Rica World Bank Data
- Modelling tidal current‐induced bed shear stress and palaeocirculation in an epicontinental seaway: the Bohemian Cretaceous Basin, Central Europe
- Olivine Against Climate Change and Ocean Acidification