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This Is CDR Episode 11: Project Vesta & Coastal Carbon Removal

This Is CDR is an ongoing series of online events to explore the range of carbon dioxide removal solutions that are currently in development. This week, we welcome Kelly Erhart...

This Is CDR is an ongoing series of online events to explore the range of carbon dioxide removal solutions that are currently in development. This week, we welcome Kelly Erhart and Tom Green of Project Vesta to tell us about coastal carbon capture using carbon-negative sand.

As discussed in Episode 2 of This Is CDR, the ocean can store a lot of carbon – until it can’t. As the ocean absorbs more and more atmospheric carbon dioxide, it becomes more acidic (also not great!) and its capacity to store continual CO2 output is strained. Kelly notes that the oceans have become a full 30 percent more acidic since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution – the equivalent of dumping in 16 Olympic swimming pools of battery acid every minute.

Given enough time, Earth’s natural carbon cycle gradually de-acidifies the ocean. Rain falls on volcanic rocks, breaking them down into alkaline minerals, which precipitate into the ocean and rebalance it. The problem is that that process is slow, and our damage to the system has happened very fast. Project Vesta aims to help the planet speed up its natural processes by seeding coastlines with alkaline sand. Over time – a lot less time than it would take without our intervention – this sand dissolves, de-acidifying the ocean and thereby increasing its capacity to store atmospheric CO2. Just doing one or the other would be a big win; doing both at once is a real coup.

But on top of these mutual benefits from accelerating natural processes, Project Vesta’s approach can piggyback on top of existing human processes. Because of rising sea levels, the U.S. already deploys 60 million tons of sand per year to protect coastlines. Human effort and human infrastructure are already bringing regular sand to the beach. If Project Vesta can offer carbon-negative sand in its place, we could make a lot of progress all at once. 

Beyond explaining these basic premises, Kelly and Tom answer a lot of questions about the actual execution of Project Vesta’s goals, so the whole presentation is very much worth watching. 

Thanks for watching – be sure to check back next week for more This Is CDR, and check out the whole series on our resources page.

Peter Smith Peter Malamud Smith is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. In his non-OpenAir life he works as a game developer programming wizards to cast the right spells.

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