On one of the remote stretches of a coastline on Hawaii’s Big Island, a startup has pioneered an “ocean-assisted” carbon removal process — one that can store CO2 permanently and lower ocean acidification. The startup named ‘Heimdal’ efficiently pumps saltwater in a machine which operates on electricity to rearrange the molecules present in water, getting rid of acid.
It can sell the acid it removes that is produced in a hydrochloric acid formation. The procedure gives out oxygen and hydrogen. The de-acidified seawater can be sent to the ocean. Here, it can capture CO2 naturally.
The ocean has successfully absorbed about one-third of the excess CO2 human beings have let out in the atmosphere—billions of tons every year (the ocean could absorb 90% of the excess heat on the planet).
As CO2 dissolves, it acidifies the water, making it more difficult for marine life-like corals and shellfish to both form as well as survive. The acidity in the Pacific Ocean, for instance, has started dissolving shells of younger crabs already.
The startup’s innovative method can help improve the pH of seawater. But the firm’s primary focus is to find a more affordable way to capture significant volumes of CO2.
Other firms in the “direct air capture” industry use huge fans to pull air through machines that capture CO2 chemically from the atmosphere. That’s the approach adopted by the first commercial direct air capture plant of the planet.
However, Heimdal recognizes the benefits related to working with the ocean. That way, there is a more significant concentration of CO2 in water compared to that in air, so it is able to capture more in a lesser volume.
Working with water uses lesser energy, making it relatively less expensive than conventional direct air capture. It uses lesser land and the direct air capture facility will only need the space four shipping containers would’ve taken.
The brand new pilot plant located in Hawaii is connected to an existing desalination plant. This helps save costs as there was a system in place that had the capability to pump water from oceans.
Everything leverages solar power. Carbon capture has recently succeeded in taking off due to a huge decrease in the cost of green and renewable electricity in the past decade. Thus, the company is now operating on solar entirely, and it is cheaper than what we could get from fossil fuel energy.
The present version of the technology is able to capture CO2 at about $475 per ton —the rate is lower when compared to any other direct air captures all over the world — and the team has projected that the next plant is designed to capture 5,000 tons of CO2 each year, will be able to operate at a rate that is below $200 per ton of the captured CO2. The organization is planning to build the next facility in either Portugal or in Dubai, where it would be collocated with one more desalination plant.
The challenge of capturing carbon is gigantic: the latest models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommend that as the global economy starts decarbonising, the world will need to get rid of about six billion tons of CO2 every year by 2050 if it wishes to avoid the impacts of climate change. As the direct air capture industry has been growing exponentially, it is still at its initial stages.
The startup’s most crucial challenge is to grow as fast as the climate crisis requires. The firm has worked on a modular design it reports can scale up faster in factories. The target is to capture five million tons per year in the next three years.