The ocean absorbs about a third of the CO2 that humans create when burning fossil fuels. While that’s good news for the air, capturing so much extra carbon dioxide makes ocean waters more acidic, harming marine life.
Enter Ebb Carbon, a startup that wants to reinforce the ocean’s ability to absorb CO2 while also making it less acidic in the process. “The natural cycle of the ocean has the ability to absorb a tremendous amount of CO2 in the form of natural bicarbonate,” says Ben Tarbell, the company’s CEO. “If we can just boost that process through electrochemistry, we can safely and durably sequester a lot of carbon for a long time.”
According to Fast Company, Ebb Carbon designed its technology to work at industrial plants that are already using seawater, such as desalination plants that remove salt from the water to make it suitable for drinking.
The technology is intended to intercept the saltwater that these facilities would normally discard as part of their operation cycle. The process involves using low-carbon electricity to rearrange salt and water molecules in order to create an acid that can be removed and used in industrial processes, and sodium hydroxide, which is alkaline.
When sodium hydroxide is released into the ocean, it can capture carbon dioxide from the air and form bicarbonate, without increasing the water’s acidity. The bicarbonate can sequester CO2 in the ocean for thousands of years.
Ebb Carbon’s process is much less expensive than other solutions for carbon removal, including direct air-capture plants. “The reason we’re able to enable a lower cost is that at a high level, we use less energy than other methods,” Tarbell says. “We’re essentially using a lot of the energy from the wind and ocean for mixing and capture of the CO2. And then we also don’t require additional energy to process CO2 once it’s captured.”