By Yosef Scher, Science and Technology Editor
As most people know, climate change has become a worldwide problem over the last few decades. Since the second industrial revolution began in the 1950s, the rate of warming has nearly doubled every decade. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the “average global sea surface temperature has increased by approximately 0.13ºC per decade over the past one hundred years.” Our oceans can act as a buffer by absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions. However, like any buffer system, there is a limit to how much carbon dioxide can sustain a buffer system; unfortunately, our oceans have nearly reached their limits. Marine life and ecosystems suffer drastically as our oceans continue to absorb more carbon dioxide levels. Fortunately, researchers from UCLA’s Samueli School of Engineering have devised a possible solution to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases absorbed by our oceans.
Led by Gaurav Sant, the director of the Institute of Carbon Management and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UCLA’s Samueli School of Engineering, he and his researchers invented a machine called SeaChange to convert dissolved carbon dioxide, calcium, and magnesium into solid limestone and brucite. SeaChange works by sending an electrical charge through seawater flowing through massive tanks on one-hundred foot boats. Once the seawater is in the tanks, a series of chemical reactions traps any greenhouse gases into a solid mineral that consists of calcium carbonate. By transferring the greenhouse gases to this mineral, the filtered seawater can be returned to the ocean, where the sea can absorb a new amount of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. Finally, the solid mineral formed in these tanks is returned to the ocean to settle on the sea floor. While one might assume that putting the calcium carbonate mineral back into the ocean would be counterproductive, it is actually quite beneficial, as it acts as seashells for animals to use for shelter.
Dante Simonetti, one of the project’s lead researchers, believes that SeaChange will help societies “develop operational best practices to ensure scalable, cost-effective and durable carbon dioxide removal.” In order to show the world the potential benefits this machine can have, the creators of SeaChange have partnered with AltaSea, a company invested in cleaning our oceans, and Singapore’s Public Utilities Board to demonstrate the effectiveness of this technology within the upcoming year. Researchers at SeaChange hope that the “successful operation of these plants will lead to the rapid adoption of this technology at much larger scales.”
While SeaChange is a significant development in greenhouse gas removal technology, the researchers calculated it would take approximately 1,800 industrial-scale plants to remove ten billion tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide annually. Even though that would remove a lot of harmful carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, it would not be nearly enough because humanity releases thirty-seven billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere yearly. That being said, the researchers at SeaChange know that their technology is a major breakthrough for the planet and are hopeful that there will be a day when greenhouse gas levels can return to their normal levels seen before the second industrial revolution in the 1950s.