Enviro–Engineering Startup ‘Equatic’ is Processing Seawater to Tackle Climate Change

By Sophia Francise

June 6, 2023
Equatic's ocean electrolysis plant illustration

A new California-based startup, Equatic, is tackling climate change by simultaneously taking carbon dioxide from the ocean and air while creating hydrogen as an alternative fuel using seawater electrolysis.

As The Verge reports, the world’s oceans have soaked up nearly a third of humans’ greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution.1

Equatic has developed a formula for filtering CO2 out of seawater, allowing oceans to soak up more of the greenhouse gas, this way, it will keep it out of the atmosphere where it would heat the planet. 

Boeing has already inked an agreement with Equatic, with a deal to purchase 2,100 metric tons of hydrogen for use in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

The hydrogen is a byproduct of Equatic’s efforts to filter planet-heating CO2 from air and seawater.

Boeing has also agreed to purchase 62,000 metric tons of carbon removal to offset some of its climate pollution.

An Overview of Equatic’s Technology

Equatic’s technology brings together two nascent strategies for climate change, most big companies fund efforts to capture CO2 accumulated in the atmosphere and oceans.

The strategy aims to atone for some of the pollution they generate by burning fossil fuels, the second strategy, which Biden’s administration has also flagged, is using Hydrogen as an alternative to oil and gas. 

Equatic’s technology does not focus on taking CO2 out of the air or the sea or making carbon pollution-free hydrogen out of renewable energy. Instead, they do it all. 

The company spun out of a research initiative at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and already has two small pilot plants in Los Angeles and Singapore.

Each plant takes in ocean water and runs an electrical current that splits water molecules, freeing up the hydrogen for Equatic to sell for fuel.

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The electric shock also separates the water into two streams: one that’s very acidic and another that’s very alkaline or basic.

In the basic stream, dissolved calcium binds with CO2 in the water to form the mineral calcium carbonate.

Then, to extract CO2 out of the air, Equatic bubbles air through that same stream of basic water, and the gas mineralizes into magnesium bicarbonate.

Equatic then has to neutralize both streams of water back to the pH of the ocean so that it can release the seawater that’s now laden with mineralized carbon dioxide.

The idea is that these minerals will trap the CO2 in the ocean for more than 10,000 years, keeping it from entering the atmosphere, where it would cause global warming.

Researchers from the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering built the demonstration system in two years.

One thing that distinguishes the process is that it produces hydrogen. It also does not require the dissolved carbon to be buried.

Instead, the greenhouse gas is converted into a solid that includes materials inherent to oceans and can be released to settle on the sea floor, Sant said.2

To remove a metric ton of carbon dioxide, about 220 metric tons of water needs to flow through the system, which produces 35 kilograms of hydrogen, Sant said.

References

  1. Justine Calma, ‘This startup is zapping seawater to tackle climate change’, The Verge, 6 June 2023, https://www.theverge.com/2023/6/6/23749323/ocean-equatic-boeing-hydrogen-energy-carbon-capture[]
  2. UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, ‘UCLA Institute for Carbon Management to Unveil Seawater-based Carbon Removal Pilot Systems in Los Angeles and Singapore’, 6 October 2022, https://samueli.ucla.edu/ucla-institute-for-carbon-management-to-unveil-seawater-based-carbon-removal-pilot-systems-in-los-angeles-and-singapore/[]
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