Expert Q&A on ocean-based carbon removal

- Richard Dal Monte

Kate Moran. Credit: UVic Photo Services

If humans are going to fight climate change effectively, we must not only rapidly reduce carbon emissions but, also, remove massive amounts of carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere—and now.

A new report released on Wednesday by The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM)—A Research Strategy for Ocean-Based Carbon Dioxide Removal and Sequestration—looks at a variety of technologies and assesses the viability and potential effectiveness. Those technologies range from nutrient fertilization to seaweed cultivation and even electrochemical approaches.

Kate Moran, president and chief executive officer of Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a University of Victoria initiative, was the only researcher from this side of the border on the NASEM study panel and illuminates how ONC research can both help with the carbon fight and contribute to a burgeoning and climate-positive blue economy that links aspects of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Q. What did the study panel learn regarding sustainable options for using the ocean to sequester carbon dioxide (CO2) and fight climate change?

A. The study was assessing the research needs for advancing ocean-based carbon-removal solutions that had already been put on the table by a wide range of researchers. The outcome of this study is to identify the research needed to advance them. What we also did was assess their efficacy, not only in terms of the ability to remove carbon, but also in terms of the durability.

Q. What is an example of carbon-removal technology that the NASEM panel determined has great potential for ocean-based carbon removal and sequestration?

A. The committee agreed that the electrochemical approach is promising. This involves pulling seawater out of the ocean, using renewable electricity to extract the acid, potentially using the acid for other purposes. That has a high, high potential of achieving possibly greater than a gigaton of CO2 per year. And we know that earlier studies from the academy have confirmed that, by 2050, we're going to need to be removing 10 gigatons of CO2 per year at a minimum.

Q. How do the report findings fit into the establishment of a sustainable blue economy?

A. I think these could become future industries. You can see it as a bridge to workers in the extractive industries moving into this industry with all the different aspects of these technologies. And we have the longest coastline in the world so Canada could benefit once the research proves these to be at a readiness level that high.

Q. Can ONC play a role?

A. ONC operates ocean-observing infrastructure. We deliver 24/7 data from over 9,000 sensors, many of them on the West Coast. So, if you think about moving technology to the ocean, you need an interim place to test them on a bigger scale. ONC and other organizations like ours could help researchers test and assess these types of technologies and provide that kind of potential going forward.

Q. Can you provide an example of this?

A. We have telecommunications cables with power that we plug in our sensor systems. We're now in discussion with a company called Cascadia Seaweed and we've partnered with them on a proposal to help them put sensor systems into their farms so they can begin to improve their techniques to make their growth of kelp more efficient. And seaweed cultivation was one of the technologies we looked at in this NASEM study.

Q. What is most exciting for you about this study?

A.There's so much interest in carbon removal and more generally, decarbonization efforts and activity. But this carbon-removal piece, it's just getting a lot of attention by industry and governments. And I think that this gives us hope—it gives me hope, anyway.

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Keywords: research, climate, oceans, technology, Ocean Networks Canada

People: Kate Moran

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