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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Could Coastal Carbon Capture Clean Up Atmospheric Carbon at Gigaton Scale?

Vesta is accelerating natural processes using carbon-removing olivine sand to promote coastal resilience, advance ocean uptake and storage of carbon dioxide, and reduce ocean acidity.

The world is on a global mission to decarbonize. However, even if humanity stopped emitting carbon dioxide today, global climate goals would not be met in time — due to the high levels of CO2 already in our atmosphere.

This has led to an explosion of carbon-capture technologies — from innovators including Brilliant Planet, LanzaTech and Twelve, to name a few. One company taking a slightly different approach is California-based Vesta — which is banking on its Coastal Carbon Capture approach. Vesta’s technology accelerates the earth's natural process of rock weathering by adding a green, carbon-removing sand — composed of the mineral olivine — to coastal systems; and as a result, reducing ocean acidity and permanently sequestering carbon dioxide.

As Vesta co-founder Kelly Erhart told Sustainable Brands®: “We see coastal carbon capture as a triple-pronged solution — we can do very large-scale carbon removal in a cost-effective way, support coastal resilience efforts by adding needed sand to vulnerable coastlines, and permanently remove and store carbon through the carbon-removal process.”

Vesta started back in 2019 when Erhart — who has a multidisciplinary background ranging from sustainable technologies and disaster-relief deployments to large-scale event and festival production; and also co-founding Ecozoic Resources, a waterless biofiltration toilet company — and her co-founders realized that there were few solutions to remove carbon at the required gigaton scale without using immense amounts of land, freshwater and energy. The founders put their minds to work, acknowledging the scientific prediction that we need to remove up to 10 billion tons of carbon annually by mid-century to meet climate goals.

Their solution comes in the form of enhanced weathering, using the natural mineral olivine. While this process is not a new concept and has been studied in academia for over 30 years, it was not until Vesta organized a team of expert scientists that the idea was able to be tested in the real world — with the world’s first pilot study launched last year in the town of Southampton on Long Island, New York.

Enhanced weathering works by accelerating the carbon-removal part of the carbonate-silicate cycle (the long-term transformation of silicate rocks to carbonate rocks through weathering and sedimentation) — a process where carbon is stored for thousands of years. Vesta speeds up the weathering of olivine and mills it down to a beach-compatible, green sand that can then be applied to coastlines.

“The olivine slowly dissolves in the seawater; and when it dissolves, it generates new alkalinity in the ocean that allows for the permanent drawdown and storage of carbon,” Erhart explains. “[So,] a third benefit is also a reduction in ocean acidity, which is harmful to many marine ecosystems.”

Olivine can be found all around the world; Erhart says there is far more available than we would ever need to meet our climate goals. Vesta is currently sourcing its olivine from Norway; but the company is looking to work with more proximate sources to keep its costs and emissions as low as possible, and to assist with scalability.

“Our first pilot is anticipated to remove hundreds of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, making it one of the largest durable carbon-removal projects anywhere,” Vesta CEO and co-founder Tom Green told SB. “Full-scale projects in the future could be much larger, which combined with the availability of olivine resources around the world means we have the real potential to scale across nations and meet the massive need to remove carbon at the gigaton level while also improving the coast and marine health.”

Vesta and its team of scientists have been working to ensure the project's ecological safety, rigorously monitoring and documenting every step. Having developed innovative methods for measuring seawater chemistry, they use a measure-and-model approach: Measurements of alkalinity, for example, are plugged into models to help them further test scenarios that cannot be tested directly in the field — such as how sediment moves across the water, regional impacts, weather changes, etc.

Vesta, a Public Benefit Corporation with a hybrid non-profit arm, is open-sourcing and publishing its results from its first field trial — hoping to advance scientific and social public understanding around coastal carbon capture. The company is hoping that its technological developments will allow it to sell carbon renewable credits to help fund the business’s gigaton-scale goals.

Vesta also works closely with communities that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The company has a lab in the Dominican Republic, where the team engages with locals to understand perceptions surrounding carbon removal. In 2022, the team published a paper, Localized governance of carbon dioxide removal in Small Island Developing States, which documents their findings surrounding carbon-removal perceptions and the importance of including actors from the Global South in the development and deployment of these innovations, to strengthen both ethical and governance considerations. In the United States, the company takes a place-based approach to community engagement.

Vesta will launch its next coastal carbon capture project early next year in the US; and it is also scouting future, international sites located near olivine sources.

“We aim to become the global operating system for coastal carbon capture. We are working to develop the technology and advance the science as necessary to be able to deploy coastal carbon capture projects at scale,” Erhart says. “We don't have a healthy planet without carbon-dioxide removal; and so we need solutions like these — that support and enhance earth's natural processes — to clean up the mess we’ve made in the atmosphere and leave a planet where all of us here today, and those to come, can thrive.”