Project Vesta has engaged the Institute to establish an independent advisory committee to provide assessment and oversight of a proposed field experiment to test an atmospheric carbon dioxide removal approach called “Coastal Enhanced Weathering.”
Project Vesta (https://www.projectvesta.org/) is a Public Benefit Corporation that seeks to engage in, and foster, research in coastal enhanced weathering (CEW). When silicate minerals are subject to chemical weathering, a slow dissolution process is initiated, which produces alkalinity and binds carbon dioxide as bicarbonate in aqueous form. This facilitates the storage of additional carbon dioxide in the world’s oceans when marine calcifying organisms incorporate the carbon dioxide into their shells and skeletons. Ultimately, when these organisms die, they form ocean sediment, which eventually becomes limestone.
In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on methods to massively accelerate this process to facilitate much more rapid sequestration of carbon dioxide. Much of this research has been dedicated to land-based applications of the process. However, there’s also been growing recognition that enhanced mineral weathering in coastal regions could prove desirable, both because of potential constraints on terrestrial land availability and logistical considerations.
CEW is a process that seeks to substantially accelerate the natural chemical weathering process through the spreading of silicate minerals in coastal areas, such as beaches and subtidal areas. Wave action in these regions can enhance the dissolution of these minerals, accelerating the weathering process. Olivine is considered to be a particularly desirable silicate mineral for this process, because of its widespread abundance, with commercial olivine mines operated around the world, and its rapid dissolution rates. The Project Vesta Research Team contends that large-scale application of olivine in coastal regions, using an area consisting of 1% of global shelf seas, could result in multi-century sequestration of perhaps a trillion tons of carbon dioxide, or as much as 50% of annual anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. Moreover, the process could help ameliorate ocean acidification.
The Project Vesta Research Team contemplates proceeding sequentially, beginning with a “Phase 1” technical study that will seek to develop a high-resolution baseline of environmental conditions at the two designated research beaches in the Dominican Republic, ascertain the natural variation of each parameter of the regular sampling protocol, verify the appropriateness of the temporal and spatial scales for detecting effects, and verify the functionality and appropriateness of all methods developed to test the study hypotheses. In “Phase 2,” the Project Team will apply olivine in the research area and an assessment of impacts in terms of pertinent parameters, as well as impacts on the coastal ecosystem. It is contemplated that the initial field experiment would be followed by secondary experiments to test the local effects of olivine in a wider range of coastal ecosystems, through potential large-scale deployment at the regional and global level.
The Project’s Research Team has established the Project Vesta Advisory Committee (PVAC) to facilitate ongoing feedback to the Team on the Project’s initial field experiment’s design and results, as well as review of the Team’s compliance with pertinent international and domestic laws and regulations. Moreover, PVAC will provide advice to the Team on how to establish an effective platform to engender public engagement on the Project.
While PVAC will not wield a veto over the Project, the Project Team has agreed to consider all recommendations of the Committee in good faith.