Vesta

FAQ / The Big Questions

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FAQ / The Science

What are the environmental impacts of olivine sand?

Olivine is a natural mineral that dissolves gradually in seawater over decades, which means that effects on seawater chemistry will be minimal. 

Olivine sand deployment is not expected to have any adverse effects above and beyond common beach nourishment/nearshore mound placement projects. Regardless, full environmental assessments will be completed at each site before deployment to ensure that impacts on local environments are minimal.

Vesta has partnered with a third-party US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-accredited laboratory called Enthalpy Analytical to test the safety of olivine sand for marine organisms. Tests to date have shown that in general, olivine sand does not negatively impact benthic marine organisms relative to standard silicate sand, even at 100% olivine concentrations.

Additional tests conducted by Enthalpy Analytical include exposing a range of ubiquitous, EPA-standard marine organisms to seawater that has been mixed with olivine for 60 days. This olivine-enriched seawater attained concentrations of olivine dissolution products hundreds of times higher than those attained in olivine dissolution experiments (Montserrat et al., 2017). Exposure to this highly olivine-enriched seawater caused only minor effects in two groups of marine organisms (sea urchins and juvenile kelp). No effects were observed at concentrations expected for natural beach conditions.

Would seagrass, mangrove, or other coastal plants be affected by olivine?

Vesta is currently working with seagrass experts at Florida International University to explore any potential effects on seagrasses and other plants. It is hypothesized that small amounts of iron produced from olivine dissolution may favor seagrass growth.

What impact will olivine have on ocean chemistry?

As olivine dissolves, it increases alkalinity and pH, counteracting the problem of ocean acidification. This is a known and desired effect, and Vesta anticipates that this deacidification process inherent to olivine’s reaction with seawater will prove beneficial to sensitive benthic habitats such as coral reefs. Our testing program in our laboratory and upcoming field studies includes the consideration of deacidification effects on marine organisms.

How does olivine sand capture carbon?

The ocean is the greatest carbon sink on the planet. When CO₂ reacts with water, it forms carbonic acid. Through the process of mineral weathering, olivine sand converts carbonic acid into bicarbonate and carbonate, two stable forms of carbon that can stay in the ocean for thousands of years. Olivine dissolution also releases alkalinity, counteracting ocean acidification and further reducing dissolved CO₂.

How much research has been done into olivine sand?

There are several decades of academic research that have demonstrated olivine’s potential for carbon dioxide removal. More focused research into olivine’s mechanisms and implications as a means for coastal carbon capture has been ongoing since 2009. 

Vesta has completed lab studies examining olivine dissolution, including studies in an EPA-accredited laboratory which show that short-term exposure to olivine and its dissolution products are generally safe for marine organisms. 

Vesta’s science page (https://www.vesta.earth/science) contains links to foundational and relevant academic literature.

Will olivine sand introduce non-native species?

No. Olivine is an entirely inorganic mineral, which is mined and crushed on land, and so cannot contain or harbor any marine organisms that could be introduced to a new coastal site. Because of its physical and chemical similarity to typical quartz sand, olivine sand does not provide additional habitat or competitive advantages for non-native marine species.

Does olivine contain any secondary minerals or heavy metals?

Olivine contains 0.4% chromium (as Cr(III)/Cr2O3 in chromite), 0.4% nickel (as NiO in the olivine crystal lattice) per weight, as well as about 8% iron per weight. These elements are locked in relatively insoluble or slowly dissolved phases (olivine and chromite), rendering them only scarcely bioavailable. To date, our ecotoxicology work and laboratory experiments have shown that these elements are expected to be far below toxic levels during deployments

Olivine-rich beaches in Hawaii (where olivine makes up ~5% of normal black sand beaches and ~30-50% of olivine sand beaches such as Papakolea beach) are characterized by healthy marine ecosystems with coral growth and associated organisms. These olivine-rich beaches do not appear to have any long-term detrimental effects on the local ecosystem.

Does olivine sand need to be above or below water to capture carbon?

To dissolve and absorb carbon dioxide, olivine sand needs to be in contact with water.

Has olivine been used on beaches or coasts before?

Yes, - Nature has been doing rock weathering for millions of years. Olivine is an abundant natural mineral, and there are areas of coastline with high quantities of olivine that have eroded to form natural olivine beaches. One example is Papakolea Beach, Hawai’i. Vesta is undergoing a field expedition to Papakolea to study the long-term integrated conditions of these natural olivine beaches. 

As a climate change mitigation intervention, olivine has never been intentionally placed on a shoreline. Vesta is currently in the planning phase for the first field pilots of Coastal Carbon Capture.

Will olivine sand affect sea turtle nesting?

Olivine is not expected to adversely impact turtle nesting in any way, as it will not be directly placed on a turtle nesting beach, but rather placed in the nearshore area below the tide line, the so-called foreshore. There are at least two important turtle nesting sites on beaches with naturally occurring olivine, such as Ascension Island (South Atlantic) and Tortuguero (Costa Rica). In addition, there are numerous natural olivine-rich beaches in Hawaii with resident turtle populations.

Does this work in freshwater?

Yes, but Vesta is primarily focused on ocean deployment to capitalize on the ocean’s size to sequester meaningful amounts of atmospheric CO₂. In addition, there is more scientific research on olivine dissolution in seawater, making it a better fit for marine coastal applications.

FAQ / The Logistics

What is this process?

The earth’s natural long-term carbonate-silicate rock weathering cycle is how our planet has naturally captured CO₂ for billions of years. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we must rapidly remove billions of tonnes of CO₂ from the atmosphere, starting this decade. Since natural rock weathering is much too slow to make a considerable impact on atmospheric CO₂ levels, Vesta accelerates this process by crushing rocks containing the carbon-removing mineral olivine into fine sand and spreading it in coastal waters, harnessing natural wave energy and geochemical weathering to dramatically accelerate the weathering process. We call this Coastal Carbon Capture, a nature-based technology designed to support coastal resilience and capture CO₂. We work with coastal communities to use olivine sand as a mineral for shoreline protection projects. 

Vesta is dedicated to turning the tide on climate change by removing a significant proportion of human CO2 emissions in a way that is permanent, cost-effective, and sustainable. 

This all seems expensive - who’s paying for this?

Governments, companies, and even individuals around the world are increasingly pledging to reduce their emissions to ‘net zero’ by reducing emissions and paying for CO₂ removal. Within the Paris Agreement, 194 countries signed up to aggressive emission reduction targets, and corporations such as Stripe, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, Blackrock, Nestle, and Shopify are paying off their carbon emissions through purchasing carbon credits.

Vesta pays for the mining, milling, shipping, and deployment of olivine sand through carbon credits sold to carbon removal markets. Carbon markets are projected to be a trillion-dollar industry that can support paying for carbon removal, and Vesta is seeing significant demand for carbon credits. Vesta already has letters of intent in place with 14 carbon marketplaces to sell credits once they become available and has also received significant support from individual corporate clients.

What’s the maximum thickness of an olivine sand layer?

Carbon sequestration occurs in the upper few centimeters of the seabed, so thin layer deployments would be ideal. This could occur with careful placement but could also occur with wave and current action dispersing olivine in thin layers over a wide area.

Does Vesta have any environmental permits that have been granted?

Our initial demonstration project is a field site in the Northern Caribbean. Vesta holds a Phase I permit to conduct baseline monitoring for Coastal Carbon Capture in this particular area. This process is well underway, and the team is in the process of applying for the Phase II permit

The first permit has been granted in the Hamptons, NY, USA. We have State, Local, and Federal permits to deploy and the project is underway.

Can the carbon credits be used by the community or local government sponsor?

Potentially. Vesta sells carbon credits to cover the cost of deployment and enable the olivine to be freely available. The local sponsor gets the olivine sand at no cost for pilots, along with the reassurance that their coastal restoration projects with olivine are carbon-negative and are helping to mitigate climate change.

How does Vesta choose what beaches to work with?

Vesta screens potential sites to see if they’re a good fit for our scientific and deployment goals. If Vesta decides to set up a pilot site together, Vesta intends to work closely with the coastal professional and their client to assist with the development of the project.

If you are a coastal practitioner or represent a coastal community, get in touch with us here.

What does olivine sand’s LCA look like?

Coastal Carbon Capture can be  up to 90 - 97% carbon-efficient, meaning that about 3 tons of CO₂ emissions occur for every 100 tons of CO₂ removed. Olivine sand’s life cycle assessment includes emissions released during the mining, milling, shipping, and coastal deployment of the sand. Each LCA is different, as the olivine source, the transportation distance, and the deployment method will vary from project to project.Even for longer transportation distances over 5,000 miles, olivine sand’s carbon budget is strongly net negative.

Does Vesta quantify the impacts of mining the olivine?

Olivine mines exist worldwide, and our goal is to use the source closest to a given project to minimize transport emissions. We prioritize working with mines that have low energy footprints, robust environmental standards, and restoration plans, as well as clear plans for the use of renewable energy for their activities. 

The negative environmental aspects associated with mining and milling olivine are quite modest. Olivine comes from an open-air quarry, and since it is a clean igneous silicate mineral, there are no issues with toxic material or acid mine tailings. We plan to expand our LCAs in a future iteration to include a broader scope of emissions and impacts, but they are likely to result in only a minor adjustment of our total LCA.

If a community or local government sponsors a project, are they going to get olivine sand for free?

Yes. The olivine sand and its deployment cost are paid for by Vesta.

Where does Olivine come from?

Olivine is an igneous mineral that comprises approximately 50% of the earth’s upper mantle, making it extremely abundant. Olivine mines exist worldwide, and presently most production occurs in Norway and Turkey. Olivine mines are also found in many US states, including North Carolina and Washington.

What color is it? Will it change the color of a beach?

No, it will not change the natural color of the beach. Intrinsically, it's a light gray to very pale green sand and blends well with both carbonate and quartz-feldspar sands. 

Olivine has been qualitatively tested at mixtures from a 10-25% ratio with native sand. At these ratios, the olivine is indiscernible.

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Vesta's hybrid structure enables philanthropic donations to fund open research in the field of Coastal Carbon Capture. For all large gift enquiries, PLEASE EMAIL OUR Development team