Vesta is a research-based organization. Our mission is to further the science of Coastal Carbon Capture and galvanize global deployment.
Coastal Carbon Capture, known in academic research as Coastal Enhanced Weathering, can be categorized as a negative emission technology (NET) that removes and stores CO2 on long timescales (tens to hundreds of thousands of years) (Minx et al. 2018). The process aims to accelerate the natural chemical weathering of the mineral olivine by spreading large amounts of ground olivine-containing rock onto coastlines where it can dissolve in seawater, thereby increasing the rate of CO2 absorption by the ocean (Bach et al. 2019).
When olivine dissolves in water, it drives the below reaction to the right, thus increasing CO2 uptake, increasing pH, and generating alkalinity. As a result, this process has the potential co-benefit of counteracting ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is the process by which increasing atmospheric CO2 dissolves in seawater, which reduces pH (increasing acidity) (upper reaction in diagram below). This reduces the ability of calcifying organisms like corals to grow and produce exoskeletons, or shells. As you can see below, dissolving olivine in water sequesters hydrogen ions into dissolved silicate (H4SiO4), a molecule that can be used by diatoms, an important photosynthesizing algae that fixes carbon dioxide and forms the base of food web.
This reaction is the foundation of the Long-Term Inorganic Carbon Cycle, which has been occurring for billions of years, stabilizing Earth’s atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and in turn enabling life to thrive. In fact, carbon dioxide removal (CDR) through natural rock weathering consumes ~1 gigaton of CO2 every year (Ciais et al. 2013). Indeed, there are naturally-occurring olivine beaches with diverse ecosystems like Papakōlea Beach in Hawaiʻi, where we are researching the local ecology, ecotoxicology, olivine weathering rates, and secondary mineral formation.
Unfortunately, natural chemical weathering happens too slowly to balance human CO2 emissions and is already accounted for in Earth’s present-day carbon budget. Vesta is pioneering techniques to accelerate this natural process to remove at least a gigatonne of atmospheric CO2 per year on a global scale. We are an international team of scientists and entrepreneurs working to safely and effectively scale Coastal Carbon Capture (CCC) worldwide.
Minx, J. C., Lamb, W. F., Callaghan, M. W., Fuss, S., Hilaire, J., Creutzig, F., et al. (2018). Negative emissions — Part 1 : research landscape and synthesis. Environ. Res. Lett. 13:053001. doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/aabf9b
Bach, L. T., Gill, S. J., Rickaby, R. E. M., Gore, S. & Renforth, P. (2019) CO2 Removal With Enhanced Weathering and Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement: Potential Risks and Co-benefits for Marine Pelagic Ecosystems. Frontiers in Climate 1–21 doi:10.3389/fclim.2019.00007.
Ciais, P., Sabine, C., Bala, G., Bopp, L., Brovkin, V., Canadell, J., et al. (2013). “Carbon and other biogeochemical cycles,” in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 465–570.
Olivine is one of the most abundant, naturally occurring minerals worldwide with olivine beaches hosting diverse ecosystems in places like Hawaii and Guam. Nonetheless, it is necessary to understand any potential organismal and/or ecosystem effects resulting from the placement of large volumes of olivine along coastal zones. When olivine dissolves, it releases naturally occurring metals and bio-essential nutrients into the seawater which can temporarily elevate concentrations above background levels. Although we believe that the ecological risk of doing so is low, Vesta nonetheless takes this very seriously and is collaborating with numerous institutions to investigate the potential impacts of olivine dissolution products on organisms and ecosystems.
B. Ecotoxicology studies with Enthalpy Analytical
Enthalpy Analytical is a national network of multi-agency accredited laboratories (e.g., EPA) that offer a range of environmental analyses for organizations and governmental agencies. Vesta is working with Enthalpy to study any potential toxicity effects of olivine dissolution on a range of representative organisms from single-celled algae to marine plants to benthic invertebrates to marine vertebrates. A full report of results will be available in 2022.
C. Coral studies
Because olivine dissolution can increase alkalinity and counter ocean acidification, it may create favorable conditions for corals. However, olivine dissolution can also release trace metals like Nickel and Chromium. Vesta is studying the concentrations at which these metals may impact coral physiology.
D. Seagrass studies with Florida International University
In collaboration with seagrass experts Dr. Justin Campbell and Dr. James Fourqurean, Vesta is researching the effects of olivine dissolution on multiple species of seagrasses.
E. Phytoplankton studies with University of Southern California scientists
Numbering in the trillions of cells, microalgae influence numerous global processes from the carbon cycle to marine food webs. Hence, changes in their bio-ecology can have cascading ecosystem effects. Vesta is working with algal experts Dr. David Hutchins and Dr. Feixue Fu to study the biological responses of several keystone marine microalgae. For example, since diatoms use silicate to build their cell walls, they may benefit from silicate released from olivine dissolution. Similarly, calcifying algae may benefit from the increase in alkalinity as a result of dissolving olivine. How these changes may occur with multiple coexisting algal species is unknown and is a primary focus of these studies.
F. Hawaii - Papakōlea Beach
Papakōlea Beach is a naturally occurring olivine beach located on the South Point of the Big Island of Hawai’i and represents a type of endmember case following natural, large-scale olivine weathering. Near Papakōlea are adjacent black and white sand beaches generally devoid of olivine which experience similar sea-state and oceanographic conditions. These beaches offer a critical opportunity to perform comparative studies between Papakōlea and non-olivine beaches. In collaboration with researchers at the University of Hawai’i, Vesta plans to analyze samples of marine algae and small invertebrates from Papakōlea and surrounding beaches to assess possible ecotoxicological effects from Papakōlea.
While our biological studies aim to characterize physiological responses of important marine species, our ecological studies investigate potential changes to species distribution and diversity in a given ecosystem as a result of olivine dissolution. For any location, Vesta spends months studying the local ecology prior to any olivine placement. These data along with counsel from local experts are used to assess whether a site is safe and suitable to move to the further stages in the project.
B. Ecological surveys
Dominican Republic – In partnership with local researchers, Vesta is surveying the local ecosystems at our control and pilot site. We use AGGRA and Smithsonian protocols to create maps of habitat distribution for keystone fauna, including:
The control site is located at an adjacent bay that experiences similar oceanographic conditions as the pilot site. These spatial maps will be used to monitor any significant ecological changes over time in response to olivine placement.
C. Hawaii - Papakōlea Beach
As discussed above, Papakōlea Beach is a naturally occurring olivine beach that represents an unprecedented opportunity to characterize the ecology of a natural site that has been subjected to long-term olivine weathering. The ecology here provides a window into what an olivine deployment may look like centuries after deployment. In collaboration with Dr. John Burns, underwater visual 3D maps of Papakōlea and adjacent beaches are being generated to document coral cover, algae, benthic invertebrates, and fish abundance.
The amount of atmospheric CO2 sequestered from olivine dissolution depends on numerous factors including air-sea gas exchange, biological interactions, local environmental gradients, and secondary mineral reactions, to name a few. Although the reaction rates of olivine dissolution have been studied in idealized laboratory settings, reliable reaction rates in natural, coastal conditions are severely lacking. Vesta is conducting numerous studies to fill major knowledge gaps in our understanding of olivine dissolution in a natural coastal environment.
B. Olivine dissolution kinetics
We are conducting well-controlled benchtop laboratory experiments that simulate and examine the rate at which olivine dissolves in seawater conditions. These experimental studies provide us essential information on the timescale of olivine dissolution and the efficiency of CO2 capture. The experiments are on-going and are being conducted at University of North Carolina - Charlotte.
C. Sediment diagenesis model
We are developing a sediment diagenetic model to investigate the dissolution of olivine in coastal systems. This model includes parameterizations for redox reactions, advection, bio-diffusion, and bio-irrigation. Our concurrent empirical experiments measuring olivine dissolution in mesocosm-like settings (see below) will greatly improve this model as most parameterizations derive from idealized laboratory data.
D. Earth-system modeling
If performed at a large scale, CO2 capture by olivine dissolution should lead to a temperature decrease, or at least warming reduction, but may also influence other aspects of the Earth System, such as vegetation, ice and cloud coverage, or permafrost stability. Dissolved iron, silica and trace metals released into the marine environment upon olivine dissolution may also influence marine ecosystems in various directions. To investigate how the complex series of climate feedback mechanisms would be affected, and to quantify expected temperature changes, we are collaborating with colleagues at the National Oceanography Centre and at the Met Office (UK) to run olivine dissolution simulations at the Earth System scale.
E. Olivine microcosms
Vesta is conducting a series of microcosm studies in collaboration with Dr. David Hutchins and Dr. Feixue Fu in which olivine will be dissolved in natural seawater and sediment in small experimental chambers. Although microcosms result in lower spatial resolution than mesocosms, environmental gradients can be more tightly controlled and rapidly varied to investigate the effects of multiple environmental gradients acting simultaneously on olivine dissolution rates. These data will be critical to help parameterize our sediment diagenesis model.
F. Tropical mesocosms in the Dominican Republic
Prior to any olivine placement, we are conducting mesocosm studies examining olivine dissolution in natural seawater and sediment sampled from the project site. Mesocosms are enclosed containers (~1m x ~1m) that aim to replicate natural conditions in the pilot site. Generating these data in controlled settings will be critical to help constrain olivine dissolution rates as we move to more variable conditions in coastal settings.
G. Olivine weathering at Papakōlea Beach
In conjunction with ecotoxicological and ecological research at Papakōlea, Vesta is conducting geochemical research on in-situ olivine weathering rates, the fate and transport of reaction products (Mg, Si, trace metals, alkalinity), and the precipitation of secondary carbonates. The goal of this work is to precisely determine the rate and controls on olivine weathering and dissolution in a steady state system where olivine has been weathering for millennia.
Coastal environments are highly variable systems, in which sediment transport is driven by a combination of hydrodynamic conditions including waves, tides and currents. Sediment is transported both laterally and vertically, with the rate and direction of movement influenced by the energy in the system derived from the hydrodynamic conditions and the size and density of grains. Lateral and vertical transport of olivine affects the dissolution rate. As olivine is approximately 26% more dense than quartz sand, which is commonly found on beaches globally, its transport mechanisms will be different. Hence, Vesta is conducting sediment transport studies to determine the specific transport behaviors of olivine relative to quartz sand. The findings from these studies will be used to inform appropriate deployment strategies that aim to maximize the dissolution rate.
B. Lateral sediment transport modeling
Numerical models provide a useful tool to simulate complex physical processes efficiently. Vesta are conducting in-house numerical modelling, in collaboration with Coastal Protection Engineering (CPE), using the Delft3D hydro-morphodynamic modelling suite. The model is being used to simulate the lateral transport of olivine in the coastal zone under different driving environmental conditions. Since olivine has a higher density than typical quartz beach sand, it is likely to be transported differently and result in alternate distribution patterns. The objective of this modelling study is to identify deployment strategies which ensure prolonged submergence of olivine to facilitate chemical weathering, ensure deployment within sufficient wave energy zones to drive physical weathering, and are within areas with limited lateral transport to aid in monitoring of dissolution rates.
C. Vertical sediment transport modeling
In vertical sediment transport, the “active layer” is typically defined as a layer where intense particle collisions and particle-fluid interactions occur. Effective olivine dissolution requires olivine particles to remain in the active layer. Vesta collaborated with the labs of Dr. Tian-Jian Chi Hsu at the University of Delaware and Dr. Joe Calantoni at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory to determine the optimal particle sizes for olivine grains to remain in the active layer.
1. Andrews, M.G. (2021)Olivine Sand: A cost-effective carbon-removing material for coastal protection projects. North Carolina Beach, Inlet and Waterways Association Fall Meeting.
2. Andrews, M.G., Romaniello, S.J., Sulpis, O., Syverson, D., Hsu, T.-.J., Rafati, Y., Zhang, J., Calantoni, J., Montserrat, F., Walworth, N., Moreau, C., Lopez, P., Hayden, M., and Green, T. (2021) Advancing Coastal Enhanced Weathering as a climate change mitigation technology through strategic, interdisciplinary research. WHOI Ocean Carbon & Biochemistry (OCB) Summer Workshop.
3. Hilser, H.; Cox, E.; Draiby, A.; Moreau, C.; Hiraldo, L.; Walworth, N.; Winks, L. (2022) Climate Justice and Localized Governance: Coastal Carbon Removal in Small Island Developing States. Preprint.
4. Moreau, C., Montserrat, F., Green, T., Matzner, E., Syverson, D., Sulpis, O., ... & Romaniello, S. J. (2021) Progress toward small-scale field trials of coastal enhanced weathering of olivine. Goldschmidt Conference.
5. Moreau, C., Walworth, N., Vogel Draiby, A., Hiraldo, L., Hilser, H. (2022) A participatory governance approach to researching Coastal Carbon Capture. Conference on Negative CO2 Emissions.
6. Romaniello, S.J., Green, T., Ley, B., Erhart, K (2021) Olivine Sand: A cost-effective carbon-negative alternative for beach nourishment and shoreline construction? ABSPA 2021 ASBPA National Coastal Conference.
7. Romaniello, S.J., Sulpis, O., Cole, D.B., Syverson, D., Montserrat, F., Moreau, C., Walworth, N., Andrews, M.G. (2022) Impacts of Enhanced Olivine Weathering in Nearshore Marine Environments. Goldschmidt Conference.
8. David Kriebel1, PhD, PE and Chloe Leach2, PhD, 1 Principal, Coastal Analytics LLC, 2 Research Scientist, Vesta PBC Comparison of U.S. and European Practice for Nearshore Sand Placement. ASBPA.
After over 2 years of foundational research, Project Vesta is preparing for its first field pilots. Our pilots aim to address the urgent call in The National Academy of Sciences Report for field pilots of Coastal Carbon Capture. Three major pillars form each field pilot.
A. Stakeholder engagement
Project Vesta works with local communities in both public and private sectors to inform, plan, and design field pilots. Our participatory governance integrates input from local and regional stakeholders into the implementation and permitting of Coastal Carbon Capture.
B. Environmental Impact Assessment
Project Vesta conducts extensive ecosystem monitoring before and after olivine placement including ecological and ecotoxicological assessments of local fauna.
C. Quantification of CO2 removal
Project Vesta assesses CO2 removal through numerous approaches including monitoring changes in carbonate chemistry, alkalinity, secondary minerals, nutrients, sediment transport, and other biogeochemical and physical parameters.
Project Vesta is conducting a small field pilot of Coastal Carbon Capture™ (CCC) in collaboration with a private community in the Town of Southampton (NY) and First Coastal. Following extensive stakeholder engagement and months of planning and design, The Town’s North Sea Beach Colony - Beach Erosion Control District (NSBC-BECD) – has been awarded a NYSDEC permit as well as a NYS Coastal Management concurrence to add 500 cubic yards of olivine sand to their larger beach nourishment project consisting of 15,000 cubic yards of fill material. Beach nourishment is a method for providing critical flood and erosion protection and has been used widely throughout the United States and the world for over a century.
The main objectives of this project are to 1) measure olivine dissolution, 2) quantify CO2 removal, and 3) determine any positive or negative impacts on the local ecosystem. Our monitoring program will characterize seawater and porewater geochemistry through both in-situ sensor arrays and sample analysis. Key parameters include the dissolved carbonate system, major cations, and trace metals. Seawater measurements will be made available to the public though AquaLink. Sediment cores will be analyzed for mineralogy and other sedimentological factors. Microbial, ecological, and ecotoxicological analyses will be conducted to monitor species abundance, distribution, and biogenic trace metal content.
This site will be one of Project Vesta’s first demonstration pilots of Coastal Carbon Capture™ and serves as an important part of its overall research program. It will generate critical data concerning the safety and effectiveness of this solution. This pilot also supports the State of New York’s Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act toward its ultimate goal to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions.