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Researchers are hopeful this vacuum-like contraption can help save our oceans: 'We have been very fortunate to create this shared vision'

Construction on Equatic-1 is set to take place over the next 18 months, with Phase 1 beginning in March.

Construction on Equatic-1 is set to take place over the next 18 months, with Phase 1 beginning in March.

Photo Credit: UCLA

Researchers are ready to take the next step toward potentially slowing down the rise of global temperatures by building a large, vacuum-like facility that can suck carbon right from ocean waters. 

In a February press release, the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering announced that a team from California-based startup Equatic and UCLA's Institute for Carbon Management (ICM) will be constructing a $20 million floating plant in western Singapore. 

The project, named Equatic-1, was greenlit after promising pilot runs in Los Angeles and Singapore in spring 2023. Singapore's national water agency, PUB, and the National Research Foundation are also supporting the endeavor.  

The technology, inspired by the natural formation of seashells, works by separating the hydrogen and oxygen in seawater via an electrical charge, and "a series of chemical reactions" result in the formation of "solid calcium and magnesium-based materials" that can be stored for thousands of years, per the press release.  

Our oceans, which are often called "the lungs" of the Earth, produce half of our oxygen, absorb around a quarter of carbon dioxide pollution, and trap 90% of the extra heat generated by that pollution, as detailed by the United Nations

Unfortunately, that has led to a degradation of marine ecosystems, as the excess gases create a chemical reaction known as acidification — a process that affects the health of popular seafood like clams, oysters, and lobsters and can lead to toxic algae blooms

According to UCLA, the Equatic-1 is expected to eliminate more than 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide every year, with the 11 tons of CO2 taken from the water and air each day being 100 times greater than the pilot system was able to accomplish. 

Researchers also believe they'll be able to harvest hydrogen, a clean type of fuel, during the carbon removal process. 

The latest developments are an exciting step forward that could create a cleaner and healthier future, but scientists are still cautious about carbon capture as a solution to an overheating planet, with a transition away from dirty energy considered the most vital course of action. 

Inside Climate News reported that more than 200 scientists signed a letter in September explaining that the viability of large-scale carbon removal efforts is unproven.

"Society does not yet have nearly enough information about the effectiveness or impacts of any specific approach and so cannot make informed decisions about their use at scale," they wrote

However, they also cited "an urgent need to accelerate responsible research, field testing, and monitoring to determine which [carbon removal methods] may ultimately be safe, equitable, and viable."  

Construction on Equatic-1 is set to take place over the next 18 months, with Phase 1 beginning in March, according to UCLA

Phase 2 is scheduled to be completed in early 2025, and researchers hope Equatic will be able to commercialize its technology after demonstrating that the facility "has successfully fulfilled its technical demonstration objectives."  

"Scaling carbon removal solutions requires technology, bold and committed partners, and a focus on timely and measurable success. We have been very fortunate to create this shared vision with our partners in Singapore to scale Equatic's solutions to the commercial scale and around the world," Equatic co-founder and ICM director Gaurav Sant said in the release.

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