It’s a movie cliché that brings together the perfect theft team. Safe cracker, helmsman, muscles and so on. But in this case, the team consists of four Dalhousie explorers, an ocean chemist, a physicist, a biologist and a sensor specialist – and instead of stealing millions, the payday is to extract a gigaton of coal from the atmosphere.
This Ocean’s 4 was the driving force behind Dartmouth’s Planetary Technologies victory Musko fondo XPRIZE Carbon removal. The company was recently published as one of the 15 $ 1 million (USD) stage prize winners selected from more than 1,100 teams.
The ambitious Planetary plan is to increase the alkalinity of the ocean, which humanity has been constantly acidifying, releasing huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere over the past 250 years.
It is the alkalinity that allows the ocean to absorb CO2. Over billions of years, rock erosion and the entry of its products into the ocean have regulated the alkalinity of the ocean and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. But it is a slow process. The goal of the planetary is to increase the productivity of natural erosion by adding alkalinity and in turn increase the rate of CO2 absorption.
“If you add alkalinity to the ocean, CO2 will eventually be absorbed,” says Doug Wallace, who heads the project at CERC’s ocean research team in Dalhousie. “It simply came to our notice then. And, of course, to mitigate climate change, it has to be next year or the next 10 years. We cannot wait 1000 years for the problem to be resolved.
Planetary CEO Mike Kelland says Dalhousie provides assistance in measuring, monitoring, verifying and certifying that their technology removes carbon from the atmosphere and does so safely.
“It’s unbelievable that there’s a lot of room in the room to do this work,” Kelland says. “Doug Wallace is a world-renowned ocean chemist who has co-developed a tool that everyone uses to understand ocean carbon and chemistry. In order to say that he is convinced that this is being done properly, it is absolutely essential for us to be able to continue.
Dr. Wallace says Dalhousie’s work with Planetary, backed by NSERC Alliance grants, leverages knowledge that the university is uniquely positioned to deliver.
“They chose to work with Dal because we have particularly strong researchers in ocean carbon chemistry. However, this experience is related to experience in ocean biology, physical oceanography, and ocean modeling. All in all, Dalhousie has an extremely wide range of opportunities to partner with a company like Planetary Technologies.
Dal’s team consists of Ruth Musgrave, Dalhousie’s Canadian Department of Physical Oceanographic Research, who provides ocean modeling to help the Planetary understand how alkaline substances dissipate when they enter water. Ocean biologist Hugh Macintyre aims to help the company understand the potential impact of their work on life underwater. And researcher Dariia Atamanchuk provides expertise to detect and measure the carbon absorbed during experiments.
These researchers are also a key part of a research team put together for the recently published Dalhousie Proposal for Canada’s First Research Excellence Foundationto ensure that the global fight against climate change is focused on the ocean.
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“There’s a pool on the ground floor of our office building, but there was no way we could allow it to be filled with seawater so we could experiment,” jokes Will Burt, a senior marine chemist and doctor of science at the Planetary in Dalhousie.
And at the moment, the company is not ready to conduct experiments in the open ocean. Here, the Dalhousie Aquatron has become an extremely valuable asset. The University’s largest water research facility in Canada, Aquatron, consists of six large reservoirs with a total volume of more than 2,000 cubic meters of water that can mimic the ocean environment.
Dr. Burta says Aquatron offered an important step in the company’s investigation, allowing them to significantly increase the initial experiment with the glasses to better understand how the reactions would take place in the open ocean.
“The ocean is a huge diluent and we don’t have the ability to easily dilute it in a glass. We also don’t have the opportunity to have real ocean-sensing tools in the glass, ”he says. “So the Aquatron is perfect because we have real tools to use in a real ocean, and we have the ability to add an impulse of alkalinity to the water and watch it dissipate, dilute and model.
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Dr. Burtas, 2015 Part of the doctor, he laughs when asked if his work with Planetary is based on the work he did at Aquatron when he was a student.
“Actually, no, I’ve walked through the Aquatron about 10,000 times and looked through a small porthole and never entered,” he says. “Instead, I was on the Scottish shelf in Hudson twice a year for three weeks, doing research on ships.
But now he’s making up for lost time, spending many hours in the office, and getting back to a group of Dal students rushing to help reach out.
“There’s been an army of students here all week,” he says, talking on his cell phone near the Aquatron tank. “It simply came to our notice then. There’s one factor here that can be a really significant and positive change, and they’re really excited to be involved in it.
That is what marine scientists want. Not only does it collect data, but it also collects it for a really good purpose.
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