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Carbon Removal Technologies (carbon.ycombinator.com)
1187 points by sama on Oct 23, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 660 comments

I would strongly suggest investigating the claims of http://www.innovationconcepts.eu/res/literatuurSchuiling/oli... that after mining, milling, and then being spread in the ocean, olivine rocks weather quickly and take out CO2. The estimated costs of large scale CO2 sequestration this way are surprisingly reasonable, and the technology is already available.

Also the various ocean technologies are going to run into the same environmental complaints as the idea of seeding otherwise barren areas of the ocean with missing metals, causing algae blooms that sink to the bottom. See https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/iron-dumping-ocea... for a discussion of some of those. (And see https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/04/28/iron-fer... for a more laudatory article about this in the general press.) If you can deal with the regulatory concerns, the existing low-tech solution is one of the cheaper ways of removing CO2 that is known.

Speaking personally, I understand the qualms of environmentalists but consider the possibility of local toxic algae blooms to be a less serious environmental disaster than the otherwise certain ocean acidification that will wipe out all shellfish species worldwide. Yeah, nobody wants to accept a bad outcome, but in this case I think it is better than the alternative.

I am working on a non-profit that is utilizing Schuiling's research and is actually getting this project done. We are scouting beaches right now for a "wiggle" tank, which is a sort of see-saw like device where we can gather data to affirm the real world dissolution rate. The chemistry, however, is sound that each 1 ton of olivine will sequester 1.25 tons of carbon.

By the end of 2019 we hope to have our first olivine on the beach. The project will be funded by donations, but we will also be selling olivine/peridot jewelry that's price equates to actual tons of olivine we will dump on the beach. Raw olivine is currently ~$20-$25/ton and the average us person puts out 15-20 tons of CO2/year. The next closest technology for sequestering carbon is well over $150/per ton.

For more info and access to the full text studies, visit https://Climitigation.org and Project Vesta https://ProjectVesta.org

That's awesome - I would be one of the people who would pay $400 to be carbon neutral each year. You should think big and do a Kickstarter with $25 gifts up to $5k gifts...

For $400 I want a t-shirt that says "I'm carbon neutral. Do you have the rocks to become carbon neutral too?" with a pic of olivine rocks and your website url.

You can already compensate your Co2 online and it's not that expensive. Generally the companies are replacing very inefficient processes in developing countries.

Part of it is I want to support promising geoengineering solutions because I don't think reducing emissions will be enough in the future. In particular spreading olivine on beaches also reduces ocean acidity and gives nutrients to the base of the ocean food chain.

Donating money so that polluting industries can pollute less seems like a bailout to those industries. They should be fined/regulated by their governments in those countries. If they get a bailout which gives them a competitive advantage (free money) what's stopping them from opening another low-tech, inefficient plant with the extra money, then expecting another bailout? It seems like rewarding bad behavior.

> Part of it is I want to support promising geoengineering solutions because I don't think reducing emissions will be enough in the future. In particular spreading olivine on beaches also reduces ocean acidity and gives nutrients to the base of the ocean food chain.

We can do both! No need to make a choice. The carbon offsetting schemes in the developing world are currently very cheap because we have all the low hanging fruits available at the moment. When all the very inefficient and easy to replace processes will be replaced, the offsetting schemes will be much more expensive than geoengineering solutions.

> Donating money so that polluting industries can pollute less seems like a bailout to those industries

It's not really how it works (at least not the companies I've looked at). The way it works is you have a more expensive and equivalent way to do things which at the end does release less carbon. It still works in a free market way. For example they engineered cooking stove which are much more efficient but slightly more expensive, they are subsidised by the Co2 offset donations.

Do you have any carbon offset schemes you recommend? I feel like there are a lot of BS offsets out there.

>Not OP, not my personal recommendation.

Giving What We Can has published an analysis on the topic. You can read it here when the site is up again (it is down for me right now): https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/research/causes/climate-chan...

Tl;dr: Cool Earth is their recommendation.

Just FYI, CO2 credits may not be removing CO2 from the atmosphere in the way you expect.

For example, since methane is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2, one can generate CO2 credits by finding a natural methane leak and igniting it.

While yes, it needs to be done to reduce the greenhouse effect, this is just addressing one of the runaway effects. Removal and reduction technologies are needed to move our individual footprints towards zero.

You'll pay $400 to be carbon neutral!?

Why don't you just stop eating meat, stop driving, stop whatever else that you do and have a smaller carbon footprint naturally, instead of living a carbon lavish life and paying some money to be called carbon neutral.

Its like bribing your way out of jail after you have done the crime.

[EDIT]: removed expletives

> Why don't you just stop eating meat, stop driving, stop whatever else that you do and have a smaller carbon footprint naturally, instead of living a carbon lavish life and paying some money to be called carbon neutral.

Why? Because I want to keep my standard of living, just like almost everyone else. What a silly question to even ask. Any solution that asks people to practice austerity is obviously doomed to fail. Any solution that leverages a human's self-interested (even if it's just vanity) at least has a chance.

> Its like bribing your way out of jail after you have done the crime.

It's more like when faced between the choice of paying a fine or going to jail, you pay the fine. That money can be put to work and that time can be put to use, but if you just sit in jail nobody benefits, it just costs the public money to keep you there.

Except of course in reality there is no crime here that anybody could get prosecuted for, and the real victims haven't even been born yet.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

These things you classify as comfort may not be that essential and good for you and the others. Someone that eats animal products everyday and claims that it's their comfort, while it's affecting their health, the lives of 56 billion animals per year and the environment, is, to me, problematic.

I always, in my head, compare it to slavery. While it's not the same thing, of course, the pattern is the same. Something that's not ethical at all, but we, for a long time, did not care because of the comfort it brings us. Can we still live without it? Of course. And well.

I'm sorry, I'm having a hard time getting my point accross in these topics, but what I mean is that what you call "comfort" may not that critical to your well-being at all. You don't need to change eveything from day 1, but doing it a bit more everyday will make feel like a better human being, as you know you're living by respecting others and your environment, while giving money is kind of too easy and doesn't influence what's surrounding you. If you want things to change, you have to be this change. By being it you expose others to the issue you're fighting and make think about it in another way, up to a point they might understand it and join the fight, or at least acknowledge it. It's a very slow process but this is how sustainable change goes since the dawn of time. Actions matter, but ideas win. And ideas don't get seeded with money (well, in the long-term... because propaganda and stuff, but I hope you get the gist).

In another comment you mention you don't like walking. These likings are not by any means frozen in you. Maybe you never tried enjoying walking alone, with your thoughts drifting away in your mind and just living the present moment. Comfort is really subjective, I really think what we should all yearn for is the greater good, which, suprisingly doesn't cost that much in the end and gives you a real sentiment of fulfillment. It's just a matter of /being/ that change.

I actually live in a city a few blocks from work, don't own a car, and only eat poultry/eggs which have a lower carbon footprint than red meat. On the other hand I do order a lot of crap from Amazon.

It's not so much about offsetting my personal carbon emissions - it's more about supporting projects that could potentially slow down runaway global warming. There are a lot of feedback loops in the pipeline in the next 20 years that will accelerate climate change (arctic ice melts, more heat gets absorbed etc). Those feedback loops are going to kick in even if we stopped all human emissions today. So when that happens and drastic environmental changes start occurring, I'm hoping we'll have some demonstrated solutions like advanced weathering we could scale up.

After all, being carbon neutral is about punishing you for your self-indulgence, not anything to do with actually being neutral in terms of carbon emissions.

You can make the same point in a less aggressive manner.

While I don't agree with the tone, $400 implies the average CO2 emission in the US (16 tons/capita/year) which is fairly high. I wonder how much an individual can lower their own contribution.

It takes a lot of mental bandwidth to think about lowering your own CO² emission. Still useful in terms of awareness though! Less driving and flying, less meat, low cost/high reward home energy efficiency improvements, ... are quite obvious ways.

It's important though not to overlook the effect of investing in other people's carbon efficiency instead. A piece of anecdotal evidence. I willingly spent ~25000€ extra on my Belgium home's energy efficiency. One year later, I end up living in Latvia, where many places don't even have simple radiators valves. When their appartments with city heating get too hot in winter, they just open the window at -30°C! Imagine spending just 5000€ on my home, and the rest offering free radiator valves installations in Latvia -- or other even more efficient schemes of course!


It is useful to be aware and as such it is good to know the effectiveness of each action.

Going car-less for a year is similar to going vegan for three years or doing 3 crossing of the Atlantic by plane. Switching over to buy exclusively "green energy" is almost twice as effective in reducing CO² emission compared to a vegan diet per year. All those are high impact changes, while home energy efficiency improvements are medium to low impact changes, with wall insulation estimated to be about 50% compared to eating less meat and up to 10th compared to a vegan diet.


Price signals are one way to do this. This will hit people unequally though, so probably needs some other things at the same time.

Ie if energy price is raised a lot, it will make poor people's lives a lot harder suddenly.

But currently the price of things is very much disconnected from the climate impacts

>Why don't you just stop eating meat

I saw a recent study that said everyone going veggie in the developed world would only have a couple of percentage points effects on emissions. Surprisingly ineffective.

Errr, citation?

Not quite what you were after, but I saw this Twitter thread that claims (with evidence) that the greenhouse gas contributions of meat and agriculture are overstated: https://twitter.com/fleroy1974/status/1053398265817894914

I was under the impression that guy was paid by like the Belgium meat board or something. I can't find the reference to that right now so might be wrong. (I came across him in another thread where it was discussed)

Why does it have to be one or the other? Why not both? Why not more?

We don't know if the OP already has a fairly low carbon footprint, or has done all they can to reduce it.

Cumulative effort and reducing carbon footprints on many fronts is what we need.

Things like:

- Walk / Cycle where you can. Use public transport where you cant.

- Have your heating / AC lower.

- Stop using single use plastics.

- Eat less meat.

- Swap all your bulbs to low power equivalents.

- Take shorter showers.

- Turn off your work monitors / PC when you leave the office. (Assuming tech population here)

- Switch to a power provider that only uses 100% renewable power. (Like bulb in the UK)

- Support a charity that is planting trees or is fighting to save the rain forest.

- Donate/pay to have some charity/company do some carbon removal for you.

- Change your browsers default search engine to Ecosia (Bing results and they plant trees with the profits)

Lots of tiny things can be done now, with relatively little effort. In parallel with companies and researchers work on better carbon capture techniques.

> Lots of tiny things can be done now, with relatively little effort.

Those little things of "low effort" have just as little impact. Those things that are significant (transportation, meat consumption, heating) would also represent significant changes to my level of comfort. I like meat. I like being warm. I like not walking everywhere. I dislike public transport. I like long hot showers. I like to keep my PC running.

On the other hand, I can budget some money for the "luxury" of being carbon neutral. I can also not do that and keep on living the way do. The money is on the table, those changes to my lifestyle aren't.

> Raw olivine is currently ~$20-$25/ton and the average us person puts out 15-20 tons of CO2/year.

Globe-scale carbon sequestration would increase demand for olivine massively. Would mining operations be able to scale appropriately without prices going through the roof?

Geologist here. Can't speak to the economics, but there's no shortage of mineable olivine, mostly in areas where mantle lithosphere that was formerly below oceanic or island arc crust has been "obducted" on the continental crust and thrust up to the surface (the mantle is mostly olivine). These are called ophiolites, and they're not uncommon in places where you used to have a destructive plate boundary: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiolite

Hi! You are correct in how common it is. We will be utilizing forsterite (MgSi4O2), the magnesium-rich form of olivine. We are looking to mine large dunite massifs as they are more than 90% olivine and close to the surface. And you are also correct in that these type of deposits are usually found at the base of the ophiolite sequences. :)

If you are interested in getting involved, feel free to msg me!

Happy to help if my expertise becomes relevant

Google says there’s 2.996×10^12 tons of carbon in the atmosphere. I’m guestimating we have about 1/3 of that which needs to be pulled out to correct for emissions to this point. Do we have access to that amount of olivine?

Thank you so much for your comment!

Edit-As to pricing, if olivine is a common byproduct of other activities and generally common in that sense then obtaining 1 ton of olivine is the cost to move it. Then they need to process and disburse it. That seems like a cheap process.

Edit2-the non-cheap part of this seems the dispersal. How long will it take to disperse all that olivine?

Yes! Just to pick one famous ophiolite, the peridotites of the Semail ophiolite in Oman are perhaps 300km * 50km * 5km from a quick look at some maps and cross sections [1], so 75000 km3 at 3300 kg/m3 comes out to about 2.5E17 kg or 2.5 E14 metric tons. So that's just one ophiolite and we've got a few orders of magnitude to spare.

If for any reason ophiolites weren't enough, there's places at slow-spreading ridges where it's peridotite all the way from the ocean floor to the outer core, albeit expensive to mine.

In short, we would run out of CO2 before we run out of olivine.

[1] https://doi.org/10.1144/gsjgs.151.3.0555

> I’m guestimating we have about 1/3 of that which needs to be pulled out to correct for emissions to this point.

For the moment, that’s a slight overestimate; we’re a little over 400ppm, and pre-Industrial levels were about 300ppm, so we “only” need to remove 1/4 (and we don’t really need to go back all the way to preindustrial levels, it was about 325ppm in 1970)

With 20/ton of olivine it’s still around a 20 trillion dollar industry (just that cost alone)!

More importantly, how much carbon does olivine mining burn per ton? Is this scheme still carbon-negative if we account for that (and transportation)?

Great question, the total CO2 expenditure of the whole olivine mining, milling, and transport process has been calculated to be 4% of the amount of CO2 that is captured.

In general, the cost of mining, milling and grinding 1 ton of rock in large-scale mining, has been calculated to be about $7/ton. Applied to olivine, it proposed that it would be about $12/ton.

The good news is that for the initial olivine, we will attempt to utilize "tailing" piles, which are the removed rock from existing mines. It turns out that diamonds, nickel, chromite, and other commodities are found in olivine-rich rocks. And to get to them, they have to dig up massive amounts of olivine that just sits on the site in piles as "waste."

Those tailings piles are also where some of the real-world calculations for olivine dissolution rates come from. They even determined that some mines hosted in olivine-rich rocks actually more than offset their own CO2 emissions in this unintentional way.

The ideal set up for a beach project would be right on the coast (in a tropical area as temperature affects the speed of weathering), near the end of a railway that runs from an abandoned mine with tons of tailings piles.

Hi, yes it does appear possible to not only increase the mining capacity, but that doing so will actually bring the price down to around $10-$12/ton. To do the total sequestration of anthropogenic (human-caused) CO2 release per year with olivine, it would require approx ~7km^3 of rock (23 gigatons or billion tons). This is compared to the ~10km^3 of oil equivalents we retrieve from the earth each year. And the ~20 gt of construction minerals mined each year. There are individual mines (for other types of materials) that have excavated volumes of greater than ~25 km^3.

To bring the planets atmospheric CO2 concentrations back to pre-industrial levels would likely require around 30-50 new olivine mines globally. The good news though is that olivine is extremely common, making up 80% of the mantle. Almost every country has olivine/dunite deposits, and so countries with cheap labor and lack of other viable export commodities would be ideal places to open mines, which would also help create jobs for them (and ones that actually help the planet).

> Globe-scale carbon sequestration would increase demand for olivine massively. Would mining operations be able to scale appropriately without prices going through the roof?

Prices wouldn't go through the roof, because the demand isn't there at higher prices. A significantly higher price would make other methods of sequestration attractive instead.

Hi Matz, this is super awesome. I'm looking for some resources to offset my carbon footprint to live carbon neutral. I was thinking about tree offsetting but I'd love to donate this to advanced weathering $20 per ton for offsetting is peanuts and I'd be more then happy to pay this. Do you have some info on the rate of sequestration of olivine? Are you also taking for account that you need to transport the olivine and crush it to increase the surface area?

Hi, thanks just working to apply the hard work of Schuiling and others. Glad to hear that the pricing makes sense to you as well. I love trees and suggest we plant as many of them as possible, but the problem with using them as a means of carbon sequestration is that you have to protect them for 50+ years from pests, fire etc.

If the trees were to burn, all of that carbon you worked so hard to sequester would be released, so it is not foolproof and decades of sequestration can be rolled back in hours. Whereas once the olivine grains are on the beach, it is going into the seafloor in a pretty much irreversible chemical reaction.

As for the rate of olivine weathering, it is the fastest of any major rock-forming silicate mineral and is further accelerated by the abrasions of rock, and by microbes. The rate of sequestration depends on the size of the particles, and how much is spread per each beach. Many of the calculations affirming the data have been measured from static piles of olivine tailings (pilings of rock that sit as "waste" in mines sites.) Those rates alone are impressive, but we are looking to utilize the beaches to further increase the rate of weathering to at least 20 microns per year. At that rate, a grain of olivine with a diameter of 100 microns will dissolve in around 5 years.

"Our experiments show that olivine grains when kept in motion weather fast because continuous mutual impacts remove reaction-inhibiting silica from the surface and tiny µm-size slivers are produced allowing a fast chemical reaction. The application of olivine and other (ultra)mafic minerals like serpentine in high-energy shallow marine environments can make a significant contribution in the fight against climate change. The counteracting effect on ocean acidification is immediate."

Here is the basic reaction:

Mg2SiO4 + 4 CO2 + 4 H2O −→ 2 Mg^2+ + 4HCO3^- + H4SiO4

CO2 is consumed, and Mg2+, Fe2+, H4SiO4 and HCO3^- are produced.

This paper has the best calculations and a lab experiment demonstrating the rate. https://climitigation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Rolling...

This one is good as well and discusses the tailing pilings and importance of microbes alone in possibly accelerating the rate up to 4,000x https://climitigation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Olivine...

> data to affirm the real world dissolution rate

Aside from the traditional engineering and commercial constraints of the idea, observations should focus on gathering data and modelling the complex ecological effects of the releases. They are the greatest factor of the plans success or failure so they should be a priority for prospective eco-engineering projects to observe, even where regulations and incentives may currently be limited.

Hi, yes the ecological considerations should be made carefully. Let's look at some examples though, if we were to offset 100% of the next 100 years of anthropogenic CO2 emissions with olivine, it would only change the Mg-concentration of the ocean from something like 1296 to 1296.8 ppm and the bicarbonate content from 42 to 45 ppm. These changes are considered within the normal range of ocean water.

Most of the ocean though is experiencing catastrophic increases in ph and need some sort of anti-acid, which is what is amazing about the reaction from olivine. It almost sounds too good to be true, but the resulting solution from the reaction is alkaline. Its addition to the water actually deacidifies the ocean in the local area.

Further, one of the breakdown products in the reaction is silicate, which is a limiting factor for diatoms. Diatoms are particularly hit hard by climate change and are important in the base of the food chain. Diatoms provide food for the entire ecosystem from fish and birds. Diatoms themselves may also actually be responsible for moving significant amounts of biomass to the deep ocean as they sink (further reducing CO2). They also compete with dinoflagellates, which are the cause of red tides and could be useful in stemming their increased occurrence by counterbalancing their rapidly increasing populations.

That said, you are right that the addition of olivine should be carefully considered, especially for specific areas. We know already to avoid areas that are adapted to acid conditions, such as peatlands, because increased alkalinity could accelerate the breakdown of peat and speedup methane release.

Excellent and interesting reply, to my rather reflexive comment on your phrase in isolation.

I am heartened by the existence of this technology and news that it is proceeding, even with the lack of political help and funding at this stage of need.

A popular theme at this time is how people just have too much total impact - yet humanity as a whole might have enough comprehension and agency, to not only reduce and survive the worst outcomes, but achieve a positive and stabilizing impact on this diverse and precious world.

Thanks and Good winds !

Do you know much CO2 we release to mine and move 1 tonne of olivine?

That's the question I was wondering. Paying a few hundred dollars to be carbon neutral seems good (at least if it's not just to a way to allow guilt-free consumption) but but:

- we need to be sure we are paying for the carbon we trap minus the one we released

- we need to be sure releasing that much olivine in the complex and living system that is the ocean is not going to have a terrible impact on it

- we need to be able to adjust according to profile. I use planes a lot and I buy bitcoins, yet I'm veggie and don't own a car. I'm probably not at the middle of the Gausse line but I don't have a clear picture of where I am.

See the post from cbkeller above. He/she said the mantle is mostly olivine and outcroppings at the surface exist.

This litterally answers none of my questions.

Good now via my response to your parent?

Thanks a lot for taking the time to give a detailed answer.

Kind I subscribe to some kind a newsletter about your project ?

Hi, please check if my response to the parent (and other responses in the thread) answer your questions.

As for your individual carbon profile, there are many calculators out there that can help you decide how much to offset. I am sure we will work in this area to help you determine your level, but for an intense calculation that you'll need to pull out your electricity bills of check the Resurgence one: https://www.resurgence.org/resources/carbon-calculator.html This one is good as well https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx For your crypto: http://www.cleancoins.io

Once that is added up you would be able to purchase your CO2 equivlanet output in olivine with this fomrula (CO2 output in tons)/1.25 (quantity of carbon sequestered per ton of olivine)

Our plan is to fund the fixed costs of the beach and operations through larger scale donations and sponsorships so that 100% of your money goes directly to tons of olivine on the beach and not administrative BS.

Net carbon sequestration:

The CO2 expenditure of the whole operation, including mining, milling, and transport, has been calculated to be about 4% of the amount of CO2 that is captured by the olivine.

Environmental concerns:

"The ecological considerations should be made carefully. Let's look at some examples though, if we were to offset 100% of the next 100 years of anthropogenic CO2 emissions with olivine, it would only change the Mg-concentration of the ocean from something like 1296 to 1296.8 ppm and the bicarbonate content from 42 to 45 ppm. These changes are considered within the normal range of ocean water. Most of the ocean though is experiencing catastrophic increases in ph and need some sort of anti-acid, which is what is amazing about the reaction from olivine. It almost sounds too good to be true, but the resulting solution from the reaction is alkaline. Its addition to the water actually deacidifies the ocean in the local area.

Further, one of the breakdown products in the reaction is silicate, which is a limiting factor for diatoms. Diatoms are particularly hit hard by climate change and are important in the base of the food chain. Diatoms provide food for the entire ecosystem from fish and birds. Diatoms themselves may also actually be responsible for moving significant amounts of biomass to the deep ocean as they sink (further reducing CO2). They also compete with dinoflagellates, which are the cause of red tides and could be useful in stemming their increased occurrence by counterbalancing their rapidly increasing populations.

That said, you are right that the addition of olivine should be carefully considered, especially for specific areas. We know already to avoid areas that are adapted to acid conditions, such as peatlands, because increased alkalinity could accelerate the breakdown of peat and speedup methane release.

Hi, the CO2 expenditure of the whole operation, including mining, milling, and transport, has been calculated to be about 4% of the amount of CO2 that is captured by the olivine.

We are not planning to do any new mining for the first allotments of olivine, as there are literally "tons" of piles of olivine-rich rock sitting as "tailings" on the property of old mines.

This already excavated rock was mined in the pursuit of the mineral deposits below it and are considered "waste" by these mines. Kind of like buying a used car instead of having a new one created, that rock's CO2 is already accounted for. So, in this case, we do not have to mine it, only transport (ideally in an efficient manner like a train) and then mill it and spread it on the beach.

Check this paper for more details on the calculations: https://climitigation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Olivine...


1. What can the average person do to help you with your mission? 2. Where is the kickstarter? 3. Do you have someone working on marketing already? 4. Is there a way to volunteer without being physically present? Marketing, design, just brainstorming etc... I realize you have a "contact us" button on your website, but could you list more specifically what you are after? 5. Where can we keep track of what you are doing now and what the next step is? 6. What is standing in your way now to get your test project going. Specifically referring to "wiggle tank" and first olivine by 2019. 7. Have you factored in all of the economics of this? Extraction, delivery, dispersion?

Thank you.

Nuclear Diamonds[0], sounds cool. Pretty sure this will the most viable as the 1% will surely want to get their hands on this because of Conspicuous consumption [1].

[0] https://climitigation.org/nuclear-diamonds/

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conspicuous_consumption

> The chemistry, however, is sound that each 1 ton of olivine will sequester 1.25 tons of carbon.

But what's the total CO2 cost of the olivine (extraction, processing and transport to the sea) ?

The CO2 expenditure of the whole operation, including mining, milling, and transport, has been calculated to be about 4% of the amount of CO2 that is captured by the olivine. The financial cost of mining, milling, and transporting rock is about $7/ton.

We are not planning to do any new mining for the first allotments of olivine though, as there are literally "tons" of piles of olivine-rich rock sitting as "tailings" on the property of old mines.

This already excavated rock was mined in the pursuit of the mineral deposits below it and are considered "waste" by these mines. Kind of like buying a used car instead of having a new one created, that rock's CO2 is already accounted for. So, in this case, we do not have to mine it, only transport (ideally in an efficient manner like a train) and then mill it and spread it on the beach.

Surely there is already a lot of Olivine on the ocean floor?

How does adding it to the ocean differ from the stuff on the ocean floor?

How elastic is the price of that olivine?

I wish their website had a form so I can give my email to get an update on their mission.

That's awesome! Olivine as a mineral actually looks very nice, I would totally buy a piece of Olivine jewellery for my SO. Especially if it saves the planet (and my SO would love it even more thanks to that).

So when can I buy it and/or register my interest?

how do you control carbon emmssions of those who produce olivine ?

it's hard for me to stay stoic in explaining what I see in this proposal, I wish so hard this were a real solution, but I fail to see more than A) a white wash, B) lip service to environmentalists or C) a way to circumvent current or future carbon emission taxes (unclear to me if dumping emissions as carbonates in the ocean is currently considered emissions or not according to carbon credit legalese)

First a thought experiment: consider 2 identical hermetically sealed containers (representing gravitationally sealed atmosphere), each containing an open bottle of water (representing oceans).

In container 1 we introduce CO2 in the container, some of which will be absorbed by the water both in dissolved gaseous form and in carbonate form.

In container 2 we introduce the same amount of CO2 by adding carbonate into the closed bottle and then open the bottle.

After letting both containers seperately settle, they will both have the same equilibrium end state, where the same fraction of CO2 is in the container's air, as dissolved gas in the bottle's water and also in the form of carbonate in the bottle's water.

H2O (liquid) + CO2 (gas) <=> H2CO3(solution)

I don't contest the chemical facts that these rocks can form carbonates by reacting with CO2.

I contest the idea that a new sink is identified. The sink is the same sink that has been known for a long time: the oceans, which are currently absorbing a large part of the emissions.

So how is this any different? It's just emissions foisted off as capture?!?

Do the investors know this? Who are the investors? I assume some of the investors are perfectly aware and simply big CO2 emitters trying to externalize any taxation back on the public by reclaiming money, and the other investors genuinely intend well but were simply tricked into supporting this scheme...

What they are discussing is simply an acceleration of a natural process: the carbonate-silicate cycle[1]. Silicate rocks are transformed into carbonate rocks through weathering. This captures CO2 from the atmosphere.

When carbonate rocks are transformed back into silicates through metamorphosis or magmatism the CO2 is released back into the atmosphere.

This definitely has the potentially for the long-term capture of CO2. For example in about 600 million years increased solar output will disrupt the carbonate-silicate cycle, resulting in the increased weathering of rocks and the capture of enough CO2 that C3 plants, which make up 99% of existing plant species, will no longer be able to live on earth. [2]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbonate%E2%80%93silicate_cyc... [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_far_future

The Carbonate Silicate cycle you linked also states:

>These dissolved minerals are eventually carried by water to the ocean, where they are used by living organisms such as foraminifera, radiolarians, coccolithopores, and diatoms to create shells of CaCO3 (calcite) or SiO2 (opal) through the reactions Ca2+ (aq) + 2HCO3− (aq) → CaCO3(s) + CO2(g) + H2O(l) (for calcite precipitation) and SiO2(aq) → SiO2(s) (for opal precipitation).

Observe how half of the carbon is transformed back into CO2, and of the remaining half most will simply return carbonate after death and it's just a small portion of the latter half that falls to the sea floor to end up buried...

As btilly has mentioned a few times, ocean acidification is a major problem because atmospheric CO2 has risen so quickly. It takes a few thousand years for the atmosphere, the upper portion of the ocean, and the deep ocean to reach equilibrium. There is an especially elevated CO2 concentration and corresponding lowered pH in the upper layers because there hasn't been time to reach equilibrium with the larger volumes of water in the deep ocean. These upper layers of the ocean, sadly, are also where the vast majority of ocean life and photosynthetic activity exist.

Adding alkalinity to the oceans via accelerated silicate weathering can protect sea life against acidification. More alkalinity in the ocean also increases its absorption capacity for CO2, which reduces warming feedback effects caused by radiative forcing from CO2 in the atmosphere. The ocean contains ~60x as much inorganic carbon as the pre-industrial atmosphere; to draw down the content of the present atmosphere to pre-industrial levels, it would require increasing the dissolved inorganic carbon content of the oceans by less than 1%. Converting some of it to solid carbonate minerals is a nice-to-have but not especially critical, because average residence time of dissolved inorganic carbon is about 200,000 years, which will take us well beyond the age of fossil fuels.


I am really grateful for the text you mentioned, but it did not change my opinion on this technology as a carbon removal technology, it only confirmed what I understood. However, it is very well written and I will probably reference others to it whenever I can. The only minor mistake I could detect was a "boron" when clearly carbon was intended. If you have a similar quality text detailing the relevant parameters of adding carbonated rocks to counter the acidification I would be interested.

I was discussing the claimed carbon removal aspect, so I now disregard the acidification aspect...

In my analogy I stand corrected and should have stated that the bottle of water represented the surface seawater, since there is no free fast oceanic mixer. The surface water is equilibrating much faster with atmosphere than the whole water column of the ocean.

You defend the technology by mentioning that the average residence time is about 200.000 years, but that is for all inorganic carbon across the whole depth of the ocean, not just the surface layer! As you say there is not enough mixing, so dissolved inorganic carbon in surface seawater has a much shorter residence time. The long residence time is dominated by the slow movement of deep sea water...

So unless the proposal is augmented with either a huge oceanic mixer, or with dumping the carbonate over the mariana trench (if it dissolves there, it will take a long time before it reaches atmosphere again), lacking these augmentations we are dissolving carbonates in surface seawater, and the carbonate ions can equilibrate back to CO2 so it really is just emissions foisted of as capture...

If it stays in the solid say calcite CaCO3 state as opposed to being dissolved, then it does not affect the alkalinity of the surface water...

The pH shift from adding more alkalinity via silicate weathering shifts the equilibrium to favor more CO2 dissolved as carbonate in the oceans. That is why I do not worry about captured CO2 going back to the atmosphere in less than geological time: the shifted chemical equilibrium will favor more dissolved carbonate.

As a small scale example, consider a beaker of distilled water freely exposed to the atmosphere. It dissolves a small amount of CO2 and becomes slightly acidic from carbonic acid. Now add sodium hydroxide -- it becomes strongly alkaline. Wait again and the pH falls again (though not to its original level), due to dissolving more carbon dioxide, which is deprotonated to form carbonate anions. You can keep adding hydroxide and absorbing more atmospheric CO2 for quite some time, until solubility limits come into play. Even though it is just a solution at equilibrium with the atmosphere, and not a precipitated solid, the sodium carbonate solution will not spontaneously separate back to sodium hydroxide solution in the beaker and CO2 in the surrounding atmosphere. It takes thermodynamic work to reverse the carbonate-heavy equilibrium.

Sure but in your example you are adding sodiumhydroxide.

I agree that after adding say CaCO3 to distilled water containing inorganic carbon (CO2, carbonate ions, ...) the carbon content will have increased after equilibrating with the atmosphere, but not with the claim that the eventual carbon content of the water will be the sum of the original carbon content plus added CaCO3 carbon content... some undisclosed part of the added carbon content will be released as CO2 to atmosphere...

The pH will change only very slightly if you add CaCO3 to distilled water, because CaCO3 is very poorly soluble. I also agree that adding CaCO3 to seawater would not sequester carbon dioxide. But releasing basic metal cations via weathering silicates like olivine will sequester carbon dioxide. The difference is that the starting olivine does not contain carbonate, whereas in your example there is already carbonate in the starting CaCO3.


A) H2O + CO2 <=> H2CO3

Equilibrium favors left hand side, but water exposed to atmosphere becomes slightly acidic from right hand side.

B) Mg2SiO4 + 2 H2CO3 => 2 MgCO3 + SiO2 + 2H2O

Equilibrium strongly favors the right hand side. But the reaction is strongly kinetically hindered with naturally occurring large lumps of rock. This is why it will take a very long time for natural silicate weathering processes to absorb the extra CO2 that humans have recently added to the atmosphere.

C) CaCO3 + H2CO3 <=> 2 CaHCO3

Equilibrium favors left hand side, but limestone can be solubilized from right hand side reaction at a low rate (or faster in presence of high CO2/water concentration).

Note that the metal in the silicate of the left hand side of B can be various alkali and alkaline earth metals, but magnesium dominates in olivine.

EDIT: "CO2 Mineral Sequestration Studies in US" by Golberg et al appears to be the best reference to the thermodynamic and kinetic aspects of magnesium silicate weathering that I can easily find outside of a paywall.


This paper is focusing on a different way to accelerate weathering: apply wet, concentrated, hot CO2 to crushed silicates. The olivine-crushing proposal discussed here on HN takes a different approach to accelerated weathering: crush and disperse larger quantities of silicates, but do not try to heat or pre-concentrate the CO2. Just let the ambient conditions of the atmosphere and oceans work on crushed rock (this is still far faster than natural weathering).

The key takeaway from this paper is on pages 3 and 4: magnesium silicate carbonation is exothermic (thermodynamically favored). Once magnesium silicate reacts with CO2, it would take more energy to undo the reaction and put that CO2 back in the atmosphere.

Following back on your comments from the Mars colony thread...

Olivine weathering is so energetically favorable from that paper that, if you put enough of it into a sphere, and feed it enough pure CO2, it's actually a usable thermal energy source.

You can "burn" it like coal, except that it "burns" CO2 instead of oxygen.

To relate back to Mars, you can probably do similarly absurd things with the perchlorates in the soil there. You can "burn" perchlorates in a reducing atmosphere of e.g. methane from the sabatier process, and end up with salt and an explosion.

You can "burn" it like coal, except that it "burns" CO2 instead of oxygen.

That is a bit optimistic :-)

The potential energy per gram of mass is much lower than for coal burning in Earth's atmosphere -- worse, the kinetics are so sluggish that you would need a very large vessel with good insulation to build up a useful temperature differential.

You'd also need to concentrate perchlorates from the Martian soil before they would sustain combustion with methane. Assuming that was done, though, perchlorates plus hydrocarbons will combust with vigor.

I think the analysis I saw was that it's energetic enough that the entire mining + grinding + "burning" process is energetically favorable. Which I found pretty astounding, but I think that points more to the incredible efficiency of mining and industrial processes than anything.

I think that was also at elevated temperature in a carbonic acid solution, so basically the fastest possible "weathering".

Do you know where I can find reaction rate constants? I tried the NIST reaction kinetics database, but H2O + CO2 -> H2CO3 is not even listed... I have implemented chemical reaction simulations before (gillespie and normal differential equations), the hard part is not the theory of simulating reactions but knowing how to determine the needed reaction rates for small inorganic reactions...

I read the paper you referenced, but it does not really add much? The key takeaway you refer to is probably the exothermic reaction enthalpy... we were discussing equilibria before this, so while a profound one, it is still a plattitude to point just at the exothermic nature as if at equilibrium all matter will be in the lowest energy state. It's still ~300K out there...

Somewhat less of a plattitude is to look at such a reaction and pretend we have a 2 level system (i.e. no other reactions occuring, no substep reactions). Let's take reaction number 2 on page 4 you mention:

1 / 3 Mg3Si2O5(OH)4 + CO2 → MgCO3 + 2 / 3 SiO2 + 2 / 3 H2O + 64 kJ/mole.

So lets call the energy of the "excited" LHS(left-hand-side)-state E1 and the RHS-state E0 the ground state.

Now to make a physical calculation we need integral numbers of molecules so I multiply both sides with 3:

Mg3Si2O5(OH)4 + 3CO2 → 3MgCO3 + 2SiO2 + 2H2O + 192 kJ/mole.

(The enthalphy per mole of reactions tripled because a single new reaction now converts 3 times the reagents as the original reaction)

So the LHS is 192kJ / N_avogadro higher in energy than the RHS for the specified number of molecules.

So for a simple 2 level System the partition function is Z = exp(-beta E_lhs)+exp(-beta E_rhs), from here on I will write B for beta...

The probability of finding the molecules in the LHS-state is P(LHS)=exp(-B E_lhs) / Z and similar for RHS...

The ratio LHS:RHS at equilibrium is P(LHS)/P(RHS) = exp(-B E_lhs) / exp(-B E_rhs) = exp(-B DeltaE) = exp(-B 192kJ / N_a)

= exp(-192kJ / mole / (N_a k_B T))

since B = 1 / ( k_B T ),

= exp(-192kJ / mole / (R T))

since ideal gas constat R = N_a * k_B = 8.314 J / mole / K

= exp(-192kJ / mole / (8.314 J / mole / K * 300K) )

= 3.7E-34

So the right hand side does indeed look very much preferred

But this calculation assumes not dissolving in water.

This paper does not propose dissolving the resulting mineral carbonate in water, they propose burying it in the same mine the igneous rock was found!

I am still worried that simply dissolving it in surface water of the oceans means the CO2 can be released, or at the very least the CO2 in one of the dissolved species CO2, HCO3- or CO3(2-) are too bio-available... this may sound good, but if it is captured back into the biosphere it will be exhaled again by the organism (or its predator) pretty soon... grass clippings can be considered carbon sequestration, until you feed it to the organisms in your composting heap!

I would love to see numerical simulations of the chemical reactions, it would help sway those of us who understand how to simulate a set of reactions but have insufficient domain knowledge to know which reactions should be kept in mind.

The different competing entities that wish to get sponsored for such activities have a common interest to produce such a model or at least a list of relevant chemical reactions in the ocean and their kinetic rate constants. They could pool their resources to build this model.

I see that I could have skipped some of my previous explaining :-)

If you are interested in modeling rate constants and mechanisms, the most interesting work I have come across is the Reaction Mechanism Generator developed at MIT and Northeastern University:





As you may be aware, determining rate constants from calculations is quite difficult even for gas-phase reactions. It's much harder for condensed-phase reactions. I do not have any hope of applying these techniques to olivine weathering at present. There have been quite a few small scale laboratory experiments on olivine weathering. There will be more factors at work in a real near-shore environment: abrasion by sand and wave action, biological activity, varying temperatures depending on the locale. I think that questions of rates need to be answered by field trials now; theory is inadequate and small lab experiments have already been done. But I still contend that this is not "simply dissolving" CO2 in ocean surface waters -- it is an acid-base reaction, with magnesium providing alkalinity.

Why would the CaCO3 return to carbonate after death ? In the past skeletons of diatoms dropped down to the ocean floors in huge layers which are now limestone rock.

You are certainly correct that there is limestone rock and that it derives from skeletons of diatoms etc..

Consider this (caricaturized) argument: suppose most artificial mummies are mummified humans, that does not mean most humans end up mummified!

please check out the sibling comment by philipkglass, the referenced text has a section on calcite compensation, and the previous section detailing the saturation horizon. At high enough pressure calcite prefers being dissolved again.

Consider a calcite diatom cap, close to the beach, since it is above the saturation horizon, it won't dissolve soon, now consider a diatom dropping dead over the mariana trench, so the calcite starts sinking, until it passes the saturation horizon, now the pressure is clearly high enough to prefer being dissolved...

That makes sense, thanks

As fairly experienced aquarium hobbyist I'm a bit worried about the side-effects of this approach. If you add amounts of olivine that are sufficient to create a globally significant effect on CO2 how do you avoid altering the local environment parameters too quickly? Marine animals are not as adapted to quickly changing environment like freshwater or terrestrial animals, and sudden swings in CO2, pH and hardness (which are all interconnected) could just wipe out the whole local ecosystems. Cyanobacteria and algae blooms are just the tip of the iceberg here. This is something that needs to be implemented really carefully and step by step to avoid causing even worse catastrophe.

That's a reasonable concern; I'd expect anyone doing this large-scale would first investigate local environmental impact.

Presumably one could add olivine in areas of the ocean that are far from coastlines, and spread it around in a wide area so local effects are less extreme. I don't know if dumping it in the deep ocean where there's less life to disrupt is viable, but if so maybe that would mitigate negative impact.

>> I understand the qualms of environmentalists

As one of those environmentalists, my qualm isn't so much that this may be dangerous but that carbon capture tech (and associated "carbon capture and storage") is often championed by people looking to delay implementation of technology and laws that limit carbon emissions. It is far more energy-efficient to curtail carbon emissions than try to capture it once emitted. The most efficient use of money is to do things like close coal power plants in favor of solar/wind. Once all the coal plants are gone, then is the time to focus on capture.

We're going to need carbon removal tech AND a decrease in emissions. From year 1750 to 2007, we've added around 820 000 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. We've already got way too much CO2 in the air, and we're still adding around 35 Gt per year extra.

We need to find ways of getting this carbon out of the air.

Best would be if we could create actual products out of it, such as aggregates using advanced weathering like Blue Planet ( http://www.blueplanet-ltd.com/ ) or creating carbon based building materials like stones, insulation or others. If we combine this with bio-energy we might find systems that are already profitable without carbon credits.

I'll take it a step further and say I don't think sequestration will work if economically productive materials or systems can't be made out of the resulting carbon. Humanity is too shortsighted to fix it without gain. It's worth investing not only in the technologies that can halt climate change, but also the technologies that will enable us to survive as we endure increasingly volatile climate change.

I don't see any reason not to focus on reduction AND capture now – in fact, I think it would be irresponsible not to. The atmosphere is a reservoir that's already holding way too much carbon; let's reduce what we're putting in AND increase what we're taking out – NOW, at the same time.

Why not both? Scientists have said we're already screwed if we can't capture CO2 so it needs to be done at some point.

How about investing in lobbying? If $10B were sent to politicians, perhaps they’d implement a carbon tax?

The future of the world is presently in the hands of pasty white men on Capitol Hill. Why not sequester their carbon (hot air) first?

Washington State is voting this week on a carbon tax. That future is now, should voters choose it.

How this is not on top of HN for the past month?

It's not the first time I see a comment like "actually, a $critical-legislation is under vote this/next week somewhere". It feels that the important cases lack marketing.

Politics are generally decremented on the front page. It's not just N, but rather HN, after all.

It is news, though. It is the second time that a carbon tax has been on the Washington ballot. It may pass this time around.

It may, but the last one lost by a pretty decisive margin. I have received a half dozen large glossy mailers funded by oil companies urging me to vote no on 1631, and have seen zero mail advertising for "yes." Which gets back to the fact that there's little lobbying/advertising money for curbing emissions and a lot of money spent against curbing emissions.

Agreed. I think the highest leverage at this point is actually in political realms, when it comes to climate change.

It's just infuriating that a $100/ton tax could fix the problem in a perfectly reasonable manner and government has their head in the sand.

I thought the recent UN report was saying that we'd need more like a $5,000/ton tax at this late stage.

Here's a right wing source: https://www.heritage.org/energy-economics/commentary/un-clim...

> To accomplish such a feat, the new IPCC report proposes an energy tax of epic proportions. It claims that, to keep warming in check, by 2030 we’ll need to impose a tax of between $135 and $5,500 on every ton of carbon emitted. And that’s just for starters. By the end of the century, the authors say, we’ll have to jack the tax up to as much as $27,000 per ton.

The denialists have stalled for so long that it's too late for anything except drastic emergency actions, and then they complain that the drastic actions are too extreme. Personally, I think we're doomed but we owe it to future generations to at least try.

Those numbers are definitely inflated, even at current stage Direct Air Capture Technology is already at well below 1000 Dollar per metric tonne with an outlook to end up below 100 Dollar per tonne in ~20 years. [0] Not saying that DAC is the ideal approach but I find those numbers you mentioned to be very inplausible.

[0] https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/06/cost-plunges-capturi...

Carbon Engineering already captures CO2 for $100/tonne. They published a paper on it https://www.cell.com/joule/fulltext/S2542-4351(18)30225-3


“Individual DAC plants can be placed in any country and in multiple climates, and can be built to capture one million tons of CO2 per year. At this large scale, our technology will be able to achieve costs of $100-150 USD per ton of CO₂ captured, purified, and compressed to 150 bar.”

I should add: BC’s carbon tax will reach $50/t by 2021, which is half way to viability for Carbon Engineering.

I think the idea is that the tax would dis-incentivize emissions, so the cost of capture is irrelevant.

Capture technology becomes automatically profitable if the cost to capture is less than the tax. If my business pays $100/t to emit carbon vs $90/t to capture it, I’ll emit and capture and make a $10/t profit.

At $100/t, capture technology would become widespread very very quickly as an arbitrage against the carbon tax. And yes, some emitters might find a more profitable way via reduction in emissions, but since capture is equivalent to reduction, the most profitable option will win out every time.

This is the magic of carbon taxes.

Lol, from this morning's news:


Some of the future is in the hand on "hands of pasty white men on Capitol Hill". Other parts of the future are in the hands of more enlightened leaders.

Eh, don't worry. This is partly in response to some of the pasty white men in provincial parliaments at present. (Looking at you, Ontario and Manitoba). Thank god the PM & Fed is trying to get on top of it.

In fact Trudeau will win re-election this way. The carbon tax will be combined with a massive taxpayer credit. People will experience a modest increase in gas prices, but receive a cheque from “Government of Canada” for hundreds of dollars at just the right time in the election cycle. It’s a shrewd, shrewd move.

Doesn't that further a bidding war where the chief winners are sell-out politicians?

Reminder to be civil during dialogue.

I thought that the biggest problem with the "seeding the ocean with iron" method of sequestration was not the "qualms of environmentalists" but that it turned out to sequester a lot less carbon than initially thought?

Its sequestration efficacy is not well-established yet. I think that more experiments should be run to better quantify the effects. Some environmentalists oppose even additional research-scale trials. Some proponents of iron fertilization have internalized "some environmentalists oppose this, and efficacy still has large error bars" as "it probably works great but technophobic environmentalists want us to suffer deprivation instead."

More than that, articles like https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fertilizing-ocean... indicate that the sequestration efficacy varies widely based on a variety of parameters that we do not yet know enough to control. In particular the type of diatom that blooms matters. A lot. And it isn't obvious how to get the one that you want.

Furthermore there is a question of what happens when deep ocean currents turn over the ocean. Does that CO2 come back out? We don't know. And that is the difference between solving the problem versus kicking it down the road for a few centuries.

But still environmentalists have moved to get all research into the topic shut down. Which I think is shortsighted at best. We have a big enough problem and few enough plausible options that I don't believe we should shut this one down.

From the appearances, it has a lot of potential. Iron is extremely plentiful and has a very large impact on the small systems it was tried.

It is possible that inefficiencies take such a toil that it stops being viable, but it's not the opposition that make people think it can have a large impact.

There are reasons to think it may be effective. But I try to live by "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool." I want additional experiments to make findings robust. In particular, even if small fertilization inputs reliably lead to large biomass increases, we need to know how much of that added biomass sinks to the deep ocean before we know how effective it is at sequestration. That can mean trying to track carbon movement over complicated food webs.

Last I ran the numbers for that chapter, I determined that there simply isn’t enough ocean surface area to achieve the carbon absorption necessary, even if we used every underfertilized patch of seawater on the planet.

It was close, but it still came up short.

Do note that "not enough by itself" doesn't preclude "important part of the puzzle for how to do it".

I've lost track of the literature since the early 1990's, but from what I recall of the early IRONEX experiments the problem was that net sequestration was disappointing: despite significant increases in fixation, much of this new carbon is remineralized by heterotrophs prior to burial. However, I don't know what some of the more recent data have shown—

> nobody wants to accept a bad outcome, but in this case I think it is better than the alternative.

I don't like this reasoning because when it comes to environmental effects we've always had individual firm expectations but we haven't known, we didn't know and we still don't know.

But I do believe the growing crisis demands urgent research and gradual early implementation of a range of projects like ocean seeding, and others which may be opposed by a most skeptical portion of the environmental movement. But when there are doubts about the details of potentially massive eco-engineering projects, please dont write them up as 'qualms of environmentalists' The movement has broadcast for decades the crisis we face today, helped in many situations and hindered very few - it was never truly characterized by sentimentality.

Large-scale geoengineering has the potential for unexpected consequences that could seriously damage the environment. This applies to olivine mining and desert flooding.

Personally, I think a good compromise lies in resorting to algal blooms in a controlled setting.

Algal blooms have another advantage: there is already hypertrophication around farming regions where water bodies are polluted with fertilizers.

So the ideia is to build artificial reservoirs as buffers for algal blooms that not only pollute the water, jam irrigation systems and decrease biodiversity, but also as a means for carbon fixation. The algae would then have to be harvested, processed and buried. A fraction of it could be used to produce biofuels, thus reducing the need for fossil fuels, and for fertilization, which would reduce the usage of artificial, carbon-releasing fertilizers.

My only doubt is whether the scalability is interesting enough.

Unfortunately ocean fertilization efforts are limited by phosphorus. And even in simulations where the entire phosphorus content of the ocean was "magically" replenished every year for the max amount of biomass possible it only slightly delayed air CO2 levels by about a decade and didn't significantly impact ocean CO2 levels.

I mean, do we know that local toxic algae blooms are the only effect this will have?

This to me smells like it could have potential unforeseen consequences like the Deepwater Horizon cleanup.

The point is perhaps that we know we're driving off a cliff. Is this going to slow us down or not? If you look at the proposals, what does setting up half the land mass of the Sahara as algae lagoons do? How does that affect local weather patterns, wildlife, Etc.

The argument that the action may be dangerous is not as compelling when the prognosis for inaction is bleak.

But that's missing the point. You're saying that we have to then sell these two messages - one of which is being supported by actors that are not acting in good faith.

Message 1: yes, this could have unpredictable and devastating consequences in new and exciting ways, and you are directly responsible for it.

Message 2: (current message) we shouldn't do that and you're already doing enough because you have a more fuel efficient truck than you had in the 90's, and you use LED lights.

For most people, that's what's in the back of their head, I would argue. (note that I'm not agreeing with either).

How do you sell that?

Fair enough, it wouldn't be the first time I missed the point. But lets talk about how we talk about it (which is kind of meta but hopefully it will help)

The message in that CFS was pretty clear to me, it was "We aren't doing enough, and not doing anything will doom us to yet another mass extinction event." (they aren't as explicit as that but nearly all of the literature on "Phase 3" of this stuff has nearly everything dying off.

So the first thing to check is this, is that the message you heard in the linked CFS? Or did you hear a different message than what I heard?

Assuming you heard the same message, we can talk about the next place in the conversation where things may go off the rails, a comment of the form "We already know how enhance algae blooms by fertilizing the ocean." Which related to previous work on dumping ferrous material into the ocean to create an algae bloom that would capture carbon and sequester it.

And the response to that comment, the message I heard/read was (paraphrased) "How do we know what that will do in the long term? We should not make such a move without knowing the consequences of making it."

In my reading, that has been a common response to large consequential ideas such as the fertilize the ocean. So is that something you've heard as well or is the first you have heard it?

So the messages in that exchange that I've heard are

1) We understand the mechanism of phytoplankton blooms and we know how to create them, we should try that.

2) We should not try that because we don't know if creating such a bloom would generate a net positive result, and we don't know what intermediate results it might generate as well.

I combine the RFS message of "We're doomed, none of the current things people are doing to ameliorate CO2 gain in the atmosphere are working." with "We shouldn't try things if we can't predict the outcome." and come up with, "Inaction is worse than not fully understood action if inaction is leading to destruction of the world."

Now I often lose the climate deniers on that last bit. In their belief system as I understand it, it is not something we are doing that affects climate so there is no compelling call for action on human's part.

So, what part of the point did I miss?

As for "selling it" I am not sure who is being sold here.

In my response, I was making the argument against inaction, against the environmental argument of 'do no harm.' I recognize that doctor's admit that you have to poison your patient (which does great harm) using chemotherapy when they are suffering from cancer because the alternative is just watching them die. What the doctor knows is that once the risk of cancer is gone the normal processes of the body will recover the patient to a better state of health. The argument for iron fertilization is similar, which is that while it may do short term damage, by pulling the CO2 out of the air the Earth will be in a better place after its own restoration mechanisms have undone the damage.

Sadly, unlike cancer patients we can't do clinical trials on planets, we've just got the one.

I think your parent wasn't complaining so much that your reasoning is wrong or argument is weak, but instead that many people hear the denialist messages and think that the problem is not urgent or that they're already doing reasonable things. The "missing the point", as I read it, is that you weren't proposing a strategy or argument to counter that denialist message.

In my mind, there are two responses to this: (a) regardless of the current state of public opinion, it's worth developing technologies that give us options, and (b) making the media environment healthier and more honest would be a big win, and strategies to make that happen are far more valuable but probably much harder to implement.

There is not only one kind of "action" available to take.

> wipe out all shellfish species worldwide

Look you raise good points but this is nonsense. The Earth has had far higher CO2 concentrations for geological periods and there’s no fossil record suggesting shellfish all died. This kind of Trumpian rhetoric just hands ammo to the skeptics.

It only seems like nonsense because you're missing an important piece of the science.

Acidification is not caused by how much CO2 there is in the water. It is caused by a rapid increase in CO2 levels. We are dumping CO2 in very quickly, and so are acidifying the water.

But given time, oceans will mix down the to bottom. At the bottom it will encounter very large stores of calcium carbonate. As that dissolves, it renders the water no longer acidic. As that mixes back to the top the rest of the ocean becomes less acidic. This mixing process is estimated to take on the order of 1000 years. Therefore the long term the oceans can handle all of the CO2 we're dumping into them and much more. Increasing the long-term average CO2 of the atmosphere will not make the oceans acidic.

The problem is that this mixing process is too slow to help shellfish living near the surface today. Sure, the ocean winds up at a good ph. But it will be acidic for several centuries. And that is unprecedented. In fact there is no record of any event since the Permian-Triassic extinction over 200 million years ago that featured such rapid acidification as the oceans face today. And perhaps not even that one. We estimate that several times as much CO2 was dumped into the atmosphere as what we're releasing now, but it probably was not dumped in such a short time period. And that event wiped out an estimated 90% of all marine species.

To piggyback onto this comment, it really is a matter of rates, of chemical kinetics. The current increase in CO2 from fossil fuel burning and related human activities has occurred at a rate that is geologically instantaneous. There is no real precedent for this. CO2 has indeed been higher in the geologic past (e.g., Cretaceous maximum, early Paleozoic prior to vascular plant systems), but these increases are likely tied to very leisurely evolving cycles of plate tectonics and enhanced volcanic CO2 fluxes. Higher pCO2 during these periods produced warmer, wetter climates that drive enhanced rates of silicate weathering. The result? High pCO2, somewhat lower pH, yes, but also higher carbonate alkalinity in seawater as well, which gave rise to higher, not lower, saturation states for marine carbonate minerals, and are associated with higher rates of biomineralization (e.g. Steven Stanley's periods of 'hypercalcification'). So it's really a matter of the balance of rates. "Natural" rates of C oxidation via the slow uplift of buried organic carbon are far slower than what we have produced via fossil fuel burning of coal, hydrocarbons. In this process, silicate weathering acts as an essential thermostat through the feedback to chemical weathering of crustal silicates. This has been understood for quite awhile.

Right, the ones that exist today should be evolved for today’s environment.

Higher acid levels should mean most of the average stock will die, and the mutants which survive will eventually adapt.

Think of the George Carlin skit - the planet will be fine, just we humans and everything we know will be gone.

See my sibling answer next to yours for an explanation of why the oceans were not then acidic despite the higher atmospheric CO2 levels. If you wait a few thousand years, ours won't be either. But shellfish who depend on their calcium bicarbonate shells not dissolving can't afford to wait a few thousand years while bathed in a mild acid...

I agree with your main point, but I'm pretty sure that evolution and adaptation work for humans too and there are an awful lot of human beings.

None of this is to discount the potentially severe (unknown, scary) risks, but I don't think human extinction is really in play due to a warming climate. The most serious risk I'm aware of is that high CO2 content in the atmosphere will interfere with human respiration. Evolution will handle this, just like it handled human beings living in the Himalayas.

How is this not fear-mongering? Most people will be fine with a 5deg C global increase.

Maybe people, yes, in the short term. But everything that people depend on.... not so much. I mean, yeah we'd live but you an kiss coral reefs goodbye, glaciers, etc... It would be a rather shitty place to live.

Why though? Honestly, do you and 99% of the global population depend on glaciers and coral reefs?

What about doing it in landlocked major bodies of water? I'd sacrifice the Great Lakes for the climate.

You would sacrifice the largest source of freshwater on earth for the climate?

EDIT: The Great Lakes are not land-locked either. They flow out to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence River.

Isn't Baikal much larger?

It depends on how you measure. By surface area, no. By volume, yes.

Those are the largest [above ground] freshwater bodies on the planet. That is not a good idea.

We're going to need them.

Millions of people depend on the Great Lakes for their supply of fresh water. Water scarcity is already a problem, that would make it worse.

We already have carbon removal technology. They’re called trees.

[Edit] I’m not being facetious. 40% of emissions are as a result of poor land management. We’ll need all the technological help we can get, but if we can’t manage land as carbon stores - not sources, we’re not going to win this race.

This is Gustaf from YC. I wrote the first Carbon Removal RFS.

Planting tree is actually a great carbon removal technology. Unfortunately most forest owners in the world don't know or don't have incentive to care the about the carbon impact the forest have on the climate. Biggest reason forests are taken down is to grow cattle for beef. If you are working on a startup to reverse this we'd like to fund it too

Grassland, if properly managed, can sequester more carbon than a forest. This is related to the (unintuitive) fact that grasses are more efficient producers of organic matter than trees.

Joel Salatin has done some great work related to this and collected decades worth of data.

So the irony is that we could grow more beef and pull carbon out of the air at the same time, only if we cared. But we don't, it's easier to slash and burn then to also take the environment into consideration...

> So the irony is that we could grow more beef and pull carbon out of the air at the same time, only if we cared.

I want this desperately to be true as someone who loves meat but everything I've read tells me it's not. There is definitely a nice symbiotic relationship that exists between cows grazing and grasslands but it is significantly more expensive to raise animals this way, and you can raise significantly fewer of them per sq ft.

The main issue with cows is methane, not carbon (edit: carbon dioxide*), anyway.

Salatin’s mob grazing creates soil.

It is cheaper to raise them this way because you don’t need to buy corn feed.

The cows digest grass well. They do not digest corn well, which means corn fed cows produce methane and get sick, and don’t build the soil (sequestering carbon).

Definitely worth watching some YouTube videos and reading about it, it’s pretty fun and interesting.

The problem with mob grazing (and really any kind of similar system) is that you cannot support nearly as many animals per sq ft. in comparison to more industrialized farming.

Salatin's solution is to shift a major portion of the work force/economy into making sustainable food. It sounds amazing from a utopian standpoint but is a total fantasy.

Mob grazing does not need more work, and it reportedly needs no fertilizer and less land, and it was noticed years ago - this is how it is clearly fantasy at this stage. The strategy would have transformed existing beef and dairy economics within years of discovery.

Won't the rise of automation result in a lot of people without jobs ? They could start working on sustainable food.

Sounds like a win / win.

> The main issue with cows is methane, not carbon

Although objectively it makes the most sense if we all eat less meat or even go vegan (in terms of bang-for-the-buck), from what I understand the methane problem is mostly a result of them not being fed a healthy diet.

Cows are ruminants, so their production of methane is a necessary component of the fermentation that takes place in their digestive track.

Also, somewhat surprisingly, "free range grass fed diets" lead to more methane production then cows fed grain diets (factory farmed cows).

See https://www.fcrn.org.uk/sites/default/files/project-files/fc...

Grassfed does not necessarily lead to more methane production, it depends on the mix of grass and secondary vegetation, on the grain mix being compared to, and on potential supplements.


Just reading the article you provided and "Feeding high grain diets to cattle unequivocally lowers the formation of CH4 in the rumen." seems to disagree with what you're saying?

That isolated statement only loosely connects to the over reaching statement which I responded to: the performance of the high grain diet depends on the type of grain. In addition, there are complications.

From same section of the article it was picked from :

"While increased use of grains in ruminant diets reduces enteric CH4 emissions, there is concern that increased grain production may increase the use of fossil fuels for fertilizer, machinery, and transport, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions. Grain feeding ignores the importance of ruminants in converting fibrous feeds, unsuitable for human consumption, to high-quality protein sources (i.e. milk and meat). Furthermore, high grain diets can negatively affect cow health due to acidosis. With escalating grain prices, the scope of further increasing the grain content of ruminant diets in Canada is limited"

Even ignoring CO2 cost, nutrition, grain availability and all other complications, what is required to show that grass fed diets necessarily lead to more methane output than alternatives - is a comprehensive study of the performance of all dietary options and supplements. I dont think that is setting too high a bar, to avoid arguing on sweeping generalization and loss of context.

Ah, you're right, it is a nuanced question. Perhaps more importantly: as mentioned in the (admittedly large) publication I cited, the rearing time for grassfed cattle is about 3x longer than factory farmed cattle, so the net methane output is considerably larger.

I should acknowledge it was more of a caveat than a correction to be honest. Concentrated livestock farming has on the face of things significant efficiency advantages which can make compelling points, yet the infrastructure and resources to maintain more intense systems is easily ignored.

Taste can often be regarded as ephemeral, while fast fattened livestock can be discerned to taste different and are considered inferior in most food celebrating cultures.

There is a possible health factor involved with grass fed (or mixed prairie for better) beef and dairy accumulating a markedly different spectrum of omega oils, which are debated inconclusively, but also formally studied and theorized to be superior for human consumption.

A focus on the strength of methane emissions seems increasingly common in discussions and magazine articles, while the long developed advice from the IPCC is that CO2 demands priority because methane clears naturally in a decade or so, and requires less action to avoid than CO2 output which takes much longer to clear.

My understanding of IPCCs focus on CO2, is that while methane reduction presents an opportunity to buy a few years time, the priority is to convince action on the hardest problem which has been created, is worsening rapidly and much harder to clear.

I might be pedantic, but methane is a carbon atom and 4 hydrogen atoms. I assume you meant carbon dioxide.

This is HN, the one place you don't need to apologize for pedantry. Right: I meant carbon dioxide. Made the edit :)

no the main issue with cows is land-use (the thread topic here), methane is just another way they're really terrible. its a hell of a one-two punch.

Grassland does not tend to develop soil, so if employed in feeding cattle, the cattle is where the carbon is "sequestered" to - into and through them, out the rear end. If the grass is cut and harvested (at some expense) instead of fed to cattle, then we get a lot of carbon negative hay to do something with. Bury it maybe (to sequester) or biofuels (to release again).

With traditional timber plantations we get the carbon in a load of timber mostly. Build with some of it, pulp and burn the rest. Timber plantations tend not to build soil either.

With relatively unheard of silviculture - the detailed management of mixed forest, the optimum efficiency of carbon absorption can be arranged with select and native symbiotic species, while producing wood and foods and building soil mass. In addition to economic (and atmospheric) services advanced management of mixed forestry and groves can tolerate and support ancient plant and animal species - for future generations - which have been critically devastated by the persistent strategy of individuating production goals.

We don't need to get any smarter at all, we need to get wiser. There is plenty enough grassland now, its time to grow trees.

From everything I've researched the opposite is true. Properly managing grasslands (which used to happen naturally with large herds) makes for health grasses which develop root systems, create soil and sequester carbon.

Poorly managed grasslands that are under grazed leads to soil degradation. The answer seems to be intensive grazing followed by rest periods to allow grasses to use nutrients and grow.

More links in my post here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18287434

I made a reply to your post on that subject of potentially transformational management of grasslands.

On this ungainly subject of grassland vs mixed forest here, I'll just remind - two hundred years ago about 60% of the earth surface was covered in mature and native forest. The figure is less than 30% today. Most of the worlds fertile crops are grown on deforested land, on the soil which native forests developed due to ecological diversity and lack of erosion. Most of the grasslands which are used for grazing, don't have soil to support demanding crops.


I'm working on a way to bring dollars to carbon removal, whether as simple as planting trees or investing in these more advanced upcoming technologies. It is an app with a personal pledge to balance the negative impact of your own driving and flying with a small payment. Cheap at just a couple dollars a week, with the potential to reach a significant scale through companies. In fact, I look forward to hearing back from YC later today!

If anyone is interested in keeping in the loop on progress: https://www.producthunt.com/upcoming/pledge-balance

Is your app eventually meant to turn a profit, and if so how? Or, are you doing this on a nonprofit basis and planning to keep it as such?

I believe a business model helps align incentives and increases potential scale. Certainly things can evolve, but the plan is no cut from users and charge businesses a markup to balance employee commute and flights. Hopefully can make it in the businesses self-interest where they see a return on their small investment in terms of employee satisfaction and retention.

I certainly agree a business model can do those things, and sometimes does.

I could see companies such as Patagonia, who have a strong reputation for prioritizing sustainability, potentially being interested in a service like that.

It seems tricky though to align the interests of your users, your customers (businesses, the ones who will actually be paying you) and the environment.

Which is not to doubt your intent, but is why I am skeptical of market-based approaches to solve a problem which is of the type (a problem of the commons) that governments can be good at (if they choose to be) and businesses struggle with.

It does seem tricky. A worthy adversary even.

Look 10 years out in the future though and I think it is easy to imagine 1) many more people care about this 2) the urgency they feel is increased. Can we start with the Patagonias of the world (there are many others) and build some traction? Can we make it something that young employees want and bring transparency to which companies participate? If it can give a slight edge to McKinsey over Bain for example, the cost is trivial.

[Update regarding above: no YC interview, which is understandable based on where things currently stand]

This is great. We need a verified system where know exactly where each dollar is spend and how many CO2 tons are saved per dollar spent

For now money will be passed along to the best-in-class organizations doing hands-on carbon removal projects - I believe there are several excellent non-profits with the right efficiency and transparency. Yet even though these great organizations exist and plenty of people care about the environment, hardly any money ends up on their hands. I think there is great grass-roots potential to change this and it is equally as important as marginally improving the efficiency of carbon removal tech.

Sounds a bit like what Nori plans to do.


I'll have to check them out, thanks for sharing. I did hear of another blockchain carbon project, but this one seems more promising at first glance.

Does https://www.goldstandard.org/ not do that already?

I've read through the prospectus and seems like it's only for US based companies.

I'm in Australia and the geology of the Tasmania/South Victoria region is the best in the world for carbon capture using trees. Specifically it's the native habitat of the Tasmanian blue gum, the worlds fastest growing tree, and here it grows between 20-100% faster than anywhere else.

Is there any option for having non-US startups funded given that ego-engineering can't be done out of the Bay Area alone? I and the other co-founders have no interest in moving since we are already in the best place for what we are doing.

I'm in New Zealand and trees grow here like weeds. A hectare of pine trees reaches maturity in 25 years and holds 200 odd tons of carbon. Once mature, those trees can be harvested and the carbon locked away in furniture, buildings, etc. As far as I know, it doesn't matter where on the planet the carbon is being sequestered, so a global view will likely be more effective.

We at DroneSeed are using swarms of unmanned aircraft for mass forest/rangeland restoration projects - monitoring, planting, invasive species mitigation, etc. The mission of the company is to help combat climate change by substantially reducing the cost of afforestation/reforestation.

Happy to talk about it any time: ben at droneseed.com

I pictured DJI drones dropping seed bombs, but taking a look it seems a lot more impressive than that. Very cool--hope this takes off!

If you'd like to fund trees, one could start buying land and start protecting trees.

Spending that money on intensive lobbying and forest advocacy in rapidly-deforesting countries could have an impact, too.

The trick, of course, is that neither of these techniques compound for the individual nor a startup. They are pure charity for the planet.

Actually, my idea would be the following:

1. Automate tree/crop planting

2. Reform regulations stipulating that planting of trees/crops/plants should be required on any and all uninhabited lands, as a matter of "imminent domain" regardless of the land owner. Perhaps even as a tax incentive to land owners.

3. The development of a maintenance and management policy and system around all that is planted

4. In conjunction with the RFS for flooding deserts, develop a multi-stage water transfer to desert desalinization ponds, then to be used in irrigation of the tree planting efforts.

We already have autonomous farming combines with excellent ability to harvest crops and plant seed. They should be put to use at scale in panting trees.

Further, we could make an effort to employ the vast amounts of humans with little opportunity to be productive to build, plant and deploy a massive effort such as this.

We dont need to try to do everything with robots, when we have millions and millions of humans.

If we are so progressive and smart, maybe learning how to manage a labor force in the millions to accomplish a great work such as terraforming a desert is someting we should attempt again.

RE: 1. Automate tree/crop planting:

https://www.biocarbonengineering.com/ These guys use drones to shoot tree seeds in the ground.

Also regarding terraforming a dessert, I think one of the biggest problems with is the number of water needed in the area, but I do think that this will be a really interesting part of the solution. Maybe the increase of land prices due to the decrease of arable land might make such ventures more profitable. There's a great ted talk about reversing desertification: https://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_worl...

Around here, tree farms replant by hiring people who plant hundreds to thousands trees per day per person and are paid for piece-work, a fraction of a dollar (~$0.20?) per treelet planted.

Given that you need to do this once every 25-40 years (maturity cycle of the tree), is doing it with drones really that big a win?

I'm also not sure how much of a big win the drones are. Proper forest management is probably way more important. So protecting against illegal logging and making sure that whenever trees are almost dying to take them out so that they don't rot and replant a new one.

Do you feel that #2 is a plausible goal that can be realistically achieved within a decade? I'm not really seeing any political will to do something like this, and without buy-in and cooperation from those who actually can make such regulations (and, effectively, authorize massive expenditures to make this happen) the other points don't really matter.

You are right that there is no political will right now. We need to make it happen.

Historically non violent direct action has been successful in changing politics (see womens suffrage, civil rights movement). This is the primary goal of the Extinction Rebellion http://extinctionrebellion.org

Also is this a suggestion that a company that did just this would be accepted and funded?

That's an interesting option, but I wonder how a company might sustain itself doing this.

Lease land to eco-friendly activities like zipline adventures or something?

Also sounds like a good reason for expansion of National Parks services.

So does anyone know why this isn't happening more? Surely there are plenty of super wealthy tech titans, Hollywood stars, etc. that care about climate change. They could buy up rural land that is suitable for forestry and start planting trees, or prevent deforestation. Even small time donors could make an impact. Land in the US is cheap, right? What am I missing?

Land isn't that cheap compared to the (not that large) effect, especially if we want that effect to be meaningful in the short term.

Buying land and planting trees there will cost something like $2000 per acre and retain something like one ton of CO2 per acre per year (an order of magnitude estimate - depending on details both the cost and CO2 effect can be very different).

Industrial carbon capture at power plants can do that for something like 70$ per ton. That's much cheaper than forestry, but that's still not good enough. ycombinator is obviously looking for technologies that scale better than these existing approaches, something that might achieve large scale carbon removal at maybe $10/ton or less, at which stage the option "just pay a lot of money to reverse the effect of our emissions" might be plausibly considered affordable to our society.

>Industrial carbon capture at power plants can do that for something like 70$ per ton.

And then you have a lot of captured carbon dioxide on your hands - next big cost is the storage/conversion.

IPCC summary on cost of forest sequestration :

> Estimates of the private costs of sequestration range from about US$0.10-US$100/tC, which are modest compared with many of the energy alternatives (see Table 3.9 and Figure 4.9). Additionally, it should be noted that most forest projects have positive non-market benefits, thus increasing their social worth


Why do you want to buy the land? Raise the money for seedling, get volunteers/robots to plant them. Pay people to maintain trees on land (which should require 0 effort). You can come up with some clever designs to make it a tourist attraction and make some extra cash. Plenty of room for improvements.

Let say you can have 100 000 trees per square km. If 40 trees gives you 1 ton of carbon per year then spending $25 000 gives you $10/ton.

Well, because to the first approximation pretty much all land is used - any land thats suitable to be a forest but is not already a forest is only that way because it's used for grazing or farming, otherwise it would overgrow naturally (though not as efficiently as with planting). If you want to increase the amount of woodland, you have to decrease the amount of pastures or farmland, so you have to either buy that land from the previous owner (because they won't be able to graze or plant there anymore) or take it from them by force.

I pretty sure that are that 10 mln km^2 around the word that is not use (Canada, Alaska, Syberia and patches of land around the world)

As I said, I'm talking about "any land thats suitable to be a forest but is not already a forest". These large uninhabited areas in Canada, Alaska and Siberia don't have such land - if any spot there is suitable for trees, then trees already have filled that area for hundreds of years (I mean, these areas already have massive forests), and in the areas where trees aren't growing naturally, it's for a reason, planting won't make a difference.

If you want to convert not-woodland into woodland, then that limits you to farmland or pastures - because there's no such thing as "unused natural potential woodland", any potential woodland that's not used and left alone becomes actual woodland; any potential woodland that's not woodland only became that way when we cut down the trees and cleared the land because we wanted to use it otherwise.

I agree that my estimate could be too big, but I do think there is a potential to increase the forestation in the north. Because of the warmer climate, Iceland can grow aspen. The government is planning to grow tree in a large part of the island, but the have a problem with free roaming sheeps. The land the can only sustain shrubs and moss could grow trees now.

Some countries are increasing the forestation as well https://www.citylab.com/environment/2018/01/northern-forest-...

It is happening.

The founders of Patagonia and The North Face brands did start conservacion patagonia together. [1]

It is one amazing project. [2]

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservaci%C3%B3n_Patag%C3%B3n... 2. http://www.conservacionpatagonica.org/aboutus_oh.htm

>The trick, of course, is that neither of these techniques compound for the individual nor a startup. They are pure charity for the planet.

"Doesn't concentrate wealth exponentially; BZZT rejected!"

At some point, we apparently forgot that wealth/power inequality itself massively contributes to environmental problems.

* If you have no political power, you can't defend yourself and your land from pollution.

* If a large portion of the society has no political power, a large portion of the society cannot defend themselves and their land from pollution.

* In a society with extreme wealth, the price mechanism can't "kick in" to protect increasingly-scarce renewable resources (ie saving a species from extinction). Donella Meadows gives a much better explanation than I can, using fisheries as an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMmChiLZZHg&t=18m48s

Better timecode link (the relevant comments are here in Part 2, but the whole thing is worth watching): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuIoego-xVc&t=10m30s

we need a black mirror-esque social credit score system where based on the individuals revenue, and what corporation they work for they have a 'tree quota' they need to fulfill. this could be hours volunteered at a global tree planting foundation, $$ donated to public works companies who plant the trees. I suppose if someone only made a small amount of $ and hid the rest behind their corporation , corporations would also have to be responsible in the system and donate $ to plant trees. website would be something like tree.global ... we need some way to tie all the world (or atleast continents) together under one government, a .global domain name or something.

EDIT: after reading other comments on how trees arent the greatest solution, replace trees with the best option and tie it to a continent wide / global wide black mirror credit score system.

I'm seriously considering doing this myself. I've got some money set aside, and a smallish group (~20) people who are interested in contributing time, smaller amounts, etc. I'm no tech billionaire, but there's definitely areas where I could buy a few dozen acres of land.

I've been researching what's involved in reforesting, and it looks like a ton of work and a non-trivial cost. And maybe not the most efficient dollar / CO2 ratio, but also something that has the nice side effect of having a living forest around. (And also the side effect of providing exercise, access to the outdoors, etc.)

Right. And that charity is https://www.coolearth.org/. They don't buy land but they protect trees.

Another major issue is the removal of mangrove ecosystems which are great at long term deposition of carbon (mostly driven by shrimp farming).

Our company is working on these issues by trying to reduce demand for meat and seafood by creating alternatives to it, but I think the problem is so large it needs to be tackled from multiple angles. As you term it both Phase I and Phase II type solutions.

What worries me is that the Phase II type solutions are going to be mostly a political problem at least much more than they are technical problems, and political problems are much harder to fix than technical problems where the solutions can be market driven rather than based on international consensus. I think with enough creativity most Phase I type solutions can be market driven and be accomplished without achieving consensus.


The other thing with trees is that they aren't permanent carbon sinks in the way that coal underground is.

Wood will eventually rot or burn and release it's carbon.

Human beings have taken carbon in the form of hydrocarbons underground and released is into the C02 - O2 cycle in the air. The main way to solve this would seem to be putting it back into the ground. So, reverse coal-mining? Turning wood into charcoal and burying? These seem like necessary counter-parts to simply growing trees.

I think you're overstating the problem with carbon released from decaying wood.

Trees newly planted now will net-absorb carbon for the next 50-100 years, exactly the time period when we need to bring the carbon balance under control until we have our energy used cleaned up and other technologies developed. When the newly planted forest matures, trees fall and rot, but new growth takes their place. So it doesn't release a large amount of carbon, but enters a steady state roughly carbon-neutral.

That's called bio-char, and is referenced in the submitted link here.

Is that really the biggest reason for forest being removed?

Are there issues with raising cattle on land with a trees spaced maybe every 10 feet or so? Does it have to do with herding the cattle? Feeding the cattle? Those I feel can be solved with technology, specifically IoT/Drones/Autonomous Bots.

It seems to me, if every livestock pasture in the world has trees every 10 feet, maybe less, it could have a pretty big impact. Combine the Apple orchard with the cattle grazing land. Use technology to efficiently operate both.

Edit: And speaking of cattle. I wonder if we can literally strap something onto the back of a cow that would be able to capture methane, burn the bio-mass, and collect everything to be retrieved later on and used/buried.

I don't think you need fart bags, cows fed seaweed emit significantly less methane -https://e360.yale.edu/features/how-eating-seaweed-can-help-c....

Cattle is one main reason, second one is clearing forest for industrial agriculture like soybean and palm oil plantations. Third one is logging for wood products.

Essentially they are all because of overpopulation and massively increased demand for these products.

Don't forget that the main use for the soybeans is cattle feed.

Combining trees and livestock has been done for centuries and is called Silvopasture:


It's the feed for the cattle that takes up the most space, and that is directly replacing rainforests.

Gustaf, without being too facetious, I think a startup to incentivize landowners to use forest land for carbon removal instead of beef would be called "donating to a politician's election campaign." : ). The reason I make the joke is to ask, is looking at technical/business solutions without directly addressing the social and political reasons why global warming has gone on basically unchecked like missing the forest for the trees?

I agree that political action is incredibly important. Carbon tax, carbon incentives etc. I don't believe we need to change our political system in order to stop climate change. And if we had to that would make it far more difficult to do.

Even if countries implemented carbon tax and carbon incentives like many have it doesn't change that we innovation. Modern cheap verification systems, Marketplace's like Nori.com

This is Kumar from YCS2012.

I really really wish YC would bring on a polymer, nuclear, petroleum, or materials engineer to help wrangle on these thesis-es on all things related to energy. [I'm more on the textiles side of polymers, but I'm here if you need me.]

Trees are not a great carbon removal technology, grasslands are much better as they aren't impacted by fires and droughts.

Grasslands sequester carbon underground whereas woody trees store it in leaves and woody biomass.

What you're saying is actually questionable in a non-stable climate which is what humanity has today.

I think it's really foolish to allow carbon pollution credits to be backed by trees instead of grasslands.


Also, bark beetles aside from droughts and fires are pretty onerous to tree populations.

What do you think about perennial grains that sequester carbon underground, like Kernza?


From what I understand, it can sequester carbon because its roots run pretty deep. But then what? Won't the soil become saturated with carbon? Or isn't that an issue?

That's right, and you won't have the carbon emissions that happen right now with annual grains from tillage/erosion/too much fertiliser.

Soil has a carbon budget but I'm not sure saturation is an issue - that's basically how grasslands work today

>most forest owners in the world don't know or don't have incentive to care

So why limit yourself to existing forests?

Instead of flooding deserts (using energy-intensive/land-intensive/wealth concentrating desalinization), we can re-green those same deserts[1], which restarts the "atmospheric river" that brings water to the interiors of continents. Isotopic analysis has revealed that trees powers the water cycle (by recycling rainfall that would otherwise flow off into the ocean) and causes 80% of Earth's terrestrial rainfall.[2] Compared to desalination this is far less costly (downside being, it's harder for Nestle et al. to profit off it).

Yes Virginia, rain literally comes from trees! This partly explains why deforestation leads to desertification.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xcZS7arcgk

[2] https://www.nature.com/articles/nature11983

Have a look at “Mossy Earth”. I can connect you with the founder if needed.

Stopping our reliance on animal products is the next big change for humanity. People will look back on these times like we look back on times of slavery and tyranny. Either that or we die.

This is covered in the "Where We Are Now" section at the bottom that explains BECCS. The issue is really cost - to remove carbon semi-permanently with trees you have to grow a lot of them, and then bury them deep enough that natural decay processes don't just put the carbon back into the environment. Basically you have to do the exact opposite of what we've been doing with coal and oil for over a century.

> Basically you have to do the exact opposite of what we've been doing with coal and oil for over a century

There's a nugget of a story in the Carboniferous being the result of a civilisation trying, but failing, to sequester carbon by burying trees and plankton.

Why not build houses from trees that will take carbon out 100-200 years from cycle.

Not just houses but any kind of building. There is an architectural movement called Mass Timber where the buildings are not just framed in wood but are virtually solid wood. It actually solves a lot of problems around building cavity thermodynamics, by eliminating the cavities. A large scale mass timber building sequesters a huge amount of carbon.

Carbon sequestration is a nice side benefit, but wood-into-durable-products can absorb only a small fraction of present anthropogenic CO2 emissions. We're emitting about 37 billion tonnes of CO2 per year at present (10 billion tonnes of carbon) and wood is about 50% carbon. To offset a quarter of human CO2 emissions, we'd need to turn about 5 billion tonnes of wood per year into long-lasting buildings and other manufactured objects. As of 2014, the world was producing about 0.8 billion tonnes of wood products that could be used in long lasting applications (sawnwood and wood paneling).



I see what you're saying, but that doesn't actually strike me as too crazy of a goal. 0.8 is 16% of 5, and 6x-ing an industry seems within reach, given sufficient incentives.

Also concrete industry produces huge amounts co2 so chancing concrete to less co2 intense options helps lot.

There is enough landmass in Northern Canada / Russia to do this on a mass scale. Could you coat the trees in something to greatly reduce their likelihood of burning? Therefore not having to use biochar or some other form of carbon storage.

You would also have to coat them in something to prevent decomposition. Assuming that worked, over time you would take a ton of nutrients out of the system and the primary forest would eventually become grassland.

Maybe if you were growing trees specifically for this purpose on degraded land it could work.

Could we sink the trees in the ocean? The water would prevent them both from rotting and burning.

This doesn't make sense, the trees themselves are valuable. Why flood the market with cheep tree's and make useful stuff out of them. As suggested earlier, we can use way more trees in our building materials ( https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18286855 )

I once started thinking through what we would want out of some kind of ideal carbon sequestering device. I thought that for the scale of the problem, they would need to self-replicate, and run on some natural energy source, like solar power. Then, I realized I had just invented the tree.

Haha, I had that same chain of thought. I’m sure we aren’t alone.

And animals, ecosystems!

Trees ultimately burn or rot, releasing a large portion of that carbon back into the atmosphere. Cutting them down and burying them to grow more would be ideal, but takes additional work.

Someone want to engineer a tree with enormous, deep roots? Basically make the trees self-burying.

Too narrow a view.

The tree already buries almost half of its biomass in the ground for you. And a lot of material goes through the food chain when the tree rots in situ. There's a big difference between regrown forest and converting prairie to forest and a lot of that has to do with quantity and quality of decaying matter on the forest floor. Dead trees are better than no trees.

> Trees ultimately burn or rot

Not all at once, though, and new trees spring up pretty quick. If you're replacing unforested land with forested land, you're still storing substantial carbon. Cutting down / burning an existing forest to plant trees doesn't work, sure.

Wood buildings using Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT), which doesn’t significantly burn. Cool!

We're essentially doing just that when we use the wood for housing and other products and then eventually landfill, then you can plant more trees on that land.

It's a buffer as long as there is a forest. Once you establish a forest where there previously was none, you have tied up a certain amount of carbon in all those tree trunk/root/branches.

Sure, the individual trees will eventually die and release a lot, though far from all, carbon back again. But by then, new trees will grow and act as the storage buffer.

Make more stuff from wood. Replace lots of throwaway plastic goods with wood that lasts. Slow the rate at which it rots. Engineer landfills to retain the carbon.

Not if they're treated with preservatives and built into houses. Every wood-frame house and piece of wooden furniture is carbon sequestration.

As long as those houses don't burn down...

What percentage of houses burn down out of all houses ever built? I think not that many. Most probably stand for a hundred years and then are torn down and their component parts recycled.

We already have carbon removal development. It's called regenerative agriculture.

Regenerative agriculture is about harvesting sunlight (free resource), utilizing plants photosynthesizing abilities. Plants are a part of a larger ecosystem including producers, consumers and decomposers.

Plants exudate sugars feeding the soil microbial life, sugars from the photosynthesis where atmospheric carbon dioxide is converted into sugars. Large herbivores eat the grass, holistic grazing keeps the animals moving mimicking predators and the defensive herding mechanisms for efficient animal impact. The timed regrowth will let the plant photosynthesize more carbon dioxide, while the walking sun powered compost machine (cow) decomposes the organic matter and leaves it for further decomposition and utilization.

We have huge areas where desertification is happening [1] because of wrong management. Holistic Grazing is a easy implemented, low tech, approach with great benefits for capital, social and ecological level.

Regenerative agriculture is also covering land management in less brittle environments, field production, notill, utilizing plants, the soil community and the only truly free available resource sunlight.

[1] https://youtu.be/vpTHi7O66pI?t=157

A set of forests that stays the same size, i.e. some trees fall down and rot or get cut down and burned while new trees sprout or get planted, so that the total amount of biomass in these forests is more or less stable long-term is not a carbon removal technology but simply a carbon store. To remove carbon, the amount of biomass needs to increase... so we essentially need to cut down trees and somehow store their carbon instead of releasing it back into air through decay or burning.

So this might be a dumb question, but if I landfill paper instead of recycling it, does it degrade? If not, is that a poor man's form of carbon sequestration? A cursory glance suggests this is correct [1], though you'd need to know a lot more to say that it was more carbon efficient than recycling.

[1] http://www.allaboutbags.ca/degradeinlandfill.html

Yes, paper degrades in a landfill.

Any carbon-based stuff you put in a landfill generally degrades to methane, which is 25-86 times worse than CO2 when it comes to global warming.

So recycle your paper :)

Was the carbon not already sequestered when it was in the form of a tree?

No, it wasn’t.

Trees (esp. those suitable for paper) either burn or fall over and rot, both of which release most of the carbon they used to store.

Fossil fuels used to be trees, and they were well sequestered. Paper would eventually become something similar when buried.

I assume any serious paper production company replants the tree, so you start with a tree and end with a tree and landfilled paper.

Given strommen's statement about landfilled paper turning into methane, doesn't that mean paper manufacturing is basically a carbon dioxide->methane conversion operation?

Yes, the possibility I described was for if they did not biodegrade significantly. More reading makes it sound like they degrade in weeks, with a few exceptions.

At the timescale and costs needed to combat climate change, trees will be prohibitively expensive(land, fresh water) and slow. If reducing global carbon with plants was easy, governments wouldn't probably be complaining about protocols, solutions for almost 3 decades starting with Kyoto discussions. Can we stop mentioning planting trees as ultimate solution everytime carbon capture research comes up?

> Can we stop mentioning planting trees as ultimate solution everytime carbon capture research comes up?

Fine, but by the same token, the absence of progress on climate change is because there is no political will, not because it is hard. With enough adults in the room, we could have solved this problem 20 or 30 years ago at comparatively little cost.

We can manage grassland and savanah. Grasses exudate a lot of their sugars (carbon) into the ground feeding the microbes. Holistically managed grassing is all about timing the regrowth and recycling the nutrients and fibers through the cow.

The prairies are amazing ecosystem pumping carbon into the ground when properly managed.

The knowledge is available, but this ted talk only has 2 million views. https://youtu.be/vpTHi7O66pI

Important to add that plants are the only carbon removal technology with a successful track record.

As global warming devastates more of the biosphere, there will be perhaps less opposition to GMO plants engineered for maximum sequestration capacity. Also useful for Mars.

Trees will only absorb 1 watt of hydrocarbon emissions per square meter, on average, even before considering the cost of burying the woods so the carbon isn't released when it rots.

Nuts. Literally. Breed oaks with acorns so dense they are like rocks.

I guess trees could be planted more creatively. There is one particular situation where I think they should cut down / or move trees, and that is when trees are near power lines: it's basically a matter of time of when the tree falls down and the local power company has to fix the power line and the local population has to deal with the disruption in power.

Maybe there is a good business in finding a good way to truly move old trees, so that we aren't forced to cut them down?

Or you could just have the power lines under the ground. If they are low enough to be endangered by falling trees, they could perhaps go underground instead. No need to cut down trees or maintain buffer zones along power lines. No annual periods of days/weeks without power for affected areas.

Underground power can solve tree fall issues. But it is much more expensive, both initially, and when any repairs or new connections are needed. The number of repairs likely goes down, but time to repair goes way up. In some areas, soil conditions make it pretty much impossible.

Trenching for the install may require more plant disturbance than would be needed to maintain nearby trees on a regular basis.

Distributed generation and redudnant distribution can help reduce the impact as well. Everything costs money though.

Trees hardly make anyone any money (absent a carbon credits/tax system).

Any and all plants sequester carbon, and plants for all intents and purposes create all the wealth in the world. Everything else is just reusing existing wealth.

So, there is a ton of value to growing fruit and nut trees, not to mention hedge rows, vineyards, and other farmable plants, and then figuring a way to keep that carbon sequestered in the soil.

Wood is 50-100 billion dollar business globally, it's not nothin. Plus, a bunch of trees are food sources.

I didn't address all the possible nuances, but for the purposes of being precise: "reforestation at the scale necessary to act as an effective carbon sink is uneconomical".

As you must know, trees accelerate their carbon sequestration as they get larger. Also, fruit and nut agricultural species are frequently not robust enough, fast growing enough, or zone hardy enough to be good candidates for this either.

Yes, trees have economical value. Trees an a AGW-countering scale carbon sink are not. I'm in favor of a carbon tax/credit system in part for this reason.

Isn't that tearing them down, not putting them up?

Lots of it, yeah, but tree farms are a thing too. That's a matter of cost in modern times though. Currently faster/cheaper to convince a government to let you chop down rainforests, but that won't always be true.

Definitely curious how hard it would be to have drones plant trees in arid regions. Feels like I've seen some related projects before

Isn't that ok, though?

If I build a building out of wood, or print a book in a library, that carbon is sequestered at least as long as the building or book exists.

That's true, but you've netted zero on carbon. You need to put up more trees if you want to remove carbon. I mean, by all means tear em down, but you gotta keep putting them up.

I think that's the point.. Grow more trees and use the wood and the tables and books that are created are carbon that used to be in the air.

Neither would any of the other proposals in the link for extracting carbon.

This. We need USDA money going to tree genetics for carbon sequestration. Pat Schnabble at ISU would be amazing at this. He has already isolated genes to thicken cell walls. He also has a novel technique of using time-lapse video to isolate lines that maximize solar uptake by cooperating with neighbors on how they grow. Almost all grain productivity in the past 20 years has been on cooperative solar coverage, not per plant yield. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXiV1dTlRSU

This is mentioned on the website under "Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage".

Trees don’t make money for Venture Capitalists.

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