Nova Scotia Climate Tech Startup Wins Million Dollar XPRIZE CARBON REMOVAL MILESTONE AWARD From mine waste to carbon removal
By Suzanne Forcese
The most recent IPCC report shows that Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) will be required at the gigaton scale of billions of Tonnes per year by this century in order to counteract the emissions, abate, and ultimately remove the excess CO2 that’s already in the atmosphere.
Planetary Technologies is on track to achieve exactly that.
Planetary Technologies’ Platform Permanently Sequesters Carbon Through Ocean Air Capture, Ocean-Deacidification, and Clean Hydrogen
“The XPRIZE isn’t about money. It’s about improving our odds in the race against climate change” - CEO Mike Kelland
WATERTODAY reached out to the Team at Planetary Technologies. Here’s what Jason Vallis, VP of External Relations told us about the science, the technology, and the team that won the coveted XPRIZE.
WT: As winners of the XPrize Milestone Prize and many other awards, what has this meant for the Planetary Team?
Vallis: Planetary has received validation and recognition from many different organizations throughout our start-up journey. We are thankful for the affirmation that each of them represents and the platforms they provide to amplify the urgent message of the climate crisis.
Most recently, a panel of 70 expert judges at XPRIZE validated the potential of our technology by awarding us the CarbonRemoval Milestone Award. This public affirmation of our solution has helped build awareness and trust that accelerates our full-scale implementation.
We believe that our solution can be implemented at a planetary level, bringing the scale of climate action needed to prevent disaster.
The Earth’s Thermostat
Human activity is driving an abundance of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As rain falls towards Earth’s surface, it reacts with this CO2 to become slightly acidic, and upon hitting the land, this mild acid strips alkaline minerals from rocks. This weathering produces dissolved bicarbonate and carbonate ions that flow via rivers into our oceans, where they remain dissolved for many thousands of years. A small fraction of these dissolved ions form minerals that accumulate on the seafloor and eventually become the rocks that are once again exposed to the atmosphere.
The earth’s natural thermostat will rebalance our excess greenhouse gas emissions in enough time -- 100,000 years. Planetary started from first principles-looking to Nature for inspiration to accelerate the rebuilding of carbon in our atmosphere and oceans.
WT: Please tell us a bit about the Team, your research partners, and the journey that brought you together. What have been the mobilizing factors that prompted you to take on this project and your start-up company?
Vallis: Planetary was founded by serial entrepreneur Mike Kelland, biogeochemist Dr. Greg Rau, and renewable energy engineer Brock Battochio in late 2019 to have a major impact on climate change.
After successfully exiting his last venture, Mike was looking to go back to his environmentalist roots. Together with Brock, a recent grad passionate about tackling the climate crisis, they went on the hunt for high potential climate technologies prime for commercialization. They came across Dr. Rau who patented a negative emissions process for making ultra-green hydrogen by capturing and permanently storing carbon within ocean chemistry.
Today the growing Planetary Team consists of 15 scientists, engineers, and innovators who are moving quickly to pilot the entire Accelerated Carbon Transition platform with pilots getting started in Quebec, Halifax, and the UK. The Team has partnered with researchers at Dalhousie University, the University of Miami, and Plymouth Maine Laboratories to model and measure the carbon captured and stored in the ocean while looking at the environmental benefits of reducing local ocean acidification to marine life like coral reefs.
Ultimately the Team has set the goal of removing and permanently storing 1 Gt/year of CO2 from the air every year starting in 2035.
WT: You are accelerating the geological cycle while mimicking Nature. What is Ocean Alkalinity and what is Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement?
Vallis: Ocean acidification is a direct consequence of human-caused climate change. As human activities increase the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, more CO2 dissolves into the ocean. This process disrupts ocean chemistry and leads to acidification –an outcome harmful to marine life, such as corals and fish.
Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement (OAE) ClimateWorks production
Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement is the process used to reverse damage caused to the ocean by climate change. Increasing the ocean’s alkalinity (which is a way of saying de-acidifying the ocean) in turn increases the amount of CO2 that can be stored in the ocean without harming delicate marine environments. Planetary’s proprietary ocean alkalinity enhancement solution permanently stores carbon as a natural part of the ocean’s chemistry
WT: Please tell us about your unique ocean-based carbon technology. How does it work? What are outfalls? How much carbon are you able to remove? How is your process different/better than any other CDR technology/process?
Vallis: Planetary’s proprietary technology purifies mine waste into mild, nontoxic antacid which is then released into the ocean through existing, regulated outfalls such as wastewater or stormwater streams where it is monitored. When mixed with seawater, the antacid restores the ocean’s pH levels and accelerates the ocean’s natural process of pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Restoring the ocean’s balance also helps to locally reverse the damage caused by the ocean acidification resulting from climate change
We are the only company that addresses three parts of the climate challenge: carbon removal, emission reductions, and climate adaptation.
Planetary starts by extracting key parts of the mine tailings including battery metals (cobalt and nickel) and silica (sand) and then take the remaining purified metal salt solution into a special electrolyzer. There, using clean, renewable electricity, the salt and water are split to make hydrogen and a pure alkaline hydroxide. From there the bulk alkaline materials are transported to the ocean outfalls site where the alkalinity is introduced to the surface ocean that draws in CO2, sequestering it as bicarbonate and carbonate ions in seawater.
Removes carbon from the air and permanently stores it within ocean chemistry. Carbon removal is essential to address human-caused climate change. We are simply accelerating a natural process that improves the marine environment.
Transforms mine waste to produce alkalinity and metals we can use to make green batteries. Mine tailings can contain material that is detrimental to the environment. Planetary’s process purifies the waste until all that reminds is a sand-like substance, safely addressing any environmental concerns. The process also removes metals that are essential for battery production, further decarbonizing a carbon-intensive industry.
Creates green hydrogen which can be used instead of fossil fuels. Green hydrogen is a natural byproduct of Planetary’s purification process. This hydrogen can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that arise from fuel production and consumption
Reduces ocean acidification which harms ocean sea life and ecosystems.
WT: Are there any potential hazards to the environment with your technology. How do you ensure safety?
Vallis: The greatest risk to ocean ecosystems and human life is delaying solutions.
Our research has extensively modeled the distribution flow of our alkaline solution to ensure the safety of the local marine habitat and we continue to work with independent research institutions and laboratories to further validate the procedure.
WT: Have you started the pilot projects in Quebec, Nova Scotia, and the UK?
Vallis: Planetary’s Accelerated Carbon Transition Platform is in the final stages of research and development. We are fine-tuning our process starting with mine waste mitigation all the way through to alkalinity distribution and monitoring. Planetary plans to open pilots in late 2022 which will demonstrate a scale version of its patented process. The pilot plants will come online in phases in coordination with a major oceans research project and local partners to continually monitor local effects.
WT: What is your vision moving forward?
Vallis: Our vision is to utilize existing infrastructure across the globe to distribute our alkalinity solution, to see traditionally “hard to decarbonize” industries use our clean hydrogen, to remediate mine tailings from diverse communities, and to reduce the need to further mine by sustainably generating metals used for batteries.
The Accelerated Carbon Transition platform results from years of development founded on decades of research by Dr. Greg Rau. We’ve taken a planetary approach starting with globally abundant mine waste and ending with the largest natural reservoir of carbon on the earth’s surface. The oceans are where Nature wants to put the excess carbon we’ve emitted from the atmosphere.
Our solution accelerates that natural process in a way that allows for decarbonization through hydrogen and battery metals while cleaning up mine sites and reversing ocean acidification. This provides new opportunities for mining communities that will lead the transition to a clean economy as well as coastal communities whose livelihood often relies on a healthy ocean.
Effectively scaling climate solutions requires all of us to come together. We’re excited to reach the stage where we are working with communities to pilot the ACT platform while cleaning the land, air, and oceans together.
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