Sam Holland discusses the efforts that are being made to combat climate change by using the oceans, as well as what manufacturers must consider when utilising the sea in such a way.
Introducing ocean-based climate tech
In a previous article on sustainability (published on IoT Insider’s sister site, Electronic Specifier), I introduced the term ‘climate tech’ and how a core example of it is CCUS (carbon capture, utilisation and storage) and explained that this tends to apply to factory chimneys. In this article, I now look at a whole other area where CCUS can be utilised: the oceans.
That previous article on climate tech explained that the term ‘climate tech’ is an umbrella word that encompasses all manner of technology that may be used to research, combat – or even simply increase the public’s awareness of – climate change. This led to a discussion of how those technologies are being used in such areas as smokestacks and, in the case of biotech (a subset of climate tech), even nature itself.
The examples I gave on climate tech applications, however, were limited to those solutions taking place on land. However, that’s just 30% of our planet! Ocean-based climate tech is also an enormous aspect of the research and development into climate change solutions and largely involves the use of ocean-based NETs (negative emissions technologies), such as carbon capture solutions, all of which can be utilised in the deep blue.
An obvious example of ocean-based climate tech is the use of off-shore wind farms, which are a popular choice because of a specific benefit that our oceans and seas have: they see wind that tends to be faster and more consistent than the gusts that occur on more friction-heavy land. But those wind turbines are just ‘the tip of the iceberg’ – clearly visible above the sea line, yet begging the question of what’s going on ‘beneath the surface’. And aside from the fact that most offshore wind turbines are themselves ingeniously anchored to the ocean floor, such wind farming technologies are, again, just the beginning of what ocean-based climate tech is offering to NETs.
The next part of this article covers another major example of negative emissions technologies: the use of ocean-based CCUS and, ultimately, what it may mean for manufacturers.
CCUS in our oceans
Again, CCUS, or carbon capture, utilisation and storage, is far from a solely land-based phenomenon. Although ocean CCUS technology is a far newer example of climate innovation than that of traditional carbon capture systems, the processes are generally similar wherever they take place: carbon is captured, then compressed, and ultimately transported to a location where it is to either be utilised (re-used) or stored.
In view of this, the below picture shows a typical process of CCUS, but only as it tends to occur on land.
In terms of ocean-based CCUS, however, the difference is in how and where the carbon is sequestered (in other words, how the carbon is stored, having been converted into either a solid or a liquid form). Usually, such a carbon capture process involves the carbon being maintained either in underground geologic formations (where it can be reused for oil refinery processes) or in vegetation and its related aspects (such as wood and soils). Respectively, these carbon sequestration solutions are called geologic sequestration and biologic sequestration.
When used on land, biological sequestration (sometimes called biosequestration) is useful for expediting the rate at which plantlife, particularly large trees, are able to grow. This activity reflects a chief difference between carbon offsetting and carbon sequestration: the former involves businesses making compensatory efforts for their deforestation and CO2 emissions (such as by planting trees elsewhere), whereas the latter involves the CO2 being captured before it reaches the atmosphere and is later injected into natural resources.
Biosequestration in the ocean chiefly involves the process of direct injection (namely flue gas injection) wherein sequestered carbon dioxide (which would otherwise have been released from a smokestack to remain in the atmosphere) is transported by a ship. That ship then injects (often via a towed pipe) the stored CO2 either to the ocean or to the seabed so that it can become part of the ocean’s natural carbon cycle. The ocean’s ability to absorb and regulate CO2 is an invaluable element in manufacturers’ attempts to release carbon responsibly. And according to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), one quarter of human-released (anthropomorphic) CO2 is taken up by the ocean. What’s more, while some of that carbon eventually returns to the atmosphere, much of it (thankfully) descends into the deep ocean.
The deep ocean is the dark recesses of the sea, namely 200 feet or more below the sea surface where light cannot be found. Thanks to its enormity, the effective carbon reservoir that the deep ocean offers is estimated by NASA to be 50 times larger than the carbon in our atmosphere. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration also maintains that 48% of the CO2 released by fossil fuel-based systems is sequestered into the ocean.
This is indeed a reflection of how vital ocean carbon cycles are, but NASA and other organisations stress the fact that changes in ecosystem dynamics caused by human activity still mean that the deep ocean is not a solution to the problem of climate change in itself. As explained by the WOR (World Ocean Review): despite such a positive point, it “does not mean … that the problem can be ignored, because this [sequestration] process takes centuries and cannot prevent the consequences of climate change. …
“It cannot be predicted how the marine biosphere will react to the uptake of additional CO2.”
CCUS may be a solution – but not the solution
This article has covered the value of carbon capture, utility and storage, along with the importance of our oceans’ immense ability to regulate anthropomorphic carbon dioxide through carbon sequestration. This is a promising sign of manufacturers’ potential to control their CO2 emissions, but does not undercut the importance of reducing other forms of waste. Authorities on climate, such as NASA and WOR, maintain that the role of human activity cannot be completely circumvented by carbon storage, but the significant utility of ocean-based CCUS should nevertheless remain clear to the manufacturing industry.
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Plus, IoT Insider’s sister publication has more at Electronic Specifier, particularly its Eco Innovation category.
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