Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Earth's ocean acts as a global climate regulator, and scientists are increasingly studying its chemistry and geology to find potential ways to store carbon dioxide captured from emissions or removed from the air.

The big picture: Oceans are bearing some of the brunt of climate change — they're acidifying, warming at the surface and experiencing other damaging effects. But deploying wind and solar energy offshore, restoring coastal ecosystems and other efforts could turn the seas into a solution, Axios' Andrew Freedman reports.

Vast, and far from humans, offshore sites are being studied by researchers for capturing and storing carbon.

  • Half of the roughly 10-20 trillion tons of CO2 storage capacity in the Earth's geology is located offshore, says Julio Friedmann of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

Background: One approach is to sequester carbon as part of enhanced oil recovery operations, in which CO2 is injected into reservoirs in the sea floor to push out remaining oil or gas, leaving the carbon dioxide stored within the porous rocks.

What's new: Saline formations are found around the world but basalt rock lines most of the oceanic crust and converts carbon dioxide into new minerals — a chemical reaction researchers are investigating to store carbon.

  • Unlike storing CO2 in a reservoir from where it might one day leak, "this removes it from the carbon cycle entirely," says geoscientist Rachel Lauer of the University of Calgary, who is part of a group of researchers studying the approach at a site off the coast of British Columbia.
  • 95% of the CO2 injected in basalt at a site on land in Iceland — where the lava rocks form the land above the sea — turned into minerals within two years.
  • Lauer and her colleagues geochemist Benjamin Tutolo and postdoctoral fellow Adedapo Awolayo are studying how fast mineralization of CO2 can happen in the undersea basalt formation off western Canada. They're looking at whether adding water to CO2 can speed the process and how to use seismic surveys to track the mineralization, which would occur in basalt buried under hundreds of meters of sediment on the ocean floor.

If CO2 injection can move offshore wherever there are basalt or saline formations, that could open up the possibility of pulling CO2 out of the air directly, anywhere, says Friedmann.

  • Yes, but: Direct air capture and negative emissions technologies don't currently operate at scale, in part because of the hefty price tag, so depending on them for climate change mitigation carries risk, whereas other solutions like cutting emissions and solar and wind power are already cost-competitive.
  • But models suggest negative emissions will be required to help keep the climate below red lines, and supporters of carbon removal technologies say the price pales in comparison to the cost of carbon emissions to society, something governments struggle to put a number on and that some economists argue has been historically low.
  • "There’s a need for [the technology] that isn’t priced by the market," says Laura Singer, an economist at the Colorado School of Mines.

The team working off the coast of western Canada is looking to bring together renewable energy sources — mostly offshore wind — to provide energy to machines that pull carbon dioxide from the air or ocean and then inject it into the basalt.

  • Operating machinery at sea typically introduces inefficiencies, more maintenance and higher costs.
  • For direct air carbon capture, "the advantage, however, is its co-location with offshore wind power and storage. Doing these activities close together eliminates transport of power and CO2, plus the entire operation remains remote," says David Goldberg of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who is working on the project.
  • It also helps that the seafloor is typically owned by one entity — federal or state governments — which eases regulatory hurdles.

What to watch: Researchers are also studying ways to harness marine chemistry to remove carbon dioxide and reduce the acidity of the ocean, which is rising due to CO2 dissolving in the water and threatening ocean life.

  • Planetary Hydrogen, a startup based in Nova Scotia, is developing a system that uses electrolysis to split sea water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, creating ions that bind to carbon dioxide. The resulting bicarbonate can raise the pH of the ocean — while producing a potentially revenue-generating hydrogen fuel in the process.
  • The U.S. National Academy of Sciences recently convened a series of workshops to set research priorities for answering scientific, environmental and governance questions about the potential use of ocean alkalinity enhancement and other technologies along the coasts and at sea.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Apr 22, 2021 - World

China's persistent coal demand highlights stakes of Biden's climate summit

Expand chart
Reproduced from IEA; Chart: Axios Visuals

The chart above shows one reason cutting global emissions is so hard: the persistence of coal, especially in China, where demand for the most carbon-intensive fuel grew even during the pandemic.

The big picture: The International Energy Agency, in a report this week, said it sees global coal demand increasing by 4.5% in 2021 after last year's decline.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Apr 22, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Japan vows deeper emissions cuts ahead of White House summit

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images

Japan on Thursday said it will seek to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 46% below 2013 levels by 2030, per the AP and other outlets.

Why it matters: The country is the world's fifth-largest largest carbon dioxide emitter and a major consumer of coal, oil and natural gas.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Apr 22, 2021 - Energy & Environment

White House unveils plan to boost international climate financing

Photo by Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images

The White House released an international finance strategy Thursday that aims to help other nations fight climate change.

The big picture: A major part of the wide-ranging plan, released as the White House climate summit takes place, calls for Congress to approve big increases in U.S. financing to help other nations curb emissions and adapt to warming.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

Sign up for Mike Allen’s daily Axios AM and PM newsletters to get smarter, faster on the news that matters.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!