Can Seashells Fight Climate Change?

Researchers at the University of California have recently announced their breakthrough plan to utilize seashells for carbon capture. The innovation has already gained financial backing from a large tech company and has begun to capture the science community’s attention around the country.

Can Seashells Fight Climate Change?
Photo by George Girnas

The growing pressure to move toward a more sustainable society has produced a growing number of individuals who have begun setting themselves apart with innovative ideas. From giant wind turbines to electric trucks, the world has begun its shift into the new era of technology. UCLA is no different. A group of scientists working for the L.A.-based university has recently announced their unique plan to capture atmospheric carbon for the sake of fighting climate change.

Carbon Sequestration

Carbon removal is the process in which varying machinery or naturally occurring organisms can remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. Perhaps one of the most common ways is via trees. Trees can naturally capture carbon, thus making them a highly important weapon in the fight against climate change. The only downside with using trees for carbon removal is that when trees are cut down, become damaged due to forest fires, or become ill due to infestations, that previously captured carbon is now released back into the atmosphere.

A few scientists believe that if society were to switch to alternative energy and phase out fossil fuels, then the need for further carbon removal won’t be necessary. However, a growing number of scientists agree that even with a society ran on alternative energy, and there will still be an excess number of atmospheric emissions that need to be dealt with. Though there is a certain level of greenhouse gasses that need to remain in the atmosphere to keep the earth at a livable temperature, as long as those emissions are monitored, engineering new carbon capture technology can only benefit the future of the planet.

This is where the University of California comes into play. Recently, the researchers have shared some ambiguous and enticing details of their take on the future of oceanic and atmospheric emissions.

A Unique Approach to a Sustainable Future

The process takes inspiration from seashells, which are formed naturally over a long period due to the ocean's high concentrations of carbon dioxide. The researchers are looking to use this naturally occurring process to their advantage by speeding up the rate of creating seashells and therefore removing CO2 from the oceans in a more timely manner. Since the ocean and atmosphere act in conjunction with one another, removing carbon from the ocean will remove carbon from the atmosphere in order to keep the two at an equilibrium. This new way of thinking could be revolutionary for atmospheric emissions and aid in creating a lasting solution to the growing threat of climate change.

A defining characteristic of this process is that the scientists believe they can permanently remove the carbon, therefore creating a more long-term and sustainable option for carbon removal. Dante Simonetti, an assistant professor at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, says that “We’re talking about geological time, millions of years. If we’re looking at a direct air capture system, you’re still left with gas and that has to be compressed. And that has to be stored somewhere, where you have to expend energy to get it into that formation, whether it’s underground or in some other form of sequestered state. Then you will have to monitor the site to make sure there’s no leakage. . . . Our process doesn’t have any of those complications.”

Due to the ocean’s dense carbon dioxide levels, the scientists believe that the carbon removal process can be done easier, therefore requiring less energy and time than when it is removed from the atmosphere. They have also found that hydrogen will be produced as a by-product of this engineering, which can then be used for energy purposes and potentially make the entire process carbon neutral. Though they still need to research the technology further, they have already gained financial backing from the large tech company, Stripe, and will continue to develop their studies under the name, Seachange.

The UCLA scientists seem to have discovered a rather genius idea at carbon removal. Only time will tell if it is as effective as they currently believed. Regardless, the growing shift toward technological advancements and innovation surely poses a promising future for sustainability. With constant researchers devoting their work to uncovering new techniques for carbon removal and even alternative energy options, society is sure to see the beneficial outcomes from this with due time.


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