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UCLA Institute for Carbon Management and Equatic to Build the World’s Largest Ocean-Based Carbon Removal Plant in Singapore

The $20 million system will be capable of removing 3,650 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year while producing 105 metric tons of carbon-negative hydrogen

Rendering of an ocean-based carbon dioxide-removal demonstration plant in Singapore. (Image courtesy: Charles Grace)

This article was originally published by UCLA Samueli Newsroom

Following the successful launch and operation of two pilots in Los Angeles and Singapore last spring, UCLA and its startup Equatic are scaling up for the next phase: a $20 million full-scale demonstration plant (“Equatic-1”) supported by Singapore’s national water agency PUB; the National Research Foundation (NRF), Singapore; and UCLA’s Institute for Carbon Management (ICM).

Over the next 18 months, a multi-disciplinary team comprising researchers and technology-scaling experts from ICM and Equatic will set out to build the world’s largest ocean-based carbon dioxide-removal plant at PUB’s research and development facility in Tuas, located in western Singapore. 

Equatic’s existing plant in Singapore, piloted at 0.1 metric ton (220 pounds) of carbon dioxide removal per day, has proven successful. Equatic-1 will be constructed over two phases, with the first phase beginning in March and designed to remove 1 metric ton (approximately 2,205 pounds) of carbon dioxide per day by late 2024. Nine additional modules will be installed in early 2025 to complete Phase 2. With all 10 modules, Equatic-1 will be able to remove 10 metric tons of CO2 per day from seawater and the atmosphere — 100 times more than the amount removed by the pilot. The pioneering technology could allow for the greenhouse gas to be removed and durably stored while simultaneously producing nearly 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of carbon-negative hydrogen daily. Once this facility has successfully fulfilled its technical demonstration objectives, Equatic will scale and commercialize the technology globally.

“We are very grateful for the catalytic support of PUB and NRF, which have helped us create a world-class partnership in our joint efforts to mitigate climate change,” said Equatic co-founder and ICM director Gaurav Sant, who is the Pritzker Professor of Sustainability in the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. “Scaling carbon removal solutions requires technology, bold and committed partners, and a focus on timely and measurable success. We have been very fortunate to create this shared vision with our partners in Singapore to scale Equatic’s solutions to the commercial scale and around the world.” Sant also holds faculty appointments in the departments of civil and environmental engineering and materials science and engineering, as well as the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.      

The Equatic process activates and expands the ocean’s natural ability to store carbon dioxide by removing dissolved CO2 while enhancing the sea’s capacity to absorb more of the greenhouse gas. Utilizing electrolysis, an electrical current is passed through seawater brought in from the adjacent desalination plants operated by PUB. The process induces a series of chemical reactions that break water into its hydrogen and oxygen constituents while securely storing both dissolved and atmospheric carbon dioxide in the form of solid calcium and magnesium-based materials for at least 10,000 years.

According to the World Bank, the average global annual carbon emissions per capita in 2020 are about 4.3 metric tons. At full scale, Equatic-1 can remove as much carbon dioxide as what nearly 850 people emit annually. Once the plant meets its projected carbon-removal goal, Equatic plans to launch a commercial plant designed to capture nearly 110,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year — equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of more than 25,000 individuals.

PUB has set a target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2045 with a three-pronged approach to replace, reduce and remove carbon emissions. Besides replacing fossil fuel sources with renewable solar energy and investing in research and development to reduce energy required in water-treatment processes, capturing and removing carbon released into the atmosphere is a key thrust of PUB’s decarbonization strategy. This collaboration with UCLA and Equatic is part of Singapore’s broader efforts to source novel technologies, such as carbon capture, utilization, storage, which could contribute to mitigating the impacts of climate change. 

“We are pleased to further our collaboration with UCLA and Equatic to develop a solution that has potential synergies with PUB’s desalination plant,” said PUB chief engineering and technology officer Chee Meng Pang. “At PUB, we firmly believe that technological advancements, delivered in partnership with academia and the private sector, hold the key to addressing the complex challenges posted by climate change.” 

Equatic-1 is being built as a modular system, allowing the performance of individual units to be staged and stacked in preparation for systematic and rapid expansion. This approach reduces risks traditionally associated with scaling technology innovation. The system will also employ selective anodes, newly developed with the support of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), to produce oxygen while eliminating the unwanted byproduct of chlorine during seawater electrolysis. This opens a new pathway to carbon dioxide removal at the gigaton scale with the co-production of hydrogen — a clean fuel vital to decarbonizing transportation and industrial applications.

“The pilot plant commissioned in 2023 provided critical performance data to substantiate our carbon dioxide-removal efficiencies, hydrogen-production rates and energy requirements for the process,” said Equatic co-founder Dante Simonetti, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UCLA Samueli and ICM’s associate director for technology translation. “The findings helped define the pathway for the design and engineering of Equatic-1 based on scaling performance confirmed by the pilot system.” 

In addition to Sant and Simonetti, the project also involves Equatic co-founder and UCLA Samueli civil and environmental engineering professor David Jassby, who serves as ICM’s associate director for knowledge discovery.

The carbon credits from Equatic-1 are allocated to the project’s partners, and Equatic has entered into agreements with companies including Boeing for the purchase of carbon credits from future commercial plants. 

Equatic’s first pilot operations were unveiled at the Port of Los Angeles and Singapore in April 2023, less than two years after creating bench-scale prototypes at UCLA in 2021. The technology has been named one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2023 and listed among Popular Science’s 50 greatest innovations of 2023. It has also won the 2021 Liveability Challenge, a global competition backed by Singapore-based nonprofit Temasek Foundation with 450 applicants from more than 60 countries. 

In addition to funding by PUB, the Equatic process (formerly known as Project SeaChange) has been supported by, among others, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, the Nicholas Endowment, the Temasek Foundation and Boeing, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E and its Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management.