Image used for illustrative purpose only. Image Credit : Equatic
5 minutes read

PUB and partners to construct world’s largest ocean-based CO2 removal plant in Singapore

Following the successful launch and operation of two pilots in Los Angeles and Singapore  in 2023, UCLA and Equatic, a company spun out of research at UCLA, are scaling up for the next phase: a US$20 million full-scale demonstration plant in collaboration with PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency. The demonstration plant will be co-funded by 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 the UCLA’s Institute for Carbon Management (ICM) and Equatic will set out to build the world’s largest ocean-based carbon dioxide removal (CDR) plant at PUB’s research and development facility in Tuas, located in western Singapore.

“We are pleased to further our collaboration with UCLA and Equatic, to develop a solution that has potential synergies with PUB’s desalination plants. 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 posed by climate change,” said Dr Pang Chee Meng, PUB’s Chief Engineering and Technology Officer.

PUB has set a target to achieve net zero emissions by 2045 and takes a three-pronged strategy to Replace, Reduce, and Remove carbon emissions and close its carbon loop. 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 decarbonisation strategy. This collaboration with UCLA and Equatic is part of Singapore’s broader efforts to source for novel technologies, such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), which could contribute to mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Equatic’s existing plant in Singapore, piloted at 0.1 metric ton (100 kg) of carbon dioxide removal per day, has proven successful

Equatic’s existing plant in Singapore, piloted at 0.1 metric ton (100 kg) of carbon dioxide removal per day, has proven successful. When fully completed, Equatic-1 will be equipped to remove 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide per day from seawater and the atmosphere — 100 times more than the existing pilot. If successful, the pioneering technology would allow for the greenhouse gas to be removed and durably stored, while simultaneously producing nearly 300kg of carbon-negative hydrogen daily. When this facility has successfully fulfilled its technical demonstration objectives, Equatic will scale and commercialise 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 N. Sant2,  who is the Pritzker Professor of Sustainability in the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. “Scaling carbon dioxide 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 pilot and scale Equatic’s solutions.” 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 (CNSI) at UCLA.

The Equatic process activates and expands the ocean’s natural ability to store carbon dioxide by removing dissolved carbon dioxide while enhancing the ocean’s capacity to absorb more of the greenhouse gas. Utilising 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 breaks water into its carbon-negative hydrogen and oxygen constituents while securely storing both dissolved (in sea water) 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. When the plant meets its projected carbon-removal goals, Equatic plans to launch commercial plants designed to remove nearly 110,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year — equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of more than 25,000 individuals.

At full scale, Equatic-1 can remove as much carbon dioxide as what nearly 850 people emit annually

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 – using seawater as a limitless input.

“The pilot plant commissioned in Singapore 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.”

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 also won the 2021 Liveability Challenge, a global competition backed by Singapore-based non-profit 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, Boeing, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E and its Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management.

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