New Non-Profit Initiative Has Made $23 Million in Grants to World-Class Researchers Exploring Whether & How Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement Can Safely Scale
JUNE 07, 2023 – The Carbon to Sea Initiative, a non-profit research and development effort, launched today to accelerate research into ocean alkalinity enhancement (OAE), which is a way to address climate change. OAE could be among the most effective and scalable carbon dioxide removal (CDR) approaches.
Carbon to Sea has raised more than $50 million from philanthropic funders and to date has committed $23 million in grant funding to a network of dozens of researchers focused on OAE. Details about the grant-funded research and engineering projects are available at CarbontoSea.org.
Carbon to Sea is the largest program dedicated to advancing OAE. It will evaluate a dozen potential OAE pathways, answer outstanding science and engineering questions, catalyze locally-owned and operated field research sites, help develop responsible regulatory frameworks, and bring more scientists and funding into the field.
The ocean already contains 50 times more carbon than the atmosphere and it permanently locks away over a gigaton of atmospheric CO₂ every year via a natural process called “weathering.” Weathering occurs as alkaline rock washes into the sea, neutralizes harmful acid, and enables the ocean to pull more CO₂ from the air and safely store it. OAE could dramatically accelerate this natural process, while counteracting ocean acidification.
“If we’re going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to aggressively reduce emissions and remove carbon from the atmosphere,” said Mike Schroepfer, Board Chair of Carbon to Sea and co-founder of Additional Ventures, a purpose-driven organization that started and spun out Carbon to Sea. “Scientists agree that OAE has enormous potential to permanently remove and store carbon and more funding for research is needed. We are here to respond to the call for research funding and answer basic scientific questions about the safety and efficacy of various approaches to OAE. If we find that OAE can be applied at scale, we can unlock one of the most efficient, cost-effective approaches to CDR for humanity. I’m grateful to the whole network of funders, researchers, partners, and the amazing team at Carbon to Sea for their bold commitment to pursue this work.”
Carbon to Sea’s approach prioritizes rigor and transparency, because there are legitimate questions about OAE’s viability at scale. As a science-first initiative, Carbon to Sea will carefully consider possible unintended consequences of OAE, as well as its potential benefits, as it continually learns from research. All findings will be made available in a transparent manner.
Researchers with a wide range of expertise in marine biogeochemistry, engineering, and other relevant areas are using their grant funding to assess how OAE can deliver safe, cost-effective, and permanent CDR at scale, and what methods are most appropriate. They will also prioritize environmental safety, carefully evaluating how implementing OAE might affect ocean ecosystems and marine life.
The initiative builds on a growing global consensus that averting climate catastrophe requires reducing emissions and removing atmospheric CO₂. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that we need to remove at least 100 billion tons of CO₂ this century to keep temperature rise within 1.5 degrees, and that requires a portfolio of different CDR approaches. In 2021, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) published a landmark research strategy for ocean CDR that specifically highlighted how effective OAE could be, which is one factor that motivated the creation of Carbon to Sea.
Funders — $50+ Million Raised from Broad and Diverse Philanthropies
Carbon to Sea has raised more than $50 million from an experienced group of philanthropic funders, including funders with deep experience and interest in ocean conservation and climate change research. Funders include: Additional Ventures; Astera; Builders Initiative; Catalyst for Impact; Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; Grantham Foundation; Kissick Family Foundation; OceanKind; and Thistledown Foundation.
Grantees — $23 Million Committed to Four Research Projects and Five Engineering Projects
Carbon to Sea has already funded four major research projects to determine whether and how OAE can effectively, safely, and permanently sequester atmospheric CO₂. It has also funded five proposals to build prototype solutions to safely deliver alkalinity and monitor and verify OAE’s effects. The grant funding currently committed totals $23 million. Descriptions of grantees are available at CarbontoSea.org.
“The math is relatively simple: we need to pair emissions reduction with environmentally responsible CDR solutions. My interest in OAE is rooted in a deep love of the ocean, a recognition that climate change is a catastrophe for marine ecosystems, and the belief that our ocean can be a part of the solution,” said Antonius Gagern, Ph.D., Executive Director of Carbon to Sea. “The growing scientific community working on OAE includes the best minds across a range of disciplines, from biogeochemistry to ocean engineering, and is focused on systematically testing this hypothesis.”
“As one of the authors of the 2021 ocean CDR report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, I am happy to see that the Carbon to Sea Initiative tracks very closely with the research and development priorities we identified,” said Débora Iglesias-Rodriguez, Chair of the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Carbon to Sea grantee. “The team really goes out of their way to understand the nuances of each scientific sub-discipline, from ecotoxicology to carbonate chemistry to physical oceanography, to then build rigorous, hypothesis-driven research and development roadmaps.”
“We are thrilled to have assembled an excellent international team of researchers to focus on the effectiveness, environmental impacts, and verification of OAE,” said Katja Fennel, Chair of the Department of Oceanography at Dalhousie University, who is leading the Ocean Alk-Align consortium, one of Carbon to Sea’s grantees. “The award from Carbon to Sea enables us to rigorously investigate the promise of OAE for meaningful climate change mitigation, and provides us with significant resources to tackle important questions through independent scientific study.”
“It’s wonderful to be among this peer group advancing research on the practical application of ocean CDR,” said Dr. Phil Renforth, an Associate Professor in the Research Centre for Carbon Solutions at Heriot-Watt University, one of Carbon to Sea’s grantees, and author of the seminal paper assessing ocean alkalinity for carbon sequestration. “With Carbon to Sea’s support, we’re aiming to lay the groundwork for safe, effective CDR in the years ahead.”
“The ocean has this incredible potential to take up more CO2, more than any other ecosystem in the world, making it a very attractive contender for nature-based climate solutions,” said Peter de Menocal, President and Director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, one of Carbon to Sea’s research grantees. “But as a scientific community we must get ahead of the curve to understand how well these potential ocean CDR solutions work, how efficiently and durably they store carbon, and how to track unintended ecosystem impacts. At WHOI, we see this as an opportunity to develop the next era of ocean observation that will help us measure and monitor ocean carbon and health indicators at the immense time and space scales that are required for ocean CDR. And it is very exciting to have partners like the Carbon to Sea Initiative that embrace the scientific complexity of ocean CDR.”
“OAE is clearly one of the most promising and least studied CDR pathways and we need the science, technology, and field building to de-risk technologies and systematically test how to deliver OAE in an effective and environmentally safe manner,” said Marc von Keitz, Director at The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, a Carbon to Sea funder. “The Carbon to Sea initiative is exactly the program we need right now to do that. As a funder it is a joy to be advising the team and to join them in their learning journey. It’s a small team that punches above their weight and I’m very optimistic that the program will be a game-changer for OAE.”
“Carbon to Sea advances our mission of building a healthy planet,” said Peter Bryant, Program Director at Builders Initiative, which is one of Carbon to Sea’s funders and a major philanthropist in the ocean conservation space. “We need to fight climate change and improve the health of our oceans, and OAE has the potential to do both. We’re proud to be part of a thoughtful effort like this, which prioritizes scientific integrity while reaching for bold solutions.”
About Carbon to Sea
Carbon to Sea is a nonprofit initiative with a mission to evaluate OAE as a viable pathway to repair historic carbon pollution. It brings together the best scientists, engineers, field builders, and market shapers to systematically assess whether and how OAE can be a safe, scalable, and permanent CDR method, and to lay the groundwork for cost-effective and responsible deployment in the future.