#4 Dr. David Goldberg, Lamont Research Professor at Columbia University

December 19, 2017

Carbon sequestration is an integral part of reversing climate change. The question becomes, where can we permanently store all of that CO2? One possibility lies in the basalt rock under the ocean floor. In fact, Earth science researchers at Columbia University have a project in the works that could scale up to capture millions of tons of carbon dioxide annually. 

Today Ross and Christophe are speaking with Dr. David Goldberg, esteemed professor of Marine Geology and Geophysics at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, to learn about the process of carbon sequestration under the ocean floor. Dr. Goldberg explains how the process of mineralization works in basalt rock and shares the positive results of similar projects in Iceland and Washington. He reveals the specifics of a proposed project offshore in the Pacific Northwest, discussing how the site was chosen, how CO2 would likely be transported, and the benefits of storing carbon under the ocean floor.  Listen in and learn how the very technology developed by the oil and gas industry to extract natural resources might be leveraged to reverse that flow and create a new trillion-dollar industry.

Key Takeaways

[1:47] The process of mineralizing carbon under the ocean floor

  • Ocean floor abundant in basalt rock
  • Inject CO2 with H2O + rock
  • Reacts to create carbonate form (solid)
  • Source of CO2 doesn’t matter

[7:08] Why the ocean is a good place to store carbon

  • Projects in Iceland, eastern Washington producing rapid carbonation
  • Need to upscale to millions of tons per year, ocean has space

[11:52] Dr. Goldberg’s current work around monitoring mineralized rock

  • 95-98% carbonated in two years (Iceland project)
  • Working to develop method of monitoring rock once mineralized
  • Potential to become trillion-dollar industry once technology built

[15:49] Efforts to scale up current carbon sequestration projects

  • 250 tons/year in Iceland to start, now scaling up to 10K tons/year
  • Partnership with Swiss project could take up to 1M tons/year

[19:27] How the Pacific Northwest project would transport CO2

  • Could handle a few million tons/year (50M total)
  • Ship most effective mode of transport, move carbon in compressed state
  • Use concepts of enhanced oil production to kickstart carbon storage technology

[23:30] Why sending carbon into space isn’t feasible 

  • Not cost- or energy-effective
  • Too expensive to lift volume
  • We emit 30B tons/year globally

[25:32] The pros and cons of storing carbon under the ocean floor

  • No ‘not in my backyard’
  • More expensive to work offshore
  • Oil/gas industry already uses technology
  • Market will develop with price on carbon
  • Mineralization satisfies permanence question

[30:19] Dr. Goldberg’s explanation of mineralization

  • CO2 + H2O creates light acid
  • Rock rich in calcium, magnesium (i.e.: basalt) susceptible to conversion
  • Light acid reacts with rock, neutralizes to create calcium/magnesium bicarbonate

[31:57] The feasibility of decarbonizing the ocean

  • Carbonate in surface water kills coral reefs, moves fish stock
  • Natural processes create large carbonate mounds naturally
  • Problem lies in significant amount of energy required

[34:46] Dr. Goldberg’s approach to preventing leakage

  • Carbonization is natural process
  • Would simply accelerate through technologies
  • Leverage preventative measures developed by oil/gas industry
  • Reservoir would be hundreds of meters under sea bottom
  • Much protection above reservoir if leak did occur 

[38:24] Dr. Goldberg’s thought experiment

  • Proposed sequestration in south Indian Ocean
  • Inhospitable area, windiest place on planet
  • Could produce enough electricity to capture CO2 on-site
  • Minimum transport costs
  • 10km circle could capture 75M tons/year

[43:27] The method for choosing reservoirs

  • Pacific northwest is well-known
  • Enough space to handle billions of tons

[45:48] The concept of ‘seasteading’

  • Proposes sustainable floating cities, live off-grid
  • Wind energy would be viable
  • Could scrub CO2 out of air, convert to fuel

Connect with Ross & Christophe


Carbon A List

Geagora’s Hackathon Submission


Dr. David Goldberg

“Can Carbon Dioxide Removal Save the World?” in The New Yorker

Climeworks Project in Switzerland

Statoil Project in Norway

Seasteading: How Floating Nations Will Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick, and Liberate Humanity from Politicians by Joe Quirk