EPA permit could trigger wave of ocean carbon removal projects

By Corbin Hiar | 05/31/2024 06:17 AM EDT

The agency proposed its first approval of an experiment off the coast of Massachusetts.

Seagulls fly over a beach during sunset on Martha's Vineyard.

Seagulls fly over a beach during sunset on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration has for the first time offered regulatory support for a research project seeking to increase the carbon-absorbing capacity of seawater — a move the could open the door to more scientific and commercial efforts to alter the world’s oceans to limit global warming.

The project, led by researchers with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, aims to pour a pink-dyed solution of sodium hydroxide in waters off the coast of Massachusetts to test a process known as ocean alkalinity enhancement. The caustic mixture, commonly referred to as lye, is expected to lower the acidity of the seawater, allowing it to pull more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

EPA announced draft permits for the project on Thursday. The move comes as ocean temperatures are climbing to new highs, threatening massive coral bleaching events and a record-setting hurricane season. To avoid worse climate-fueled disasters, scientists have called for the world to rapidly slash new emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases and scale up emerging technologies that can remove carbon from the air and seas.


The agency’s tentative approval for the experiment also represents a significant milestone for marine carbon dioxide removal startups such as Equatic, which last May promised to remove 62,000 metric tons of carbon for aircraft maker Boeing.