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Tapping the oceans for CO2 removal to producing renewable fuel: How innovations are tackling climate change

As worldwide carbon emissions continue to increase, decarbonisation – the process of reducing or entirely eliminating these emissions – has come into focus as a way to slow down global warming. Just last month, the United Nations also warned about the looming arrival of a global boiling era.

One cutting-edge solution that is helping to remove the greenhouse gas through seawater can be found along the shores of Tuas.

Since 2022, PUB, Singapore’s national water agency, has been working with start-up Equatic on a pilot system for carbon removal. This integrates the former’s desalination operations at its research and development (R&D) facility in Tuas with the latter’s bold technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, via seawater, which contains around 150 times more carbon dioxide (by volume) than the atmosphere. Equatic’s pilot system, which has been in operation since April 2023, is able to remove approximately 100kg of carbon dioxide per day.

New possibilities for carbon removal

Equatic’s seawater electrolysis technology – which was developed and patented worldwide by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Institute for Carbon Management – piqued the interest of Temasek Foundation, and was eventually crowned the winner of The Liveability Challenge (TLC) in 2021.

As one of Temasek Foundation’s flagship sustainability platforms, TLC nurtures innovative and sustainable solutions to meet the pressing challenges of urban cities – including climate change.

“Winning TLC in 2021 and working with Temasek Foundation and PUB has provided Equatic with essential resources, enabling rapid progress from research, to demonstration, to commercialisation,” said Professor Gaurav N. Sant, co-founder of Equatic. “This partnership has enabled Equatic to evaluate its technology’s implementation at a scale that is a million times larger than the laboratory-bench scale, from a standing start, in 24 months.”

Equatic’s solution removes carbon dioxide from seawater by electrolysis. This process traps carbon dioxide permanently in the form of dissolved bicarbonate ions and solid mineral carbonates. Energy-rich hydrogen, a green fuel that can displace fossil fuels, is produced during the process. Furthermore, the mineral carbonates that are produced can potentially be used for land reclamation and concrete construction. Equatic is rapidly commercialising this technology with large carbon dioxide removal and green hydrogen offtake agreements in-place with companies, such as Boeing.

A core aspect of TLC’s judging criteria is that solutions must be applicable to Singapore, to advance the country’s net-zero goals under the Singapore Green Plan 2030.

While Equatic is headquartered in the United States, its PUB partnership reflects the start-up’s involvement in contributing towards Singapore’s national agenda on sustainable development.

“The technology can be deployed in any coastal location, making it ideal for Singapore, and can address emissions directly thereby transitioning Singapore to a decarbonised economy,” said Dr Lorenzo Corsini, principal advisor of Equatic.

Capturing carbon and creating renewable energy

This year, TLC worked with over 70 global organisations to source the best sustainability solutions. It garnered over 600 entries from more than 80 countries, producing eight finalists – the most in its history. Beyond the grand prize of S$2 million in grant funding from Temasek Foundation, winners also receive support from Temasek Foundation along their journey towards commercialisation.

One of the winners of TLC 2023 is Susteon, another climate-tech company focused on decarbonisation. The US-based company develops techniques for capturing point-source carbon emissions and using waste hydrogen to produce low-cost, renewable methane – which both reduces emissions and converts them into a fuel, which can then be used to power the grid.

“Our vision of using innovation to reduce emissions and evolve the way we generate energy will take many years, potentially decades to accomplish, but with initiatives like TLC, we get one step closer to achieving our mission,” said Dr Raghubir Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Susteon.

Susteon is now refining its technology before commercial deployment and intends to eventually scale its offerings across the globe, including Singapore.

“With around 50 per cent of Singapore’s emissions coming from refining operations, we estimate that through the implementation of this technology, at scale, we can reduce Singapore’s carbon footprint by roughly 20 per cent,” said Dr Gupta, who added that Susteon intends to build a pilot system in the city-state to demonstrate its viability.

Helping Singapore’s decarbonisation efforts

TLC is just one of the many avenues through which Temasek Foundation is driving decarbonisation and sustainability initiatives to create a greener planet and support Singapore’s net-zero targets.

“It is crucial that Temasek Foundation channels finance and provides support to breakthrough innovations that address the unique characteristics and challenges faced by the region. We hope to help drive sustainable economic growth while bringing Singapore closer to our net-zero goals,” said Mr Lim Hock Chuan, head of programmes at Temasek Foundation.

These efforts involve catalysing local start-ups tackling decarbonisation – including EtaVolt, which specialises in advanced regeneration and recycling technologies for solar panels, and Magorium, which has developed a way to convert contaminated plastic waste into road construction materials.

Temasek Foundation also collaborates with other organisations to support sustainability education programmes. These include the Young Sustainability Champion Programme in tandem with Science Centre Singapore, which inspires students to hone creative solutions for the environment, and the Youth Ecosperity Dialogue in partnership with Singapore Management University, which brings together Asia’s young leaders to discuss sustainability issues.

While it is crucial for everyone to take steps towards decreasing their individual carbon footprint, a major game changer for a greener planet lies with innovations that will significantly move the needle on climate change.

“Although there is no silver bullet for climate-related challenges, innovation not only enables solutions but can also proactively prevent issues from becoming a problem in the first place,” said Mr Lim.

“These programmes are central to strengthening sustainability and providing a liveable home for present and future generations.”

Visit this website to find out more about how Temasek Foundation is catalysing support for innovations towards decarbonisation.

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