Olivine sand from Norway will be mixed with sand at...

Olivine sand from Norway will be mixed with sand at a North Sea beach in Southampton as part of an experimental replenishment program over the next 2 years. The green mineral can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and is being used for the first time by a San Francisco-based company. Credit: Randee Daddona

A North Sea beach is going green — literally — through an experiment using the emerald-colored mineral olivine, which is ground down to grains of sand and used to remove carbon in the atmosphere.

Olivine essentially increases the ocean’s ability to absorb CO2 while also boosting the water’s pH. It is abundant in the earth’s mantle and captures carbon as it mixes with ocean water. The company that makes it hopes that, if used on a global scale, olivine sand could reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere to slow global warming and make the ocean less acidic.

San Francisco-based Vesta is conducting its first real-world experiment at the North Sea Beach Colony beach and on Wednesday placed 500 cubic yards, roughly the size held by 20 dump trucks, of slightly green-colored sand along the Peconic Bay shore.

“Olivine is a natural mineral with a very special property,” Vesta CEO Tom Green said Wednesday after a news conference. “Because of the natural action of waves and tidal forces, it actually removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

ABOUT OLIVINE

  • 500 cubic yards will be placed on the beach in North Sea by the San Francisco-based company Vesta.
  • The mineral, a magnesium iron silicate, is abundant in the earth’s mantle and can remove carbon from the atmosphere.
  • Olivine is in volcanic lava and can be found on the shores of the green Papakolea Beach in Hawaii.

The olivine will be mixed with an additional 10,000 cubic yards of sand placed on the beach — where a special taxing district formed by homeowners in 2018 funds replenishment projects to offset erosion — and studied over two years. The olivine will be funded by the company. The other sand was dredged by Suffolk County workers and placed on the beach at a cost of $80,000 to the homeowners, said Aram Terchunian, whose Westhampton Beach-based company First Coastal Corp. oversees such projects for Southampton Town.

A truck releases green-colored olivine sand onto a North Sea...

A truck releases green-colored olivine sand onto a North Sea beach in Southampton on July 6. The mineral can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and will be used on the beach for the next 2 years. 

Credit: Randee Daddona

Terchunian said he met Vesta representatives at the 2020 annual American Shore and Beach Preservation Conference, where they were looking for someone to help them apply the practice. Terchunian said he will receive shares in the company through their partnership, although he declined to say how much, and said he disclosed that fact to town officials.

“I’m very confident in the project, and I disclosed my interests upfront,” Terchunian said.

The olivine placed in North Sea was imported from Norway, Green said. Despite the energy used to mine and process the mineral, Green said the company estimates the process only creates 1 ton of carbon for every 10 it removes from the atmosphere.

Steve Resler, a former deputy bureau chief with the New York Department of State’s coastal management program, said the project sounds like an interesting academic exercise but that he doubts it could have an impact on climate change. He also said he favors strategic retreat from the area over sand replenishment.

“Putting sand on a beach … is not going to solve the problem at all. No matter how grand of a scale we do it,” he said. “Obviously, get off the … fossil fuels. There’s no other way to deal with it [climate change] on a huge global scale.”

The project has received approvals from the town, state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The state Department of Environmental Conservation will require Southampton Town to submit an annual report providing data analysis. Researchers will monitor the carbon capture rate and assess ecological impacts in North Sea.

“This is just a demonstration project, this isn’t going to save the planet on its own,” said Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “We’ll see by the science over the next two years, but it’s very promising.”

CORRECTION: The San Francisco-based company Vesta is providing the olivine to Southampton Town. The company recently changed its name, which appeared incorrectly in earlier versions of this story.

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