Metro Vancouver plans to use WWTP outfall to study, enhance ocean alkalinity

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Burrad Inlet picture
The research trial will evaluate the potential of ocean alkalinity enhancement to remove carbon dioxide from the water in Burrard Inlet, pictured. Photo Credit: Alex Lyubar, stock.adobe.com

Metro Vancouver’s climate action committee has recommended beginning an ocean alkalinity research trial in spring 2025 that uses the outfall from the Lions Gate Wastewater Treatment Plant. 

The research trial will evaluate the potential of ocean alkalinity enhancement (OAE) to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the water in Burrard Inlet, helping to combat both climate change and ocean acidification, according to a staff report by Lillian Zaremba, Metro Vancouver’s program manager of liquid waste services. 

CO2 levels in the atmosphere are rising due to fossil fuel combustion, deforestation and other human activities. CO2 transfers into the ocean, making it more acidic, which impacts the ability of shellfish and other marine life to build their shells and skeletons, according to the staff report.

The average surface ocean acidity is expected to increase by 100% to 150% higher than pre-industrial levels by the year 2100, according to the B.C. government.

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Zaremba states that ocean alkalinity enhancement uses “finely‐ground, slow‐dissolving minerals” that react with CO2 in the ocean and convert it to other forms that sequester the carbon. 

“This allows the ocean to draw more CO2 from the atmosphere, while also counteracting acidification,” writes Zaremba. “[Ocean alkalinity enhancement] mimics the natural weathering process by which rivers erode rock and add alkaline minerals to the ocean, but OAE does this on a timescale of months rather than the millennia of geologic cycles. Research trials are needed to determine the potential benefits and impacts of OAE, and evaluate whether full‐scale implementation might be feasible.”

Planetary Technologies Inc. approached Metro Vancouver to lead and conduct the trial at the Lions Gate WWTP outfall. Planetary is currently identifying a source of alkalinity, which will be lime (calcium hydroxide) or magnesium hydroxide. The team will add alkalinity to the ocean in a controlled manner. The trial will be undertaken at no cost, the staff report said.

Ocean Networks Canada and researchers from the University of British Columbia will also assist the trial. 

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