Elon Musk Foundation awards $1M prize to N.S. company

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Will Burt, chief ocean scientist at Planetary Technologies, carries out experiments at  Dalhousie University on Friday testing company carbon capture and storage technology. (CBC - image credit)
Will Burt, chief ocean scientist at Planetary Technologies, carries out experiments at Dalhousie University on Friday testing company carbon capture and storage technology. (CBC - image credit)

A Nova Scotia startup developing carbon-capture technology has won $1 million in an international competition sponsored by the Elon Musk Foundation.

Planetary Technologies wants to add large amounts of purified mine tailings to the ocean, accelerating the natural process of carbon storage. It was one of 15 XPRIZE Carbon Removal Milestone Award winners announced Friday. There were more than 1,100 teams registered in the competition.

"So for us, it's the validation," CEO Mike Kelland said. "They've reviewed it. They've stamped it. They said, 'We believe in this, and we believe that this has the potential to go the distance.' And that's the biggest thing out of this prize."

The company converts mine tailings into a non-toxic antacid which is released into the ocean through monitored storm and wastewater outfalls.

When mixed with seawater, the alkaline hydroxide reduces acidity and accelerates the ocean's natural process of pulling carbon dioxide from the air and storing it.

The process also removes hydrogen — a renewable energy source — and battery metals nickel and cobalt.

'We're moving mountains to the oceans'

The XPrize competition is seeking global solutions that would see carbon removal on a gigaton-scale.

Planetary's accelerated carbon-transition platform would require hundreds of millions of tonnes of alkaline.

"One of the ways to describe our process is that we're moving mountains to the ocean, and I think that's probably a good description of it," said Kelland.

CBC
CBC

The company will spend the prize money on a full-scale demonstration capable of removing 1,000 tonnes of carbon a year, "which is what's necessary to win the big prize, the $50-million XPRIZE," said Kelland.

The goal is to have the pilot in place by 2024.

Pilot sites are planned for Quebec, where work will be carried out on mine tailings. A site in Nova Scotia will be for ocean research. In the U.K., an outflow location has also been secured.

Smaller-scale testing

This month, the technology is being tested on a much smaller scale at the Dalhousie University Aquatron research facility in Halifax.

Three Dal research teams are assigned to the project, gauging its impact on marine life, modelling alkaline dispersal and measuring carbon-capture properties.

"This is required to assure that the ocean-based carbon removal is safe, that we can quantify it, and we can predict what will happen with it in the future," said ocean scientist Dasha Atamanchuk.

CBC
CBC

The University of Miami and Plymouth Marine Lab are also providing research.

Planetary said it was the only winner that delivered the four key benefits of a carbon transition solution: carbon removal from the atmosphere, green hydrogen production, mine waste cleanup and ocean restoration.

The tests are replicating expected results, Atamanchuk said.

$7.8M in funding and grants raised

"I think it's very promising, and it's one of the most realistic approaches because it is nature-based," Atamanchuk said.

"What we're doing here, what Planetary Tech is doing, is just enhancing the natural process. We're not doing anything artificial. We are trying to make the ocean do what it's doing already, but at a slightly higher pace.

The company has raised $7.8 million in funding and grants. Nova Scotia crown corporation Innovacorp and the Apollo Projects are major investors.

Planetary is selling carbon credits. The first customer was e-commerce platform Shopify.

"The first step for us is we're a carbon removal company. There has to be a value associated with carbon," said Kelland.

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