Company eyes Port Angeles for carbon capture pilot project

Experimental removal technology could be placed at Port of Port Angeles

PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles could be the site of a pilot project for an experimental technology that hopes to combat climate change by potentially enhancing the ocean’s natural ability to capture carbon.

Ebb Carbon, Inc. of San Carlos, Calif., has submitted permit applications to the state Department of Ecology and several other agencies to set up what it’s calling Project Macoma, a marine carbon dioxide removal (mCDR) project at the Port of Port Angeles’ Terminal 7.

Marine carbon dioxide removal is a relatively new technology some hope could help lower the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere that’s driving global warming.

“Ebb Carbon’s technology removes acid from seawater, generating alkaline-enhanced seawater,” the company said in application documents to the Department of Ecology. “The alkaline-enhanced seawater is returned to the ocean, which enables the ocean to draw down and store additional CO2 from the atmosphere.”

Seawater intake

The proposed facility would intake seawater from the harbor via a barge moored at Terminal 7 and treat it onshore, where the seawater would be deacidified through an electrochemical process.

“You can think of it basically as a big filter that separates the acidic and the alkaline components of the seawater into two different streams,” said Kyla Westphal, vice president of external affairs for Ebb. “The alkaline seawater is returned to (the ocean), where it helps to draw down additional carbon dioxide from the air. So we’re effectively removing acid from the local seawater and returning the remaining seawater.”

The hope is that, by removing the acid from seawater and returning it to the sea, the process will speed up the ocean’s natural process of drawing CO2 from the air, storing carbon as bicarbonate, a naturally occurring form of carbon storage.

Ebb — founded by former executives from Solar City, Tesla and Google — is one of several new companies that formed in the past few years to develop carbon capture technologies.

The company currently has a smaller version of its technology running at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Sequim, and it hopes to use Port Angeles as a site for testing the process on a larger scale.

“Port Angeles has similar challenges that we think we can help address,” Westphal said. “Essentially the harbor is an example of an enclosed body of water that is more susceptible to ocean acidification. Given that we’re building this body of knowledge with the experts locally, we felt expanding in the region made a lot of sense.”

Ebb’s pilot project would run for a year and a half with the goal of removing 1,000 net tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year, as well as reducing local ocean acidification.

“The purposes of the proposed pilot study are to operate Ebb Carbon’s mCDR technology under real-world conditions, support scientific research through scientific and academic collaborations, and gather additional data to inform future deployments,” application documents said.

Ebb is partnering with the University of Washington on the project and the company said it has discussed a potential partnership with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

The company’s documents say the project is set to begin this summer, but the facility requires a number of permits from local, state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the City of Port Angeles.

Last month, the Port of Port Angeles issued a determination of nonsignificance for the project, which Director of Engineering Chris Hartman said is because the project still needs multiple permits from several other agencies.

“Our determination is based on the fact that the applicant will receive all other required permits,” Hartman said.

The project’s State Environmental Policy Act checklist is more than 400 pages long and includes detailed descriptions of the project as well as a biological assessment done by Anchor QEA of Portland, Ore.

“Numerous experiments would be performed in parallel to understand biological and toxicological impacts on target species, and Project Macoma, LLC, would continue to partner with local scientific and academic partners to validate the efficacy and safety of the system,” the assessment said.

Significant investments are being made in carbon capture technologies, and Ebb is one of several companies pursuing marine carbon capture, but some scientists have raised questions about the potential impacts of trying to change ocean environments.

“The ocean encompasses our least explored and most poorly understood ecosystems. This means that the consequences of mCDR research, especially in situ field trials, can be difficult to predict,” said a November 2023 paper from the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C. “Many mCDR techniques have not been tested in the ocean and thus the short and longterm risks, harms and benefits of research are often not fully known or knowable.”

Project Macoma already has caught the eye of some local environmentalists who say they have concerns about the impact on local species.

Anne Shaffer, executive director of Port Angeles-based Coastal Watershed Institute (CWI), said she and other scientists are worried about the impacts increased pH levels in the seawater will have on juvenile fish species.

“Alkaline water is caustic, it’s basically a very corrosive environment,” Shaffer said. “Things like when you eat pickles, that’s a brine, that’s certainly not an environment you would want to put small, sensitive salmon in.”

In a letter to the Port of Port Angeles, CWI said the project lies within the sediment drift area of the Elwha River, which has been part of a decades-long environmental restoration effort. Many of the species in the Strait of Juan de Fuca are protected under the Endangered Species Act, which Shaffer said should take priority over the mCDR project.

“In short, the project creates a hostile ‘dead zone’ of caustic hot water with temperatures up to 30 degrees (Celcius) and pH of 13-14 that is to be resolved by ‘mixing’ with harbor water that contains postlarval and juvenile salmon and forage fish,” the letter said.

The Department of Ecology’s description of the project acknowledges the elevated pH levels, but it has issued a tentative determination the discharge is necessary and in the overriding public interest. A final determination will not be made until all comments have been evaluated, DOE said.

Westphal said the project will have ongoing water quality and biological monitoring systems in place in the harbor to observe potential impacts to the environment.

“If we notice anything of concern, we have protocols in place to alter or stop operations,” Westphal said. “We’re developing protocols with environmental specialists and other independent scientists. Our controls are really designed to stop within minutes.”

The company has not yet applied for all the permits that will be required, Westphal said, but Ebb is ambitious about the project and hopes because of its small scale the permitting process will be quicker than with larger projects.

“Our mission, our mandate, is to compact climate change and have a positive local impact in terms of coastal acidification. We are hoping to remove up to 1,000 tons of CO2 from the air over the course of this particular project,” Westphal said. “It’s also important for us to be engaging and learning from the community as we move along, building that kind of license to operate, and that’s another really important facet of how we consider success.”

Public comment is open until May 3 on the project’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System application with the Department of Ecology.

Application documents can be found online at Ecology’s website, and comments can be emailed to swrowqpermits@ecy.wa.gov. Written comments can be mailed to Gayle Garbush, Department of Ecology Southwest Region Office, PO Box 47775, Olympia, WA 98504-7775.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached by email at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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