Project Vesta is using olivine’s natural properties to fight climate change. Olivine is an abundant mineral on earth and is being used in this case to store carbon. A more familiar version of the mineral may come to mind — peridot, which is the gem-quality version of this mineral and the August birthstone. Scientists at Project Vesta have a very special “green sand” made up of olivine and they believe it can help remove excess carbon dioxide from the air.
Project Vesta was set up as a nonprofit back in 2019 with the aim of using this mineral to hopefully slow the advancement of global heating and climate change. In order to understand why, we must dive into just what olivine is, how it’s formed, and where it comes from.
Olivine Mineral Info
Olivine, one of the first minerals to be altered by weathering, is a group of silicate minerals that have a general chemical composition of A2SiO4.
Olivine is a magnesium iron silicate and a type of nesosilicate as well as orthosilicate. This means that it includes orthosilicate ions, often called silicon tetroxide anions. Simplified, this means that this particular mineral is great for removing carbon dioxide from the air.
In most cases, the A represents magnesium or iron, but can also be calcium, manganese, or nickel. In most cases, olivine’s chemical composition may fall between pure forsterite (Mg2SiO4) and pure fayalite (Fe2SiO4), where the magnesium and iron can switch around in the mineral’s atomic structure. Common uses of olivine besides being cut and faceted into peridot once included uses in bricks as well as refractory sand.
One way it can form is when volcanic eruptions spray magma high into the air. This enables the high crystallization temperatures that transform magnesium iron silicates into olivine — and these are later encased in chunks of lava. As time passes, the lava weathers and exposes the olivine to the elements.
How Olivine Is Used To Fight Climate Change
In a study titled “Olivine Dissolution in Seawater: Implications for CO2 Sequestration through Enhanced Weathering in Coastal Environments,” an experiment was conducted. This experiment used olivine and quartz, which is silicon dioxide and the most abundant mineral on the planet. It’s in everything — your watches, homes, and even drinkware. Glass is made from quartz (sand is quartz).
The results of the experiment showed that Olivine was the better mineral when it comes to removing carbon from water and the atmosphere.
Enhanced silicate weathering is a negative emissions technology approach to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This approach uses the natural process of silicate rock weathering but is artificially stimulated. It’s a technique that has been recognized as a promising strategy for the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while also taking on ocean acidification.
Enhanced silicate weathering works by having the mineral ground to small grain sizes and spread over suitable areas such as beaches. These grains dissolve (think of chemical weathering) and this is how they capture the CO2 from the air. In the case of Olivine, it is abundant and is fast at weathering. It is a prime candidate for enhanced silicate weathering. This is due to its ability to dissolve in the ocean, consume protons, and increase the alkalinity of the ocean.
Project Vesta And Olivine
The goal of Project Vesta is to capture a trillion tonnes of excess CO2 in rock by using the power of natural wave energy. Natural weathering is how earth removes CO2 from the atmosphere in the first place — and it has been doing this for billions of years. Project Vesta wants to accelerate this process by taking olivine from below the surface directly to the coastal areas to make green sand beaches. The waves will break down the mineral and speed up the removal of CO2 from both the atmosphere and the oceans.
Project Vesta is a nonprofit organization (meaning your donations are tax-deductible), and you can help. You can donate to the organization or even buy its “Grain of Hope” necklace.
A quick fact about Peridot that is totally unrelated to this article, written by a gem and mineral collector: Peridot is one of the oldest gemstones that was found set into jewelry, as early as the second millennium B.C. The name Peridot is derived from the Arabic word faridat, meaning gem, and it was once used as currency. Egyptians coined this gem as the “gem of the sun.” You can read more lore and history here.