No current business model for carbon dioxide removal
The main barrier to the most simple and potentially large scale deployment of olivine weathering is severe. There is currently no business model for just removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and/or the seas. There is no mechanism for a business to make profit from purely helping to prevent climate change and ocean acidification.
This is a clear market failure. An example of a tragedy of the commons. Everybody can pollute the atmosphere with CO2 without cost. This is causing damage to our climate, and the direct damage from acidification of the seas may already be even worse. The damages are for everybody. But there is no way to pay somebody to deploy strategies for Carbon Dioxide Removal. Of course this globally irrational situation will have to change. But when will that happen?
Emissions Trade Systems are designed for the polluters
Emissions trade systems have been designed and set in motion. The EU ETS is the largest one. However, the basic goal of these ETS systems is to put a price on large scale CO2 emissions by certain branches of industry and to create incentives for those industries to employ techniques to increase efficiency and reduce their CO2 emissions.
The ETS system provides no independent profit mechanism for simply removing CO2 that is already in the atmosphere. Hence one can observe large companies invest into expensive CCS technology to capture their emissions at the point of the source and then store it in the earth, at great cost. But these same companies have little interest in investing in e.g. Olivine Weathering to remove CO2 molecules that they did not themselves produce.
Physics tells us that CO2 in the atmosphere is quickly mixed to the whole atmosphere. But legal thinking seems to be incompatible with separating the two acts of emission and capture and neutralisation of such emissions.
Obviously, ETS systems will eventually evolve beyond their current state. But this help much right now. Something like the “Clean Development Mechanism” (CDM) or “Joint Implementation” (JI) of the Kyoto Protocol could help, if there would be allowed to work for this application.
Environmental regulations have always been designed for the existing reality. An example is in the Netherlands is that regulations put limits on ‘foreign substances’ based on the current concentrations observed in the Netherlands. This seems reasonable. But it means that the upper limit allowed for Nickel has been put far below levels that occur in many other countries, levels that cause no issues for health or the natural ecosystem. The consequence is that every application at some scale immediately requires a special waver on this specific rule (a ‘green deal’). Even if neither human health, nor the natural environment are negatively impacted.
In many countries it is totally normal for farmers to use ground up rocks as fertiliser. In the Netherlands this is said to be against existing environmental regulations. It is clear that such barriers to progress should be removed. It is an example where standardization of regulations in the EU may help. The same rules are said to hold back application in the natural environment, especially in the sea.
It is very important to get the legal situation clarified, and to make clear if there are any actual risks to the environment (we don’t think so). A general ‘green deal’ in the Netherlands would be very helpful, but it is also important to remove the (unnecessary) legal barriers.
Think! Side benefits can often be large
However, even though the research into large scale deployment of Olivine Weathering depends on government initiatives, there are opportunities for market-based initiatives! With some thinking, it was easy to come up with a list of applications at a limited size, where there is a business case, for profit. In many such smaller applications the barriers due to (unsensible) environmental regulation can be ignored.
A simple example is that private people can use olivine sand in the sand box in which their children play. Or they can use it in their garden to reduce acidity of the soil. These people are quite as safe as inhabitants of regions with natural deposits of olivine, where it is possible to enjoy the local natural and healthy mineral waters that are the result from reacting with olivine rock.
The Olivine Foundation has worked hard to find such applications and promoting them. The dutch company ‘Greensands’ is involved in importing and trading olivine sand for various purposes. Though still very small, such activities will help to create more knowledge about olivine, its safe deployment. It may help create incentives for politicians to rethink environmental regulations, and maybe the ETS trading system.