After a summer of unusually warm weather, prolonged red tides, and the emerging footage of mountains of plastic, the effects of global warming and human impact on the environment have never been clearer.
Part of the problem is the amount of carbon dioxide we are producing. As more and more carbon dioxide gets released into our atmosphere, the more the Earth warms up.
While many countries are already making progress with initiatives to reduce global warming, such as the Paris Agreement, scientists around the world are also looking at ways to reduce carbon emissions and try to at least slow global warming down, if not stop it.
Scientists from Trent University in Ontario, Canada, believe they’ve found a way to do just this.
The researchers have discovered a way to rapidly produce a mineral which stores carbon dioxide. They believe coupling this mineral with carbon sequestration – where carbon dioxide is stored underground – the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere could be significantly reduced.
If used on an industrial scale, it presents the possibility of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for long-term storage, according to Phys.
The scientists, who were presenting their work at the Goldschmidt conference in Boston, explained how the mineral – called magnesite – forms at low temperatures. This means producing the mineral can be done quickly and inexpensively, at room temperature, allowing for the process to be expanded to an industrial scale.
Project leader, Professor Ian Power, said:
Our work shows two things. Firstly, we have explained how and how fast magnesite forms naturally. This is a process which takes hundreds to thousands of years in nature at Earth’s surface.
The second thing we have done is to demonstrate a pathway which speeds this process up dramatically.
The researchers have sped up the process by using polystyrene microspheres as a catalyst to form magnesite at an advanced rate.
Professor Power continued:
Using microspheres means we were able to speed up magnesite formation by orders of magnitude. This process takes place at room temperature, meaning magnesite production is extremely energy efficient.
For now, we recognise this is an experimental process, and will need to be scaled up before we can be sure magnesite can be used in carbon sequestration (taking CO2 from the atmosphere and permanently storing it as magnesite).
This depends on several variables, including the price of carbon and the refinement of the sequestration technology, but we now know the science makes it do-able.
The process would not only increase the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, but could also reduce the input in the first place.
Professor Peter Kelemen, from Columbia University, states:
It’s really exciting that this group has worked out the mechanism of natural magnesite crystallization at low temperatures.
The potential for accelerating the process is also important, potentially offering a benign and relatively inexpensive route to carbon storage, and perhaps even direct CO2 removal from air.
Scientists are hoping this process will be able to be implemented on a wider scale soon.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.