Scientists Can Now Make a Carbon-Trapping Mineral in a Lab

Date:16 August 2018 Author: Brendon Petersen Tags:,

Scientists have presented an experimental technique for rapidly increasing the production of magnesite, a mineral which naturally stores carbon.

For all the human efforts to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, magnesite can do so naturally. A carbonate mineral, its chemical makeup at the atomic level is MgCO3, meaning that it’s one part magnesium, one part carbon, and three parts oxygen. One metric ton of naturally forming magnesite can remove around half a ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The problem is that, as a mineral, magnesite doesn’t exactly form quickly. Magnesite naturally forms in a few ways, like hydrothermal metamorphism, where the presence of water at high temperature and pressures changes magnesium-rich rocks like peridotte. Hydrothermal metamorphism can also create magnesite through limestone or marble, but all of these processes take a while.

“Our work shows two things,” says Professor Ian Power of Trent University, Ontario, Canada, speaking in a press statement. “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 catalyst for this rapid process is known are polystyrene microspheres, tiny particles which contain styrene and have a wide range of applications throughout the sciences. Available for purchase online, polystyrene microspheres can absorb proteins, be loaded with compounds, and perform any number of scientific tasks.

For Power’s team, as they explain in their abstract for the conference where they released their study, they caused the desolvation of Mg2+ ions within a room temperature setting. This desolvation allowed for magnesite crystallization to occur within 72 days, exponentially faster than what happens in nature. The microspheres, versatile as they are, remained unchanged by the procedure. This means that they could be used to repeat the process.

“For now, we recognize that this is an experimental process, and will need to be scaled up before we can be sure that magnesite can be used in carbon sequestration,” Power cautions. Taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and permanently storing it as magnesite is still a hypothetical. It would depend “on several variables, including the price of carbon and the refinement of the sequestration technology, but we now know that the science makes it do-able”.

Carbon capture technology is currently available, but often comes with strings attached. Many believe that more research is needed on ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, considering the devastating effects it can have on global weather. Magnesite, whose natural abilities are comparable to what scientists are trying to do around the globe, now joins those projects.

Source: The Independent

 Originally posted on Popular Mechanics USA

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