Scientists Create Carbon-Capturing Mineral Magnesite in a Lab | National News
Scientists have unlocked a method for rapidly producing a mineral capable of storing carbon dioxide, a discovery they say could be a major step forward in combating climate change.
Researchers presenting this week at the Goldschmidt conference in Boston, said they have discovered a way to accelerate the creation of magnesite, a type of crystallized magnesium carbonate that can capture and store carbon dioxide, a principle culprit of the greenhouse effect that is warming the planet.
Magnesite occurs in nature, but takes a long time to form. Researchers said their discoveries could condense a process that would take hundreds of thousands of years on its own into just 72 days in a lab, opening the door to ramping up the production of the mineral on an industrial level.
“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,” Ian Power, an environmental geochemist at Trent University in Canada told the conference, according to phys.org. “The second thing we have done is to demonstrate a pathway which speeds this process up dramatically.”
Magensite forms naturally through a process called hydrothermal metamorphism, which is when water at high temperature and pressure, changes rocks such as peridotite into magnesite. Naturally occurring magnesite can capture about half its volume in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Power and his colleagues discovered that by using polystyrene microspheres – essentially tiny latex beads that are commercially available and commonly used for a wide variety of scientific purposes – as catalysts, they can dramatically accelerate the process and do so at low temperatures.
“Using microspheres means that we were able to speed up magnesite formation by orders of magnitude,” Power said. “This process takes place at room temperature, meaning that magnesite production is extremely energy efficient.”
Although they are optimistic that their discovery can put a dent in the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the researchers warned that they need to see if their discovery can stand scaling up.
Still, Power said: “We now know that the science makes it doable.”