A team of scientists led by Trent’s own, Dr. Ian Power, the first-ever Canada research chair in Environmental Geoscience, have found a rapid way of producing magnesite, a mineral which stores carbon dioxide. Big news for combating global warming.
If the team’s findings can be developed and applied to an industrial scale, it will open the door to removing CO2 from the atmosphere for long-term storage, ultimately countering the global warming effect of atmospheric CO2.
Although scientists are already working to slow global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, there are practical and economic limits on developing the technology. Now, for the first time ever, the team of researchers have explained how magnesite forms at a low temperature, and offers a route to dramatically accelerating its crystallization.
“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 demonstrate a pathway which speeds this process up dramatically,” Professor Power explains. “Using microspheres means that we were able to speed up magnesite formation by orders of magnitude. This process takes place at room temperature, meaning that magnesite production is extremely energy efficient.”
Prof. Power and his team were able to show that by using polystyrene microspheres as a catalyst, magnesite would form within 72 days. The microspheres themselves are unchanged by the production process, so they can ideally be reused.
“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 (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 that the science makes it do-able,” he explains.
This research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and was recently presented at the Goldschmidt conference in Boston.