Scientists have devised a way of creating a mineral in the lab that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The researchers managed to dramatically speed up the natural formation of CO2-grabbing magnesite – which would take thousands of years to form outside of the lab – to just 72 days.
On an industrial scale, the mineral could eventually be used to reduce levels of greenhouse gases, and combat climate change .
"Our work shows two things", said project leader Professor Ian Power from Trent University in Ontario, Canada.
"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."
Scientists around the the world are already working on slowing global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere but there are serious limits to the developing the technology, both in practical and economic terms.
A tonne of naturally occurring magnesite can remove around half a tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere.
However, the mineral’s formation rate is usually incredibly slow.
Using polystyrene microspheres as a catalyst, the researchers have cut the time it takes to form magnesite in the lab to just 72 days.
And because the microspheres remain unchanged during the process, they can be reused, making the process extra efficient.
"For now, we recognise 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)," said Power.
"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".
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