Magnesite sediments in a playa (desert basin) in British Columbia, Canada. Trent University Assistant Professor of Environmental Geoscience and project leader Ian Power elaborated on how their work involved a rapid acceleration of the magnesite crystallization process: "Using microspheres means that we were able to speed up magnesite formation by orders of magnitude".
Rising levels of carbon dioxide in atmosphere accelerate climate change and global warming. This work takes a different approach to existing processes, and may make it economically viable, but it is at an early stage, and is not yet an industrial process.
According to the researchers, the solution lies in speeding up the formation of magnesite, a mineral that can store carbon but takes thousands of years to form in nature.
Researchers have found a way to rapidly produce the mineral magnesite, which can be used as a long-term storage solution for harmful Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The team presented the results of their research at this year's Goldschmidt Conference, organized by the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry and held this week in Boston, Massachusetts. Specifically, magnesite can remove around half a ton of Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it for long periods, but the rate of formation is very low.
"Our work shows two things". 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. To do so, they used "polystyrene microspheres", which are used in many disciplines of science and are widely available, to cause magnesite crystallization within 72 days - exponentially faster, in other words. The process of rapid magnesite formation is described as experimental at this point, one key element being the need to scale it up to the industrial level if it's to be used for meaningful Carbon dioxide sequestration.
More from Professor Power: "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".
Fast-forming magnesite could also store CO2 for a long time and prevent any further release into the atmosphere unlike natural carbon sinks like forests and oceans. "That 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".
Professor Peter Kelemen (Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University) stated that the project's finding is important and it can potentially offer "a benign and relatively cheap route to carbon storage, and perhaps even direct CO2 removal from air". It is also used as an cheap gemstone.