Magnesite is a naturally-occurring carbonate mineral that forms at a low temperature and has the capacity of storing carbon dioxide (CO2). According to Phys.org, one ton of magnesite can remove close to half a ton of CO2 from the atmosphere.
However, the drawback is that magnesite takes a long time to form. On the surface of our planet, this mineral crystalized in a period of up to thousands of years. This makes it difficult to use as a way if curtailing the continuously soaring CO2 emissions.
Yet all this is about to change, as a team of scientists has figured out how to grow magnesite in the lab and “dramatically” expedite its crystallization process to just 2.5 months, reports The Independent.
Led by Prof. Ian Power of Trent University in Ontario, Canada, the researchers started by studying how this mineral forms in nature and came up with a method of adapting that process to artificially grow magnesite.
If their idea can be applicable for mass production of magnesite on an industrial scale, then these guys may have found of way to deal with at least some of the global warming effect caused by CO2 emissions, notes Phys.org.
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.
“Our work shows two things. Firstly, we have explained how and how fast magnesite forms naturally,” Power said in a statement. “The second thing we have done is to demonstrate a pathway which speeds this process up dramatically.”
This amazing breakthrough was made possible by the use of polystyrene microspheres, which act as a catalyst and speed up magnesite formation, making the mineral crystalize within 72 days. Another major advantage is that these microspheres aren’t impacted by the process, which means they can be recycled for multiple uses.
“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,” explained Power.
Although the research is still in its experimental phase, it may provide a practical, easy-to-use way of locking up atmospheric CO2 and permanently storing it within magnesite crystals, a process known as carbon sequestration.
“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,” said Power.
Present at the Goldschmidt Conference, Prof. Peter Kelemen of the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York opined that the new research is “really exciting.” As Kelemen pointed out, the team’s method has a tremendous potential in offering “a benign and relatively inexpensive route to carbon storage, and perhaps even direct CO2 removal from air.”