Scientists Have Grown an Artificial Mineral That Can Store Greenhouse Gases... And Help End Pollution

Wednesday, 15 August 2018 - 11:55AM
Technology
Earth
Wednesday, 15 August 2018 - 11:55AM
Scientists Have Grown an Artificial Mineral That Can Store Greenhouse Gases... And Help End Pollution
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A recent paper on potential 'exo-civilizations' claimed that alien civilizations who follow in our environment-ruining footsteps will end up following one of three paths: massive population loss, utter extinction, or a "soft landing," where the civilization phases out high-impact fuels in time to prevent their planet from turning into a hostile hellscape. Since it looks like Earth's own global cataclysm may not be as imminent as expected, that means scientists may have time to pioneer a new technology that could keep massive amounts of greenhouse gases out of our atmosphere – or pull CO2 from the air itself – utilizing a powerful mineral synthesized in a laboratory for the first time.

The breakthrough revolves around growing magnesite, a mineral that has the ability to store about half its weight in carbon dioxide. Normally, it takes magnesite centuries to form, but a team of researcher have found a way to create magnesite in less than three days by using polystyrene microspheres. According to the Professor Ian Power, the project leader: "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 to demonstrate a pathway which speeds this process up dramatically...This process takes place at room temperature, meaning that magnesite production is extremely energy efficient."

Though the process still needs to be refined and adapted to be used for large-scale manufacturing of magnesite, the initial results are promising: if the mineral can store carbon dioxide efficiently, it may put a major dent in climate change. According to Professor Peter Kelemen at Columbia University: "It is really exciting that this group has worked out the mechanism of natural magnesite crystallization at low temperatures...The potential for accelerating the process is also important, potentially offering a benign and relatively inexpensive route to carbon storage, and perhaps even direct CO2 removal from air."
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