Scientists turn CO2 to stone in just two years: a solution for climate change? (+video)

Jun 14, 2016

By Jason Thomson

Nature can turn carbon dioxide into rock, but it takes thousands upon thousands of years. Scientists in Iceland may have just figured out how to do it in less than two.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) holds enormous potential to slow climate change, taking carbon dioxide gas out of the atmosphere and storing it underground – in theory, anyway.

But efforts to turn theory into reality have faced huge technical challenges, not least concerns that the liquid carbon dioxide being pumped down into the Earth might leak back out.


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19 comments on “Scientists turn CO2 to stone in just two years: a solution for climate change? (+video)

  • @OP – link – Nature can turn carbon dioxide into rock, but it takes thousands upon thousands of years. Scientists in Iceland may have just figured out how to do it in less than two.

    Actually shellfish and plankton turn CO2 into rock all the time! – When they die the shells fall to the ocean floor to make beds of chalk and limestone.

    @OP link – “Over two years, 95 percent to 98 percent was mineralized.”

    That is not surprising in porous volcanic basalt, ash or pumice. Volcanoes cook CO2 out of rocks,- a bit like roasting limestone to make lime mortar or cement. Mixing in water and CO2 reverses the process. Even the Romans knew about using volcanic ash as a basis for their concrete.
    The chemical reactions are of course quicker if the rocks are warm, or the reactions are exothermic and the heat is retained!

    To put this in perspective, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in a 2005 report predicted that it would take between 100 to 1,000 years for this mineral carbonation to take place.

    I think that would be in the study of solution of limestone in CO2 rich water and stalactite formation in cold limestone caves, not a reaction with volcanic ash.

    Even at that rate, it acknowledged that CCS, which it described as “an immature technology,” holds significant appeal due to the “permanence of storage of CO2 in a stable solid form.”

    It sounds like a promising carbon capture technique, but they suggest it is quite expensive.
    The access to volcanic basalt may not be readily available in areas (such as coal measures), where sedimentary rocks predominate.

    It may help a little, but is no substitute for reducing CO2 production by industry.



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  • I’ve seen this story reported extensively, with lots of hoopla about the ability to continue to burn fossil fuels. This application is limited by the underground geology that has to be just right to make it work. Iceland, a volcanic island, does well. The rest of the world doesn’t, so while this process may have limited application, it will not solve global warming.

    On another level, what struck me was that Iceland, who doesn’t even make it onto the list of countries by carbon footprint in Wikipedia, is still concerned about the minuscule amount of carbon it is emitting and is prepared to spend money to fix even this tiny carbon leak. This says a lot about the comparative morality of countries.



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  • Good news, in that anything that helps soak up excess CO2 from the atmosphere is good.

    Bad news, in that it’s seen as a Magic Bullet to let us continue, business as usual, releasing CO2 from fossil fuels.

    Climate-Change-Deniers will immediately flip over to yeah, sure, look we can absorb it all, no need to change current behaviour. They don’t deny it because that’s what they believe, they deny it because then they don’t need to do anything about it. Having a Magic Carbon Rock Machine somewhere will do just as well instead.

    But, question: is the fossil fuel industry investing large in CO2 capture technology? Wouldn’t it be win-win if they were able to transform their industry into a carbon-neutral one, while still burning the stuff?



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  • $150 worth of the cleanest fossil fuel electricity (natural gas) produces one ton of CO2. It currently costs $150 per ton to capture this carbon even before the relatively modest injection cost.

    This technology is still dead in the water. No-one is showing spectacular drops in the capture process costs.

    from 7th October 2015 Guardian.

    Falling costs mean new windfarms are now £20 cheaper per megawatt hour than coal or gas-fired plants, according to new analysis

    New onshore windfarms are now the cheapest way for a power company to produce electricity in Britain, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

    Costs have dropped to $85 (£55) per megawatt hour (MWh) compared with the current costs of about $115 for constructing coal or gas-fired plants, its analysis found.

    The price of wind, which has fallen from $108 just 12 months ago, compares with nuclear which Bloomberg assesses at $190 – the latter up on a year ago as project delays are factored in to developments.

    The positive picture for renewable power in Britain is mirrored across the world with wind and solar technologies fast falling in price while fossil fuel costs continue to move upwards.

    The numbers here show natural gas with CCS at 20cents per kWh against 8.5 cents for wind. This hype from a university for funding will net a lot of adverse luddite leverage from vested fossil fuel interests for the payment of just enough funding to maintain the publicity.

    Much more importantly this is not sustainable technology. I claim it immoral not to pursue technologies that are or can become non-klepto in nature.



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  • 5
    Pinball1970 says:

    @david-r-allen
    I am sure are entropy issues there, there is no such thing as a free lunch unless you are empty space.
    Do you think the census in Oz will reveal anything interesting on this issue? When are the results of that?



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  • This is great. One you have the calcium carbonate, you leave it anywhere, use it for building material etc.
    Other systems require constant vigilance to keep the carbon captured.



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  • >

    Roedy

    One you have the calcium carbonate, you leave it anywhere, use it for building material etc.

    No. Ain’t gonna happen. Its half a mile down coating basaltic rocks. It is very unlikely to have structural integrity like limestone powerfully compressed for millions of years.



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  • As much as I enjoyed reading the skepticism in others comments, I found the original story to be more interesting.

    Assuming, in a moment of wild guesswork, that it takes us a few decades to wean ourselves off fossil fuels – and noting that plants and oceans are being either interfered with or overwhelmed – I’m glad someone is looking at this.

    In turn, that weaning will require the significant act of global will which is so easily identified in the policies of every government today [/sarcasm].

    Some of the objections people are raising in this thread are dealt with in the full original story. No-one is pretending this is a silver bullet.

    As so often happens; the solution to a problem created by human misuse of science is solved by more science.

    Peace.



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  • Sorry, Stephen, there are far more interesting carbon capture technologies than this, which has only a few niche applications where CO2, basalt and water are immediately to hand. The problem is the very high cost of initial CO2 capture to connect CO2 source with basaltic sink.

    Far more promising is using microalgae to directly capture CO2 from flue gasses to generate high lipid feedstocks. These can be used to both generate jet fuel and animal feed from the residue. The jet fuel offsets oil pumped out of the ground and burned and the photo bioreactors can be sited next to power stations, cement works, breweries and distilleries etc. with an immediate cost saving equal to the cost of the energy.

    I have no doubt this (capture as a carbonate) will make a tiny contribution, but in the big scheme of all the levers we are currently trying to pul, the numbers are really stacked against any significant contribution.



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  • Sorry, again, Stephen. I am, indeed, a little nerdy about these things and in fairness the picture changes pretty rapidly as breakthroughs are made. This, however, is something like reports of ” cancer cures” where you discover its about partial remediation ot Latvian bear trainers’ toe cancer. (…oh….its the special clogs that are the problem.)

    In fifty or a hundred years time I suspect that this might become a technique for slowly pumping CO2 back to 280ppm.



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  • @PinBall #7

    There are a number of Carbon Capture projects in Australia, but they are all funded by big fossil. As I follow the reports, none are viable, both at the technology level, and economically.

    There has however been this very interesting development in our State capital. In dot point. The power generation company that does the poles and wires, had a suburb that was an electricity black spot. They needed to get more power to that suburb. They investigated a poles and wires link and building a substation in the suburb that was going to cost millions and take a very long time to implement. They also had problems with this solution because they had to find a route through existing suburbs for the inter-connector that was acceptable to the residents. I don’t know about elsewhere but this would be a legal nightmare.

    Australia is currently being used as a test bed by the world’s major Solar PV / Battery Storage companies. Because Australia already has a very high uptake of domestic PV and community support, Australia is ideal to see which technologies are viable in the market. I will provide a link to a science journalism program that explored this development.

    Join these two dots together. The power company has decided to supply heavily discounted domestic solar PV / Battery storage systems to the houses in the suburb with the electricity black spot. The suburb them becomes a mini solar power station with batteries that are all computer controlled and linked, which means that it runs 24/7/365. The kicker is that this solution will cost the power company petty cash, compared running a new poles and wires….. The residents also get paid for the electricity they produce.

    Take this thinking and put this technology on the roof surfaces of an entire city, which makes it a massive power station. It may need a few gas fired power stations on standby to ensure supply after a few days of cloud, but it is a massive drop in carbon output. The other technology win is the ability of the batteries to smooth power demand. Batteries can cope instantly with the people coming home from work and turning on the AC or devices. Currently power companies need to have very expensive on standby instantaneous gas fired plants to manage peaks and troughs.

    Not sure if I’ve answered your question. Here is the link to the Power Company announcement.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-19/subsidised-power-storage-batteries-in-adelaide-trial/7426634



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  • Pinball / Phil Rimmer.

    This might interest you. At the end of this journalism, is a discussion of a new battery technology that takes old Zinc / Bromide chemistry, but combines it in a wafer gel that is then build into the walls of buildings. They are building a high rise apartment block as a test where all of the walls are the battery that powers the building. The Gel is the break through because you don’t have to manage liquids with all of the engineering complexity.

    Because Australia already has a very high uptake of domestic PV and community support, Australia is ideal to see which technologies are viable in the market. I will provide a link to a science journalism program that explored this development.

    http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4398364.htm



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  • As a general observation. I see efforts to develop carbon capture and storage so that fossil fuels can continue to be used as the last desperate death rattles of a dying industry. Interesting that Peabody Energy has filed for bankruptcy in America and the CEO of Exxon Mobil has gone on record admitting the burning fossil fuels causes climate change, and advocating for a Carbon Tax as a solution.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/wall-street-journal-accepts-environmentalist-ad-but-charges-extra/2016/06/13/422cd8e2-3199-11e6-95c0-2a6873031302_story.html



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  • Hi OHooligan [#44],

    I am not a fat, hairy, monstrous, tone deaf, simple-minded … oh, wait … I am a Womble [Gasp!]
    I was answering Ananias in kind, and I was offering a counterpoint to his prayers.

    You appear to be objecting, which I don’t understand.

    It’s not like it took a lot of effort, it only took me about 20 minutes.

    Peace.



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  • David #13

    Thanks for this. I wonder if the zinc bromide cell was the one Tata Steel was trying to put in steel building and roofing panels for pre-fab modular buildings? (They were also keen to put solar PV on the outside and LED lighting on the inside.)

    Like cloud data storage, energy storage for your exclusive use could be a remotish (distric based) service. Rolling up maintenance and flexibly altering kW/h needed is the most likely scenario. My own view is that district service provision hardware will overlap with recharging/refuelling stations and be situated on retail parks. The bulk storage will be much cheaper to maintain and contract with electricity producers with more sophisticated buying and selling strategies to eke out value.



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  • phil rimmer #17
    Jun 16, 2016 at 9:11 am

    My own view is that district service provision hardware will overlap with recharging/refuelling stations and be situated on retail parks. The bulk storage will be much cheaper to maintain and contract with electricity producers with more sophisticated buying and selling strategies to eke out value.

    That combined with other innovative transport innovations, look much more promising than than expensive niche situation carbon capture projects!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36548893

    Volkswagen plans to launch 30 all-electric models to reposition itself as a leader in “green” transport.

    He hopes that by 2025, all-electric cars would account for about 20-25% of the German carmaker’s annual sales.

    Outlining what he described as the “key building blocks in the new group strategy”, Mr Mueller said VW aimed to “transform its core automotive business or, to put it another way, make a fundamental realignment in readiness for the new age of mobility”.

    VW will focus on “the most attractive and fastest-growing market segments”, he said. “Special emphasis will be place on e-mobility. The group is planning a broad-based initiative in this area: it intends to launch more than 30 purely battery-powered electric vehicles over the next ten years,” he said.

    Mr Mueller said VW’s transformation would involve investments in the double-digit billions of euros, funded by savings and cost-cuts, with all brands and businesses having to contribute.



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  • As Phil Rimmer (and the authors of the Science paper) point out, the big cost of carbon capture is in, well, capturing the carbon – and transporting it to the site where it is the be sequestered. There is very little in the paper about details of the chemistry, they seem to just speculate that the process converts existing carbonates within the basalt to bicarbonates, e.g. CaCO₃ + CO₂ + H₂O ⇌ Ca(HCO₃)₂. The silicates will not be converted. (BTW, the idea that the CaCO₃ formed will be useful doesn’t fly because the biggest use of CaCO₃ is in making cement – a process in which CO₂ is liberated in forming silicates!) The paper is fine, but carries the danger already mentioned: that deniers will latch on to this by focussing on the silly hype in the CSM article that suggests that this is part of an answer to global warming.



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