Countries around the world have been incredibly slow to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, so scientists have been looking for innovative ways to draw carbon from the atmosphere.
Most of the current methods of the process, called “carbon sequestration,” are expensive and inefficient, and this impracticality has made efforts seem futile.
But a group of climate researchers presenting their work at the Goldschmidt Conference in Boston may have found a sustainable alternative, according to Fast Company.
The team was able to rapidly accelerate the formation of the mineral magnesite, which stores carbon as it crystallizes.
In natural environments, magnesite forms over hundreds of thousands of years. The researchers were able to speed that process up to 72 days, orders of magnitude faster, according to a press release provided to Phys.org.
They were able to accomplish this acceleration by adding polystyrene microspheres as a catalyst.
Flickr / James St. John
Other teams of scientists were able to accelerate magnesite formation in the past, but only with the help of extreme heat. Because this new method can be done at room temperature, it’s very energy efficient, according to the researchers.
It also benefits from the reusability of the polystyrene, which is a plastic.
On a large scale this process could become a useful tool in the global fight against climate change.
But it’s no by means a cure-all.
One metric ton of magnesite stores half of a metric ton of carbon, according to the researchers. Globally, humans release 32.5 gigatons of carbon each year, which is 32.5 billion metric tons, so 65 billion metric tons of magnesite would be needed just to cancel out annual output.
And that wouldn’t be reasonable.
"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,” said Ian Power, project leader and professor at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, in a statement. “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 doable."
Other methods of carbon sequestration include factories that suck carbon from the air, seaweed columns, ice storage, and more.
The most cost-effective and environmentally beneficial option, however, could be planting trees.
But since trees alone can’t fight climate change, scientists will keep looking for high-tech alternatives. This magnesite technique could be one of the more promising options.