A new method for permanently and safely storing CO2 emissions involves turning the gas into rock. This rock can then be used for construction, thereby not only storing CO2, but also putting it to a new use. The method has been developed at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia and has now received funding for larger scale trials in a mineral carbonation research pilot plan.
The mineral carbonation technology will replicate the earth's carbon sink mechanism by combining CO2 with low grade minerals such as magnesium and calcium silicate rock to make inert carbonates. The process transforms the CO2 into a solid product that can be used in many ways, including new building materials such as bricks and pavers.
"The Earth's natural mineral carbonation system is very slow," said research team member Professor Kennedy. "Our challenge is to speed up that process to prevent CO2 emissions accumulating in the air in a cost-effective way."
There are other similar processes being tested. The Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership in the US state of Washington in August became the first storage site in the world to inject CO2 into basalt, which leads to a similar reaction between the CO2 and calcium and magnesium forming limestone crystals. The New South Wales project is, however, the first seeking to utilize such a natural process to not only store CO2 safely, but to produce a usable material.
The ultimate goal will be to transform the captured CO2 emissions into carbonate rock 'bricks' for use in the construction industry. Fellow researcher Professor Dlugogorski added: "The key difference between geosequestration and ocean storage and our mineral carbonation model is we permanently transform CO2 into a usable product, not simply store it underground." The opportunity to render CO2 into a material on-site, which can then be sold on, could also improve the case for CCS for those plants located further away from geological formations suitable for sequestration.
A multidisciplinary team, including professors from the Australian Newcastle University and researchers from chemical giant Orica, have demonstrated the technology in small scale laboratory settings and led the funding bids. Funding totalling Australian $9 million (€6 million) has been secured from the Australian and New South Wales governments and Orica. The project will be managed by Mineral Carbonation International (MCI), a partnership between Australian Newcastle University's commercial branch Newcastle Innovation, the carbon innovation company GreenMag Group and Orica.
The research pilot plant will be built on a six year R&D foundation by the above partners and will allow for larger scale testing as well as determining the cost savings and emission reductions compared to other methods of storing CO2. It will be built at the University's Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER) and is expected to be operational by 2017.
Read more at the University of Newcastle.