Can a mineral called magnesite solve global warming? New study suggests it can

While it is too early to say for sure, the mineral could be critical to saving out planet.

Magnesite is a naturally-occurring mineral used in the jewellery industry as well as in industrial processes and is known for its rare ability to store carbon.

Researchers from Trent University have now found a way to produce the mineral — which normally takes thousands of years to form — in days.

It is now being studied as a candidate to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and curb its contribution towards the warming of the planet.

In a process known as carbon sequestration — a hot topic in environmental research at the moment — carbon from the air is trapped and converted into a form that can be stored and used thereafter, in this case, that form is magnesite.

Magnesite has been known to have natural carbon-sequestering properties for decades. In fact, a process for converting carbon dioxide into magnesite was presented as long as 20 years ago.

Magnesite. Flickr

A rock of naturally-occurring magnesite. Flickr

However, the challenge so far has been that the rate of this conversion is very slow.

The newly discovered pathway causes crystallization to happen a lot faster, speeding up the conversion process dramatically.

Using low temperature and polystyrene microspheres as a catalyst in the production process, researchers managed to synthesise magnesite in just under 72 days. Also, the microspheres used in the process remained unchanged in the production process, making this key ingredient reusable and efficient.

While carbon sequestration certainly sounds like a promising means to tackle the greenhouse effect, finding methods that are both cheap and practical remains a challenge to making a quantifiable difference to atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

The abstract and preliminary findings were presented at the Goldschmidt Conference on Geochemistry in Boston, Massachusetts.

The findings have offered a big boost to the field of carbon capture and storage, and a benign, relatively inexpensive route to reduce greenhouse gasses could be just years away.

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