One of the largest power plants in Iceland succeeded at turning carbon dioxide emissions into solid rock for its storage underground, the scientists announced it on Thursday. The solidification process was made much faster than anyone in the scientific community thought it would.
The study demonstrated for the first time that it was possible the permanent disposal of the carbon dioxide emissions as environmentally benign carbonate minerals in basaltic rocks. Researchers determined that 95 percent of the carbon dioxide injected into the ground in Iceland was mineralized to carbonate minerals in less than two years, according to the study published in the journal Science.
There was a common belief among the scientific community that the solidification process would take several hundred of thousands of years, and this could not be made within the human possibilities. But the paper demonstrated that the safe long-term storage through mineralization can be made faster than previously postulated, researchers added in the study.
“This means that we can pump down large amounts of CO2 and store it in a very safe way over a very short period of time,” said study coauthor Martin Stute, a hydrologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “In the future, we could think of using this for power plants in places where there is a lot of basalt, and there are many such places.”
All the seafloors are made of the porous, blackish rocks needed for the process, as are about 10 percent of continental rocks, as reported by Phys.org. This shows the potential that the process could offer, although the first one ever completed was a pilot project named Carbfix.
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The project started in 2012 as the team began to investigate new technologies to reach their primary goal. The objective was to take some of the relatively small emissions of carbon dioxide from their geothermal plants, along with emissions of hydrogen sulfide, a dangerous gas also present in the plant, and put it in the rocky ground 400 to 800 meters in depth, as reported by the Washington Post.
Not the first time someone tries
Although this experimental study was a success in its pilot version, researchers have tried some others unsuccessful attempts to complete this process before. But the team, which was integrated with people from diverse universities, added a new twist to the making process.
The difference was that the carbon was dissolved in large amounts of water and pumped into porous, basaltic rocks. After that, it underwent a chemical reaction, which was aided by all the water, that would turn the carbon dioxide into a carbonate by binding it with calcium, magnesium or iron that naturally occurs in high amounts in basalt.
The projects before and their experiments involved pumping pure carbon dioxide into sandstone, or thick, salty aquifers. It was hoped that the pressure and stable layers caprock above would seal in the waste. Researchers have worried with this proceeding that any miscalculation or natural factors such as earthquakes could result in emissions making their way back up..
The team showed an enthusiastic point of view about their possible solution, even though they cautioned that they are still in the process of scaling up to be able to handle anything approaching the enormous amounts of carbon dioxide that are currently being emitted around the globe.
Now, the researchers stated, the future biggest problem is transporting carbon dioxide to locations featuring basalt and injecting it to great volumes along with even more significant amounts of water, which can be from the ocean as well. But the potential is there, they said.
“You could basically sequester all the CO2 humans emit in basalts, if you want to, but you have to capture the CO2 and get it to these places,” Stute said. “That is what the problem really is.”
At the right moment?
In the present, humans are releasing carbon dioxide ten times faster than the last similar event, which leaves experts without a historical analog to guide predictions for climate changes and its repercussions.
The Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) was a mysterious event that led to the release of the highest concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ever known, even higher that they are right now, as reported by The Washington Post.
As a repercussion, the planet proceeded to warm rapidly, at least in geological terms and caused significant deaths among some marine organism followed due to high acidification of the oceans. The changes were off about 5 degrees Celsius warmer from pole to pole.
The difference among the PETM and the present is that the past event lastest over 4,000 years to reach troubling levels, but now the emissions go even higher. The new study estimates that during the PETM the volume of carbon entered the atmosphere was between 2,000 and 4,000 million tons, only about 1 million tons of carbon emitted per year.
According to current data, a scientist said that right now humans are emitting about 10 billion tons annually, an emission that speeds the whole global warming process and leaves researchers without any possible prediction based in past times.
“Given that the current rate of carbon release is unprecedented throughout the Cenozoic, we have forcefully entered an era of a no-analogue state, which represents a fundamental challenge to constraining future climate projections,” concluded researchers from the study published in Nature Geoscience.
— Climate Central (@ClimateCentral) May 23, 2016