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Posted: July 30, 2009
Could nanotechnology be the key to storing carbon dioxide?
(Nanowerk News) An article by Amy Westervelt over at earth2tech asks the question whether nanotechnology is the key to storing carbon:
A recent breakthrough at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is bringing together two sectors that people love to fixate on: nanotechnology and carbon sequestration. Although the combo may sound unusual, nanotechnology could actually be the only way we’ll figure out if geologic carbon sequestration — stuffing CO2 underground — actually works.
Here’s the deal: The most reliable way to store and secure CO2 is to get it to attach to a solid and form a carbonate. (Think coral covering rocks in the ocean.) That process is thermodynamically stable and also provides a long-term solution to holding onto CO2. The problem is that it takes a very long time for that to happen using current methods — as in, thousands of years.
But Lawrence Berkeley recently managed to produce nanoscale magnesium oxide crystals, which staff scientist Jeff Urban says could help speed up that CO2-solid bonding process. “Magnesium oxide crystals are known to influence processes and rates of reaction,” he said. “And if we can control the size and surface chemistry of the crystals, we may be able to dramatically increase the rate of CO2 being stuck to the surface.”
Lawrence Berkeley researchers still need to figure out those pieces, and Urban said they plan to study the crystals further to see how they react when flushed with CO2 and how they interact with fluid carbon dioxide. But the end result could be an answer to the wait-and-see scenario that has plagued carbon sequestration.
“Right now with the process trials in Europe and the U.S., it’s difficult to assess how well geologic carbon sequestration is working because it takes hundreds to thousands of years to really see,” Urban said. This breakthrough could lead scientists to be able to do an injection and immediately see carbonate form, which can help them instantly assess how much storage space we need and how long it will take to store the CO2, said Urban, adding: “It lets you really quantitatively assess the feasibility of carbon sequestration.”