Raising levels of carbon dioxide in the environment will alter the existing world. For instance, climate change can have a negative impact on public health. Diseases such as the Zika virus, Ebola, and Lassa fever are made worse in the face of the altering atmosphere. This is because the vectors (such as bats and rats) that carry diseases will see differences in their habitats as climate change continues. Because of the public health threat and many other challenges of climate change, scientists have started looking for tangible ways to prevent massive atmospheric changes.
Now, a group of scientists have shared in Science magazine that they have figured out how to capture carbon from the atmosphere and turn it into an innocuous solid. The technique could be a big step forward for the research community as it tries to discover sustainable ways to process high levels of carbon dioxide output.
The technique works by combining carbon dioxide and water with basalt, a volcanic substance that covers much of the earth. As a result, the chemical reaction then turns the carbon dioxide into a solid material that can then be stored underground or in another safe location.
The process of taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or from industrial plants is known as “carbon capture.” If the technique of funneling carbon dioxide into basalt does turn out to be easily replicated in other parts of the world, then that could mean that carbon capture is a much cheaper possibility than previously thought. While some have expressed concerns over the safety of the procedure (what if carbon dioxide leaked out of the ground for instance?), early and ongoing monitoring has yet to uncover safety issues.
Experts say the results of a two-year, $10 million US experiment called CarbFix, conducted about 540 metres deep in the rocks of Iceland, offer new hope for an effective weapon to help fight man-made global warming.
When an international team of scientists pumped a carbon dioxide and water mix into underground basalt rocks, basic chemistry took over. The acidic mixture dissolved the rocks' calcium magnesium and formed limestone, a permanent natural jail for the heat-trapping gas, according to Juerg Matter of the University of Southampton in England. He is the lead author of a study detailing the experiment published in the journal Science.
"It's no longer a gas," Matter said. "Basically carbon dioxide is converted into stone."
Scientists, who had done this before in the lab, thought the process could take thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years. But after just two years, 95 per cent of the gas was captured and converted, the study said.
One of the methods to battle climate change, in addition to reducing fossil fuel emissions, is to capture carbon dioxide from the air or power plants.
However, carbon capture can be expensive — especially the capturing part. Once the gas is grabbed from the air, storing it is another issue. It can be stored underground and is sometimes injected in depleted oil wells, but there are concerns about monitoring it and preventing it from escaping.
Injecting it into basalt and letting nature take its course can solve that problem. But at $17 per ton of carbon dioxide, it can cost a couple times more than injecting it into old wells.
There's basalt all over the world, in places like the Pacific Northwest, India and South America.
But even more promising is the ocean floor, which is full of basalt and a good place to store the carbon dioxide.
CarbFix is just a small scale test — using about the equivalent of the annual carbon dioxide emissions of 15 Americans — but if it can be scaled up at a low cost, "it would be very good news," said climate scientist Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who wasn't part of the study.