Scientists are turning carbon dioxide into stone

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Scientists Turn Carbon Dioxide into Stone

Researchers may have figured out a way to solve our carbon emissions problem--turn the gas into rocks.

In a paper published today in Science researchers announced that they had managed to trap carbon emissions in basalt, a common volcanic rock.

As part of a long-running project called CarbFix, researchers injected emissions from an Icelandic power plant deep into rock formations. The gas reacted with the basalt rocks, forming carbonate, a material similar to limestone. Once turned into carbonate, the carbon can't leak back out into the environment.

"Our results show that between 95 and 98 per cent of the injected CO2 was mineralized over the period of less than two years, which is amazingly fast,"said lead author Juerg Matter.

In fact, it's vastly faster than researchers ever dreamed. The most optimistic hopes were that the carbon would solidify into stone in eight to twelve years. Instead, 250 tons of carbon generated from a nearby geothermal plant were almost fully turned into carbonate in just two years.

"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 co-author Martin Stute "In the future, we could think of using this for power plants in places where there's a lot of basalt--and there are many such places."

Humans put approximately 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. Carbon dioxide is a powerful greenhouse gas that is contributing to rising global warming, and is formed in part due to the combustion of fossil fuels. Putting some carbon back into the ground could mean a greener future for our planet.

"The overall scale of our study was relatively small. So, the obvious next step for CarbFix is to upscale CO2 storage in basalt. This is currently happening at Reykjavik Energy's Hellisheidi geothermal power plant, where up to 5,000 tonnes of CO2 per year are captured and stored in a basaltic reservoir." Matter said.

5,000 tons is a long way from 40 billion, but it's a start.

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Scientists are turning carbon dioxide into stone
Evening rush hour traffic comes to a standstill on a hazy and polluted day in Beijing on December 1, 2010. China has met its 2010 target to cut emissions of key pollutants and is on track to meet its energy efficiency goal, state media said, quoting the country's top climate change official as saying after China last week acknowledged it had become the world's biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases that are blamed for climate change and global warming, surpassing the United States, though not in terms of emissions per capita. China's efforts to improve energy efficiency allowed for savings of 490 million tonnes of coal and prevented carbon dioxide emissions totalling 1.13 billion tonnes in 2006-2009, state media reported. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
NEWBURG, MD - MAY 29: Emissions spew out of a large stack at the coal fired Morgantown Generating Station, on May 29, 2014 in Newburg, Maryland. Next week President Obama is expected to announce new EPA plans to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal fired power plants. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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LONDON - MARCH 25: Marketing manager Nick Cliffe of the 'Closed Loop Recycling' plant walks people through the recycling process on March 25, 2010 in London, United Kingdom. The state of the art plant is the first in the UK to produce food grade recycled plastic from bottle waste. Over 35,00 tonnes of plastic bottles are recycled at the plant annually, representing almost 20% of the plastic bottles currently collected for recycling in the UK, and saving approximately 52,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
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