Researchers from Australia’s University of Newcastle, the Orica chemical company and innovation leaders GreenMag Group – collectively called Mineral Carbonation International – think they have a solution. After six years of researching carbon dioxide capture and storage, the group has discovered how to turn CO2 into solid, permanent rocks. These carbon dioxide “bricks” can be turned into building material for a variety of uses. Carbon dioxide is produced from manufacturers using fossil fuels in their industrial processes.
A new $9 million manufacturing plant in Newcastle is expected to begin producing the bricks along with other green building products for industry and residential application. According to published accounts, the plant will be situated at the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER) and should be operational by 2017.
This sort of process incentivizes companies to expend money and effort to capture the CO2 in the first place. Manufacturers gain a new base material as well as products they can sell for profit while incidentally trapping carbon emissions permanently. Thankfully, more research is being done to learn how to stop pumping carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. The focus is shifting to capture and storage of dangerous chemicals. The question is not whether these practices can mitigate climate change but rather how to make these systems cost-effective.
Research leaders Professor Bodgan Dlugogorski and Orica Senior Research Associate Dr Geoff Brent claim the planned pilot plant will allow larger scale testing of the processes. Cost savings and emission reductions compared to other CO2 storage methods will also be gathered.
“The key difference,” Dlugogorski said, “between geosequestration and ocean storage and our mineral carbonation model is we permanently transform CO2 into a usable product, not simply store it underground”
Small scale labs have already proven the process. The next stage uses an experimental plant to move the brick process towards mass production. The process seems relatively simple. CO2 is captured by manufacturing plants and then combined with low-grade minerals like calcium silicate or magnesium. The result is inert carbonates, turning the trapped CO2 into a solid. This becomes the basis for new building materials.
It the system works as planned on a large scale every carbon-producing plant such as coal-fired power stations can upgrade to capture and store carbon emissions. Using the carbon in manufacturing reuses the material rather than leaving a storage problem after capture. The ongoing project is managed by Mineral Carbonation International.