Another Way to Skin the Carbon Cat

by Richard T. Stuebi

The challenges associated with climate change are so daunting — so much emission reductions to achieve, so much money to invest in energy efficiency and low/zero-carbon energy technologies and infrastructure, and so little time to do it — that we’re going to have to be awfully creative.

In the past, I’ve blogged about geoengineering the planet, putting stuff up in the atmosphere to block incoming solar radiation, thereby reducing the energetic input to the planet from the sun. This week, I take note of an article entitled “Eating Carbon” in the November 15 issue of The Economist.

It appears that the Earth is endowed with massive reserves of a particular type of rock called peridotite, which seems to be able to react quickly with carbon dioxide to produce carbonates. One thought is to grind up the peridotite and expose it to exhaust streams, but a new approach profiled in a paper (see abstract) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Peter Kelemen and Juerg Matter of Columbia University involves injecting carbon dioxide in mass quantities (e.g., from powerplants) into the peridotite strata, leaving inert byproducts in-situ underground.

The big challenge appears to be depth: the peridotite is 20 km down. But, the upside appears to be substantial, with seemingly much more carbon dioxide sequestration capacity than the caverns and reservoirs mainly being considered in the carbon capture/sequestration (CCS) community — and with no potential for leakage.

Apparently, peridotite is not the only rock that “eats” carbon, as researchers are now investigating volcanic basalt as well. With luck, perhaps geologists can find a good rock type that is both quickly reactive, highly plentiful and dispersed on the planet, and relatively cheap/easy to access.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

3 replies
  1. dobermanmacleod
    dobermanmacleod says:

    While it is cool that a rock "eats" carbon, it is really just a novelty due to scale:"The vast majority of new power stations in China and India will be coal-fired; not "may be coal-fired"; will be. So developing carbon capture and storage technology is not optional, it is literally of the essence." –"Breaking the Climate Deadlock," Tony Blair, June 26, 2008 But, Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba, has estimated that capturing and burying just 10 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted over a year from coal-fire plants at current rates would require moving volumes of compressed carbon dioxide greater than the total annual flow of oil worldwide — a massive undertaking requiring decades and trillions of dollars. "Beware of the scale," he stressed."By the way, with geoengineering a main flaw is it would still leave the ocean acidic (contining the same theme of carbon eating rocks):Engineered weathering process could mitigate global warming7 Nov 2007 — "Researchers at Harvard University and Pennsylvania State University have invented a technology, inspired by nature, to reduce the accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) caused by human emissions. By electrochemically removing hydrochloric acid from the ocean and then neutralizing the acid by reaction with silicate (volcanic) rocks, the researchers say they can accelerate natural chemical weathering, permanently transferring CO2 from the atmosphere to the ocean."

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Why mess with grand, costly clumsy strategies? Check out biochar–a way to utilize biomass to provide carbon negative energy. It's a great opportunity waiting to happen. Of course, conservation, efficiency, distributed renewables, electric vehicles and re-localization of economies is still necessary.

  3. Sathyan
    Sathyan says:

    taking the rock from 20km below the ground is interesting.. i have a silly question :)don't u think if we remove something from the bottom, we will actually be ending up disturbing the earth's spherical structure.Its something like you build a beautiful house; but for some strange reason you end up digging below the house. and the house falls down.Isn't it similar??

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