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MODERN ENGINEERING MARVEL #14
  • CO2 to Stone?

    Carbon Storage

    Photo by American Chemical Society



    Turning people or things into stone is normally the stuff of fairy tales. But, thanks to researchers with the Dept of Energy, turning carbon dioxide into stone is the real deal and a possible means to trap CO2 for good.

    "Emissions anywhere affect people everywhere". Drastically reducing carbon emissions can slow down climate change, but scientists stress the importance of additional solutions, as well. That's why a recent experiment at the US Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is so exciting.

    The premise was to lock CO2 into a solid form where it would be unable to escape into the atmosphere – a process previously believed to take thousands of years. Recent lab studies showed basalt, formed from lava millions of years ago, rapidly converting carbon dioxide into stone. But, would the process work the same deep underground? PNNL researches decided to test the theory.

    They injected nearly 1000 tones of fluid CO2 into hardened lava flows a half mile underground near Wallula, WA. At that depth, minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron make up the basalt formations. The acidity of the carbon dioxide dissolves the minerals, resulting in a carbonate mineral, ankerite. Similar to limestone, the ankerite binds with the basalt, trapping the carbon dioxide. The entire process took only two years.

    Could basalts, widely found throughout the world, help permanently sequester carbon on a large scale? Possibly, though we can't pump CO2 into every basalt pocket just yet. This approach requires more study and discussion. No one knows if this technique will scale to deal with higher amounts of carbon dioxide, nor do we know how much carbon dioxide we can safely store in basalt. The expense of carbon capture is another factor.

    Still, pumping CO2 into basalt doesn't harm the oceans or the atmosphere which is a really good start.


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