Taking a page from Nature herself, a team of researchers developed a method to enhance removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and place it in the Earth's oceans for storage.
Unlike other proposed ocean sequestration processes, the new technology does not make the oceans more acid and may be beneficial to coral reefs. The process is a manipulation of the natural weathering of volcanic silicate rocks. Reporting in today's (Nov. 7) issue of Environmental Science and Technology, the Harvard and Penn State team explained their method.
"The technology involves selectively removing acid from the ocean in a way that might enable us to turn back the clock on global warming," says Kurt Zenz House, graduate student in Earth and planetary sciences, Harvard University. "Essentially, our technology dramatically accelerates a cleaning process that Nature herself uses for greenhouse gas accumulation."
In natural silicate weathering, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere dissolves in fresh water and forms weak carbonic acid. As the water percolates through the soil and rocks, the carbonic acid converts to a solution of alkaline carbonate salts. This water eventually flows into the ocean and increases its alkalinity. An alkaline ocean can hold dissolved carbon, while an acidic one will release the carbon back into the atmosphere. The more weathering, the more carbon is transferred to the ocean where some of it eventually becomes part of the sea bottom sediments.
"In the engineered weathering process we have found a way to swap the weak carbonic acid with a much stronger one (hydrochloric acid) and thus accelerate the pace to industrial rates," says House.
The researchers minimize the potential for environmental problems by combining the acid removal with silicate rock weathering mimicking the natural process. The more alkaline ocean can store carbon as bicarbonate, the most plentiful and innocuous form of carbon in the oceans.
According to Hou
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