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Australians test carbon dioxide-capturing carbonate production

Sources: University of Newcastle; CP staff

A new method for permanently storing carbon dioxide emissions generated from fossil fuels and other industrial processes is at the heart of a mineral carbonation pilot plant to be built at the University of Newcastle’s Institute for Energy and Resources.

Newcastle researchers envision transforming CO2 into building-grade brick, their technology replicating the Earth's carbon sink mechanism by combining the greenhouse gas with low-grade minerals such as magnesium and calcium silicate rock to make inert carbonates. The process and chemistry are similar to technology California-based Calera Corp. has demonstrated for concrete-grade calcium carbonate powder.

The Australian and New South Wales governments have committed nearly $9 million for a project to be managed by Mineral Carbonation International, a partnership between the University's commercial arm, Newcastle Innovation, and two private partners. A multidisciplinary research team, including professors from the University's Priority Research Centre for Energy, has demonstrated the technology in small scale laboratory settings and led the funding bids.

Newcastle Professor Bodgan Dlugogorski says the pilot plant, with projected 2017 start up, will allow for larger scale testing, plus calculation of cost savings and emission reductions compared to other CO2-storing methods. "The key difference between geosequestration and ocean storage and our mineral carbonation model is we permanently transform CO2 into a usable product, not simply store it underground," he affirms.

"The Earth's natural mineral carbonation system is very slow," adds Professor Eric Kennedy. "Our challenge is to speed up that process to prevent CO2 emissions accumulating in the air in a cost-effective way."