Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have come up with a new way of sequestering carbon dioxide emissions -- one based on natural processes.
The process involves reacting carbon dioxide in the stream of waste gas from a power plant with water and calcium carbonate (limestone) or other carbonate compounds. Instead of carbon dioxide emissions, the plant generates wastewater rich in soluble bicarbonate ions, which can be released beneath the surface of the ocean. [research scientist with UCSC's Institute of Marine Sciences Gregory] Rau said he expects this would have little impact on the ocean.
"Limestone weathering is one of the ways the Earth naturally mitigates increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide," Rau said. "But nature is slow. We propose to speed up the limestone weathering reaction."
Rau argues that the release of bicarbonate ions in the ocean would actually improve conditions for coral reefs. Clearly this method will require a great deal of study before being implemented -- we really really don't want to make things worse in the ocean -- but nonetheless it's an interesting example of the greater use of natural processes as models for human activity. And in this case, it's a particularly important activity: sequestration is not the solution to global warming, but it's an important adjunct to an aggressive adoption of renewables and a cultural shift to a bright green society.
I certainly hope that coal interests won't use that kind of research to say: "see, down the line it's going to be alright.. Now lets start building the plants!"
Rau argues that the release of bicarbonate ions in the ocean would actually improve conditions for coral reefs.Reef-builders and diatoms require carbonate ion; acidifying the ocean and shifting the balance to bicarbonate is thought to be one of their stressors.