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July 30th, 2009
Nanotech: The Key to Storing Carbon?
Amy Westervelt: A recent breakthrough at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is bringing together two sectors that people love to fixate on: nanotechnology and carbon sequestration. Although the combo may sound unusual, nanotechnology could actually be the only way we'll figure out if geologic carbon sequestration — stuffing CO2 underground — actually works.
Here's the deal: The most reliable way to store and secure CO2 is to get it to attach to a solid and form a carbonate. (Think coral covering rocks in the ocean.) That process is thermodynamically stable and also provides a long-term solution to holding onto CO2. The problem is that it takes a very long time for that to happen using current methods — as in, thousands of years.
But Lawrence Berkeley recently managed to produce nanoscale magnesium oxide crystals, which staff scientist Jeff Urban says could help speed up that CO2-solid bonding process. "Magnesium oxide crystals are known to influence processes and rates of reaction," he said. "And if we can control the size and surface chemistry of the crystals, we may be able to dramatically increase the rate of CO2 being stuck to the surface."
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