Researchers say that the natural ability of sea urchins to absorb CO2 could be a model for an effective carbon capture and storage system.
Newcastle University scientists discovered by chance that urchins use the metal nickel to turn carbon dioxide into shell.
They say the technique can be harnessed to turn emissions from power plants into the harmless calcium carbonate.
The research is in the journal, Catalysis Science and Technology.
Many sea creatures convert carbon dioxide in the waters into calcium carbonate which is essentially chalk. Species such as clams, oysters and corals use it to make their shells and other bony parts.
When the team at Newcastle looked at the larvae of sea urchins they found that there were high concentrations of nickel on their external skeletons.
Working with extremely small nickel particles, the researchers found that when they added them to a solution of carbon dioxide in water, the nickel completely removed the CO2.
At present most carbon capture and storage (CCS) proposals are based around the idea of capturing CO2 from electricity generating stations or chemical plants and pumping the stripped out gas into underground storage in former oil wells or rock formations.
But there are still question marks about the possibility that the stored carbon may leak back out again.
The Newcastle researchers say that an alternative approach would be to lock up the CO2 in another substance such as calcium carbonate or magnesium carbonate.
This can already be done by using an enzyme called carbon anhydrase but it is very expensive.
PhD student Gaurav Bhaduri who is the lead author on the research paper explained that using nickel would be a far more economic option.
There are so many options out there, but we haven’t acted on any of them? Most of the time we hear about using renewable energy to reduce emissions, but what about what is already out there?
Oceans represent an important global carbon sink, absorbing 25% of annual man-made CO2 emissions and helping to slow the rate of climate change. The Southern Ocean in particular is known to be a significant oceanic sink, and accounts for 40% of all carbon entering the deep oceans. And yet, until now, no-one could quite work out how the carbon gets there from the surface waters.
This is one of the biggest carbon sink in the word. If we could possibly create something to capture carbon from the oceans, not only will it help with climate change, but also help aquatic life forms which are threatened.
I was also looking at the business aspect of this. In many developed countries, there are carbon tax involving government and private sector. If a business creates a system which captures the carbon, they could possibly sell carbon credits to governments and private sectors. This could be the next BIG THING!