Scientists at Newcastle University have discovered a way of capturing carbon dioxide inspired by the technique sea urchins use to grow their shell. The creatures absorb carbon dioxide and combine it with the high concentrations of nickel in their exoskeletons to create calcium carbonate. The research reveals a potential model for an an alternative, more effective carbon capture and storage system than currently used methods.

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Scientists at Newcastle University discovered the carbon capturing potentials of the nickel enzyme by adding the nickel nanoparticles found on external exoskeleton of sea urchin larvae to a carbonic acid test, which resulted in complete removal of carbon dioxide. This could mean that the waste gas from the chimney tops could be passed through a water column rich in nickel nanoparticles to create solid calcium carbonate at the bottom.

“It is a simple system,” said Dr Lidija Siller from Newcastle University. “You bubble CO2 through the water in which you have nickel nanoparticles and you are trapping much more carbon than you would normally—and then you can easily turn it into calcium carbonate.”

Most pilot studies for carbon capture and storage propose the removal of the gas by pumping it into holes deep underground, which is both expensive and has a high risk of gas leaking back out. The Newcastle researchers propose the alternative approach; locking the carbon dioxide in another substance, like calcium carbonate or magnesium carbonate. This is already possible through use of a very expensive enzyme—anhydrase. By comparison, the technique proposed by Newcastle researchers is very cheap and not damaging to the environment.

Via BBC News

Lead Image by Flickr user J McCabe