A study of the humble sea urchin has shown British scientists a process that could revolutionize efforts to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the principal cause of climate change.
Experts at Newcastle University discovered that sea urchins employ nickel to make use of the CO2 in the ocean, in order to form its calcareous shell, according to a study published Tuesday in the Catalysis Science & Technology magazine.
Physicist Lidija Siller said the discovery was made entirely by chance and led them to add tiny particles of nickel to a solution of water and CO2, and then saw how the carbon dioxide disappeared completely.
In the presence of a catalyst of nickel, CO2 turns into calcium carbonate or magnesium carbonate, innocuous minerals present in the earth's crust that are used in construction to make cement and other materials, and in hospitals to make plaster casts, according to the study.
The method invented by the British experts consists of making the CO2 that industries send into the atmosphere pass directly from the factory smokestack to a column of water rich in nickel nanoparticles, and afterwards recovering the solid calcium carbonate that sinks to the bottom.
While the process would not work in all cases, it is a cheap, effective solution that could be available worldwide for some heavily polluting industries, Siller said. EFE