In Brief
There's a new carbon capture process in town. Developed by an Australian company, partnering with several institutions, the new technique doesn't just keep carbon locked up. Instead, it turns carbon into useful construction materials.

Not Just Storage

Australian firm Mineral Carbonation International (MCi) recently demonstrated the potential of a unique carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology that converts stored carbon into building materials. MCi unveiled the technology and its concurrent research program during a public event held at a facility run by the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER) of the University of Newcastle (UON).

More and more, CCS is becoming a leading option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The technology offers a way to lock down carbon dioxide wastes and prevent them from escaping into the atmosphere. MCi’s technology makes captured carbon useful.

Mineral carbonation is an hour-long process that involves binding CO2 with crushed serpentinite, turning it into solid carbonates. “This mimics but greatly speeds up the natural weathering by rainfall which produces common types of rocks over millions of years,” MCi said at Friday’s demo, according to The Guardian. “These carbonates and silica by-products have the potential to be used in building products such as concrete and plasterboard to create green construction materials.”

What is mineral carbonation? from Marcus Dawe on Vimeo.

Scaling Up

The MCi project has been under development for the past four years now, with help from The University of Sydney and Columbia University. By 2020, MCi expects a full-scale production plant to be up and running, which could produce 20 to 50 million kilograms (20,000 to 50,000 tons) of these carbonate and silica by-products.

As interest in green architecture and engineering grows, MCi expects a huge demand for this material. “There is a big demand among consumers for green building products,” Marcus Dawe, MCi’s chief executive, told The Guardian. “The interest around the carbon brick has been extraordinary, but we’re going beyond that.”

An early investor into this breakthrough CCS process is Orica Limited, whose Kooragang Island operation is located near MCi’s mineral carbonation research pilot plant. Orica chief scientist Jez Smith explained how this technology could benefit construction. “By investing in this technology Orica seeks to help our own business and those of our customers to deal positively with CO2 emissions by providing a long term, safe, storage and utilization option, which can also create valuable products,” he said in a press release. “The MCi technology may eventually help entire supply chains lower their carbon intensity.”