Carbon dioxide transformed into rock for cleaner air

An Icelandic research group, led by geologist Sandra Osk Snaebjornsdottir, is ambitiously trying to imitate, in a much more accelerated form, a natural process that could limit the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In the heart of the Icelandic volcanoes, researchers are in fact trying to transform carbon dioxide into rock in such a way as to clean up the area from harmful emissions that are also causing global warming.

This is one of the methods of carbon capture and storage that many laboratories or even large companies around the world are trying to implement to limit emissions. The parallel natural process sees the injection of CO2 into basalt rock, the porous rock where carbon dioxide mineralizes and basically becomes rock forever. A process that still takes thousands of years.

To imitate this process, researchers from the University of Iceland along with other international scholars are working near the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant, one of the largest in the world, which is located on a layer of basalt rock formed by cooled lava. This plant pumps water beneath the volcano by running six turbines which in turn provide electricity and heat to the inhabitants of the region.

In this process, CO2 is captured by steam and then liquefied in large quantities. This water is then injected under high pressure into the rock a thousand meters underground. This solution then starts a solidification process thanks to a special chemical reaction and remains there forever.

“This is the safest and most stable form of carbon storage,” says Sigurdur Gislason, a geochemist at the University of Iceland and one of the authors of the study and participants in the CarbFix project.

Currently the Achilles’ heel is that it takes about 25 tons of water for every ton of carbon dioxide injected.

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