Sea Urchin Holds Secret to Carbon Capture and Storage

First Posted: Feb 05, 2013 11:56 AM EST

The spiny creatures that make their homes on reefs and in tidal pools may just have a huge impact on the future of carbon capture and storage. Sea urchins possess a unique ability to absorb CO2, making them a perfect model for a carbon storage system.

Researchers from Newcastle University examined the larvae of sea urchins during an experiment. They found that, surprisingly, the sea urchins had high concentrations of nickel on their external skeletons. The scientists then added small particles of nickel into a solution of CO2 in water, and learned that the nickel completely removed the carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide presents a huge problem for the world's oceans. As it is introduced into the water, the ocean slowly acidifies. This acidification process eats away at calcium carbonate, the material that's essential for forming shells on creatures such as coral and shellfish. These new findings, though, may give scientists a better way to combat CO2.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the technique of capturing CO2 and storing it in a secure location. If successful, this could help stem the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and may help combat global warming. There are several ideas on how to accomplish CCS, but one of them uses amines to separate CO2. However, this particular approach isn't particularly energy efficient. Other studies that involve CCS mineralization have used carbonic anhydrase, which works similarly to the nickel nanoparticles; unfortunately, the process is expensive.

Using nickel nanoparticles, however, has distinct benefits. They're far cheaper and are easily recovered. That said, there are questions about the possibility that the stored carbon may leak out again.

The findings are published in the journal Catalysis Science and Technology.

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