Is Olivine the solution against Climate Change and Ocean Acidification?
Olaf Schuiling, professor Geo Engineering at the University Utrecht (Netherlands) proposes Olivine.
Olivine isn’t new. It is as old as the world, namely to use olivine or similar rocks not in a technology, but in the way it works in nature.
Does this professor has the solution for the increasing CO2 and the effects on Climate Change?
Olivine (Mg2SiO4) is the most common mineral on earth. Since the sixties professor Schuiling investigated the reaction between dissolved CO2 and Olivine. In addition, heat is released, and the CO2 binds to the innocent bicarbonate, which may be later precipitates as lime.
Schuiling: “It is one of the easiest ways to capture CO2 from the air. It is a safe, natural and inexpensive process.”
Buildings and schools
The absorption of CO2 is optimal when the Olivine is crushed to sand. Scattering of the Olivine is possible in streets, green strips near roads and industrial sites, parks, gardens, beaches, and in the sandpits of schools. Olive converts CO2 into calcium and so reduces CO2 in the air.
“If the Olive grid is spread onto land and shallow water in the wet tropics, in a year about 20 percent of the CO2 will be weathered. When we repeat the proces every year with 7 cubic kilometers of rock, we will compensate the whole human CO2 emissions.”
The costs to dig and pulverize Olivine in tropical countries are about $ 6.5 per ton. If you assume that for the transportation and spreading another $ 6.5 per ton are needed, the costs are 13 USD per ton of olivine: about 10 USD per ton CO2.
Weathering of calcium and / or magnesium silicate rock has kept the CO2 content of the atmosphere within reasonable bounds throughout geological history. Weathering is the neutralization of an acid (usually carbonic acid) by rocks, turning CO2 into the innocuous bicarbonate ion in solution.
These bicarbonate solutions are carried by rivers to the sea, where they are ultimately deposited as limestones and dolomites.
These carbonate sediments form the ultimate sink for CO2. They contain 1,500 times more CO2 than the amounts of CO2 in biomass, atmosphere and dissolved CO2 in the oceans combined.
Two broad families of geo-engineering solutions have been proposed:
- First is to alter the Earth’s thermal balance by reflecting more incident solar radiation out to space.
- Second is the direct removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Both approaches have their place but note that the first category does not address the serious issue of ocean acidification (report). Accordingly it would be unwise to rely on enhanced reflectivity alone. Of the second category of geo engineering approaches, the most logical is to increase the rate of weathering since this is a natural process whose enhancement may be considered “benign in principle”.
This can be done by mining abundantly available and easily weatherable rocks, milling them and spreading the grains over the surface of the land or in shallow seas.
The olivine option is not so much a ‘technology’ in the classical sense, but more a general concept that can be applied in many sectors of society.
Projects based on enhanced weathering of olivine and related minerals have been formulated for agriculture, forestry, roads and biking paths, buildings, coastal defense, firefighting, playgrounds, suppression of poisonous dinoflagellate and cyanobacteria blooms, diatom farms for biodiesel production, mining, mineral waters, olivine as a green fuel, olivine in environmental applications, natural emissions of CO2 for carbon capture and miscellaneous.
The solutions that are produced by the digestion of olivine grains are rich in silica, which is a limiting nutrient for diatoms. When silica becomes available in larger quantities, the diatom population will increase, providing food for fishes and birds further up the food chain.
Colleagues point out correctly that, as in nature, the rates and speed of the reaction of minerals like olivine can vary greatly in different situations found in the natural world.
More work needs to be done to understand these processes.
However, don’t mistake that for a reason for inaction, whilst we may be unsure of the absolute potential, we are sure that the potential is there.
And, as in nature, with such a wide range of applications for weathering minerals in our human activities, virtually everybody can participate in their own field and help move these techniques forward in the fight to counteract climate change and ocean acidification.
Combating climate change and building a sustainable future, there are a lot of interesting and potentially very helpful actions and developments to be embraced. And Olivine is one of them.
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