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Australian Startup to Close the Loop on CO2 Emissions

Sequestered carbon can be converted into carbonate rock for use as building materials such as bricks, similar to dolostone, pictured here | The Paide Burgess Club in Estonia | Image credit: Geological Survey of Estonia

An Australian startup called Mineral Carbonation International (MCi) has received funding to establish a carbon dioxide mineral carbonation research pilot plant at the University of Newcastle (UoN) to trial a new technology that transforms captured carbon dioxide emissions into forms of carbonate rock for potential use as building materials in the construction industry.

The pilot project follows six years of research and development undertaken by the UoN, GreenMag Group and industry partner Orica Limited, MCi says. This led to the development of a new method for permanently and safely disposing of carbon from the emissions of fossil fuel electricity generators and other industrial processes, which can effectively close the loop on carbon dioxide altogether.

MCi says it will conduct the project over four years with a budget of $9.12 million AUD ($8.2 million USD), with funding of AUD $3.04 million AUD ($2.7 million USD) each from the Australian and New South Wales Governments and Orica.

Orica, a company that provides commercial blasting systems, mining and tunneling support systems, and various chemical products, says it is already capturing some of its carbon dioxide emissions at its Kooragang Island manufacturing facility in Newcastle — but lacks suitable disposal technology.

Orica says it views the MCi Joint Venture and research pilot plant project as providing a safe and sustainable solution in the future mitigation of carbon dioxide emissions. Orica will provide technical expertise and commitment to support the technology's development to help reduce the environmental footprint of mining operations.

According to MCi, the mineral carbonation technology mimics and accelerates the Earth's own carbon sink mechanism by combining carbon dioxide with low-grade minerals to make inert carbonates, which are similar to common baking soda. The solid products can be used in various applications including building materials such as bricks and pavers.

"The technology is proven in the lab and we now want to see if we can scale it to reduce the cost to be in line with a future carbon price," said MCi CEO Marcus St. John Dawe. "The major difference between this and geosequestration is that we are permanently transforming carbon CO2, not just storing it underground."

The project is being conducted by a multi-disciplinary team of researchers, chemical and industrial engineers led by Dr. Geoff Brent from Orica and Professors Bogdan Dlugogorski and Eric Kennedy at the Priority Research Centre for Energy (PRCfE) at UoN.

The pilot plant will be built at the UoN's Newcastle Institute for Energy & Resources (NIER) and will operate and produce carbonates for industry to test in new building products whilst locking carbon away for good.

Speaking of uses for sequestered carbon, the University of California, Davis recently opened the Jess S. Jackson Sustainable Winery Building, a state-of-the-art facilities that enables the adjacent teaching and research winery, brewery and food-processing facility to operate self-sustainably, through onsite capture of energy and water. The building’s water filtration and recirculation system, once installed, will allow for sequestering carbon dioxide captured from all fermentations in the winery, which will be converted into calcium carbonate, or chalk, once the sequestration system is completed next year.

Mike Hower is Marketing Communications Manager at Carbon Lighthouse. With a background on both sides of the communications podium — as a journalist and strategic communicator — he is committed to helping organizations address climate change through sustainability innovation. Previously,… [Read more about Mike Hower]

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