Sea urchin nickel 'trick' could be harnessed to capture and store carbon
London, February 6: The natural ability of sea urchins to absorb CO2 could inspire an effective carbon capture and storage system, say Newcastle University scientists.
The researchers have discovered by chance that urchins use the metal nickel to turn carbon dioxide into shell.
In a paper published in the journal, Catalysis Science and Technology, they have suggested that the technique could be harnessed to turn emissions from power plants into the harmless calcium carbonate.
When the team at Newcastle looked at the larvae of sea urchins they found that there were high concentrations of nickel on their external skeletons.
Working with extremely small nickel particles, the researchers found that when they added them to a solution of carbon dioxide in water, the nickel completely removed the CO2.
"It is a simple system. You bubble CO2 through the water in which you have nickel nanoparticles and you are trapping much more carbon than you would normally - and then you can easily turn it into calcium carbonate," Dr Lidija Siller from Newcastle University told BBC News.
"It seems too good to be true, but it works," she added.
PhD student Gaurav Bhaduri who is the lead author on the research paper explained that using nickel would be more economical.
The beauty of a nickel catalyst is that it carries on working regardless of the pH and because of its magnetic properties it can be re-captured and re-used time and time again, he said.
It is also very cheap, a thousand times cheaper than carbon anhydrase. And the by-product - the carbonate - is useful and not damaging to the environment, he added.