This group brings together the best thinkers on energy and climate. Join us for smart, insightful posts and conversations about where the energy industry is and where it is going.


New Carbon Capture Catalyst Discovered

David Lewis's picture
  • Member since 2018
  • 353 items added with 39,517 views
  • Feb 13, 2013

Guarav Bhaduri and Lidija Siller were trying to understand how Nature turns CO2 gas into rock.  Their university, Newcastle U, became enthusiastic and published this:

Could the humble sea urchin hold the key to carbon capture?“.  

The research their university is publicizing is a paper:  “Nickel nanoparticles catalyse reversible hydration of carbon dioxide for mineralization carbon capture and storage“, published online by Catalysis Science & Technology Jan 17 2013 doi: 10.1039/C3CY20791A   

A BBC News article quotes co-author Dr. Lidija Siller:  “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…”

“…It seems too good to be true, but it works

The NU press release quotes Siller:  “the result was the complete removal of CO2″.  

Lead author, PhD student Gaurav Bhaduri, is quoted: “ [the nickel catalyst]  is very cheap, a thousand times cheaper than carbon anhydrase”  The two researchers have patented the process and are looking for investors.  

They compare their nickel to anhydrase because Nature uses anhydrase to mineralize carbon.  But humans trying to mimic nature with anhydrase, so far, have had problems creating the material cheaply enough, and they have needed to control pH.  Other ideas require too much energy.   

Siller and Bhaduri were trying to do better with anhydrase:  they were going to “mobilize” it using the large surface area of nanoparticles.  They chose nickel because it is magnetic, a property they knew would come in handy when it came time to recycle it from the process.  To fully understand what nickel and anhydrase could do if combined, they had to study what nickel nanoparticles do on their own.  

That’s when they made this discovery.  

Siller studied sea urchins for years.  One reason to study urchins is because they are organisms that convert CO2 into solid exoskeleton material at ordinary temperature and pressure.  Siller, in an email:  “they are [a] main constituent in limestone formation”.  Siller had observed that urchins allow nickel from seawater to become part of their exoskeleton while restricting seawater iron.  I am not clear about whether she thought that nickel might be a key to understanding what urchins do before she and Bhaduri saw what happens to CO2 in water when nickel nanoparticles are added.  

Siller and Bhaduri are not claiming they know how to make a solid out of CO2 on an industrial scale which would allow widespread conversion of carbon emissions to solid mineral, i.e. mineral sequestration.  They’ve observed that nickel nanoparticles accelerate one key reaction involved and that they do so over a wide range of pH, at ordinary temperature and pressure.  

They are optimistic that the rest of the problems of mineral sequestration are soluble.  Here is where their work so far fits in:  

If they were going to convert the CO2 from a coal plant exhaust stream into solid mineral, they would start by bubbling the exhaust through water in a continuously operating reaction vessel of some kind.  

CO2 can enter water rapidly.  Once in water it builds up to a certain concentration then new CO2 entry stops.  Water with exhaust bubbling through it holds an amount of CO2 directly related to the CO2 concentration of the exhaust.  Some of the dissolved CO2 naturally but slowly converts into carbonic acid which allows more CO2 to enter the water.  But once carbonic acid reaches a certain concentration that’s it, no more CO2 can enter the water unless carbonic acid is removed.  What nickel nanoparticles do is accelerate the natural conversion of CO2 to carbonic acid.  

This is a significant contribution to making mineral sequestration feasible.  But unless the carbonic acid can be removed as it forms this is like flooring it to more rapidly accelerate up to the next stop light.  Its not going to get you to your destination any faster.   

Chemistry World quoted Siller:  “The next step would be to mineralise carbonic acid to environmentally friendly solid minerals including magniesium carbonate, calcium carbonate and dolomite, which could be used a building material”.

They believe this next step will be a relatively easy step to make, compared to finding out about nickel nanoparticles.  Most of the Earth’s crust, they say, is made of roughly suitable material that could be used.  They are working with olivine rock.  Siller emailed:

“We want to neutralize the carbonic acid… with silicates – there are some basic silicate rocks such as olivine, serpentine, etc., which… do not have any CO2…”

The Mg and Ca in the powdered rock would react with carbonic acid turning it into solid carbonate which would precipitate out as solids at the bottom of the tank.  As the carbonate drops out more room is available for more CO2 gas to enter the water, which would make the process continuous.  Siller, quoted in Chemistry World:  

“We would like to determine the reaction kinetics and exact yields. Once we have this information we plan to do a small continuous process in a lab-scale pilot plant“.  

Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre tells us of the “widespread view” among scientists operating at his level that the existence of civilization is threatened, i.e. we are committed as of now to climate change so disruptive it will prove to be “incompatible with an organized global community”, partly because we are fools in denial who have yet to lift a finger to save ourselves, but also because our fossil infrastructure has grown so large no one really sees how it can be dismantled in time.   

Lidija Siller:  “We have not solved everything yet but we hope there is a chance.”



For some reason, the first reaction many people have when hearing of this discovery is to think that Bhaduri and Siller plan to use the ocean to remove carbon from the atmosphere.  

Siller emailed:  “Regarding the confusion:  We do not want to spread nickel in environment, at the sea or on the ground next to coast etc.  We are targeting large emitters of CO2….


Reaction speed is vital if any reaction is to be used in an industrial process.   If your process takes a day to complete and a competing process takes a minute, your reaction tank has to be more than 1000 times larger.  Size costs.  

What people are using for practical applications capturing carbon from coal plant exhaust at pilot scale at the moment are chemicals that react with CO2 under certain conditions that give it up under other conditions, eg. amines. It costs energy to get the chemical to give up the CO2 so it can be reused. A catalyst such as what nickel appears to be facilitates a reaction that would occur regardless. You don’t have to force it with energy to operate.

The other big difference between what Siller and Bhaduri are aiming for and what exists today is that the usual carbon capture operation produces concentrated CO2 gas which is compressed into liquid and piped into underground storage.  It will need to be monitored for leakage.  We would be committing ourselves and our descendants to long term monitoring.

BAU scenarios for this century’s CO2 emission would create a volume of liquid CO2 as large as what’s in Lake Michigan.  Advocates of underground liquid CO2 storage say better that, even if civilization needs to monitor it for all time, than allowing that much CO2 to enter the atmosphere.  Critics point out that as the size of the total global underground CO2 pool grows larger, the percentage that can be allowed to leak, even on century timescales, grows smaller.  

But if Siller and Bhaduri achieve their vision, turning CO2 gas into a solid that is stable over geological time will be economical. You could build buildings with it, dump it into large holes, whatever, but after that you could ignore it.  The CO2 couldn’t escape.  No one would have to pay attention to it.

Klaus Lackner has been the leading proponent advocating to civilization that it will end up needing to use carbon capture and mineral sequestration. His original 2003 Science paper is here. He explained his ideas to Congress in 2010 at a hearing of the House Science Committee which is here.



David Lewis's picture
Thank David for the Post!
Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.
More posts from this member
Spell checking: Press the CTRL or COMMAND key then click on the underlined misspelled word.
Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 13, 2013

Keep in mind that carbon capture from diffuse sources like the oceans and atmosphere is a strategy that makes sense only after most point sources of CO2 have been eliminated (e.g. fossil fuel power plants, cement & steel production, biofuel processing, industrial process heat), at least in developed countries.

As discussed, the captured carbon could be mineralized and sequestered.  However, in a post-fossil fuel society, there will still be a need for carbon-neutral aviation fuel (which must be hydrocarbon-based, since such fuels are the only ones that have adequate energy/weight ratios).

Here is a discussion of fuel production using captured carbon:

Bill Woods's picture
Bill Woods on Feb 13, 2013

There's 0.4 g of CO2 in the atmosphere per cm^2 of the Earth's surface. Convert it all to CaCO3 and it would make a layer 3.3 mm thick. Not really an issue.

David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Feb 14, 2013

Siller and Bhaduri think the first use of this discovery will be to capture carbon at coal fired electricity generating plants.  

For some reason, many people hearing of this discovery think that the plan is to contaminate the oceans with nickel.  Siller and Bhaduri have no plans to do this.  They aren't interested in using the ocean to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 14, 2013

Oh, my mistake.  Best of luck to them then.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 15, 2013

If we converted all the excess co2 into food (and fuel?) it would just reapper back into the air again (and into the oceans), minus whatever we could keep in the soil. I hear biochar retains it for hundreds of years, which is long enough for discoveries, like the one in this article, to become cost effective. So, which one is cheaper, biochar or turning it into rock? Or is it something else?

What we also need to do is "pretend" that there is no solution to the XS co2 problem and develop machines that make solar panels for far cheaper AND use molten metals and salt as utility scale batteries. Also, to develop machines that make the LiFePO4 (safe electric car battery) FAR cheaper, too!

David Newell's picture
David Newell on Feb 19, 2013

How about reacting the CO2 with the huge supplies of alkaline materials located in/on the closed-basin playas found in many geographical locations?  There certainly is enough material in the "basin and range" province to counter any human CO2 production, assuming that the deposits are at depth the same as is on the surface..




The "Urushibara" catalysts used in chemistry certainly give support to this exciting development using "urchin" intelligence!  Hope it works out, we could use some good news on this front..





David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Feb 19, 2013

comment moved 

David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Feb 19, 2013

When Klaus Lackner explained mineral sequestration to the House Science Committee in 2010 he said that  there is enough sufficiently reactive accessible mineral, i.e. olivine and serpentine rock, to sequester "all the carbon dioxide that could be produced from the entire fossil fuel resource".  

As he said, what happens in the natural carbon cycle is "volcanic processes push carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and geological weathering removes it as carbonate".  "Left to its own devices, nature will take on the order of a hundred thousand years to reabsorb and fixate the excess carbon that human activities have mobilized and injected into the atmosphere.  The purpose of mineral sequestration in managing anthropogenic carbon is to accelerate these natural processes to the point that they can keep up with human carbon dioxide releases".  

Hence the focus of the research I wrote about in this post.  

David Newell's picture
David Newell on Feb 20, 2013

Yes Sir, I understand the points that Dr. Lackner was making, and I also am privy to the APS white paper which pretty much states that direct air capture is a non-runner.


However, both papers appear to miss the fact of advantageous accumulation of extremely finely divided clay-like materials which have arisen  from weathering of Granite and related feldspars in (for example) the "Great Basin", whose soils  pH  run between nine and ten: and sometimes higher. (for instance, Mono Lake {pH 10.2 +  !!  }.)


The quantities of these reactive and useful materials which have filled many of the deep creases arising from the spreading crust and mantle (which characterizes "basin and range" provinces...) is staggering:  and propitious, if employed to sequester CO2.


It is not my intent to take away from the focus on the "Urchin intelligence" expressed in your orignial post.

in fact, the combination of the technology you have written about and the proposal I am alluding to could  be salutory !


Thank you.








Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 20, 2013

I believe that "drawing water from deep wells" can NOT add any significant amount of water to the entire ocean. it levels out, as long as the climate remains the same. Now, if we were to add massive amounts from comets, then we would have a problem.

This is what we are doing with co2, that is adding an unnatural amount of it to the air from the ground deep below, which will heat up the oceans due to it being an infrared absorber. If only even a small amount, that huge volume of water WILL rise a little due to, well you know, heat expansion. Add in glacier melt and negative albedo and, well, positive feedback (negative to us and the biosphere).

Fossil fuels do NOT, however, have to be a testament to "fossil fueled depletion into an overheated biosphere" as long as we put back the same amount as we dug up! How do we do that? Turn it into rock. (Ok, perhaps 10,000,000,000 hungry humans will need a tiny fraction extra of the pre-industrial levels, since there will be more food, but not a whopping 50 or 100% more like we're on track to cause because forested vegetation was already plenty to solve "that problem".

However, 10 billion people do need a source of clean energy if they are to live like we want AND but back some of that (obviously) excess CO2. There are really only three choices that are capable of competing with FF's on potential alone and only one that can, at this time, economically.

Wind, solar and (advanced) nuclear.

David Newell's picture
David Newell on Feb 22, 2013

I concur with your perspective.  The amount of water is more or less a fixed volume, and redirecting deep well output to an inland location for watering plants or whatever, is a miniscule drop as compared to ice cap melting.


That being said, the suggestion I broached above regarding the use of endhorheic basin alkaline deposits  in the Great Basin COULD, (but not necessarily, unless you wanted too)  result in the re-formation of Lake Lahonton, a pluvial lake which covered most of Northern Nevada and parts of adjoining states up to about 10 to 15 thousand years ago, although it would be a saline lake.

(Which is not in my opinion a significant objection as compared to capturing several gigatonnes per year of CO2..)


And, the amount of evaporated ocean water arising in the process of entraining  CO2 would drift downwind at the average speed of ten MPH, (which is what it happens to be in the area, on the average, )  resulting in both increased cloud cover, and increased downwind precipitation.


Which would result in further entrainment of CO2, if it occurred in most areas of Northern Nevada, according to my field tests of soil pH. in many areas.



said downwind precipitation  may be in the Colorado River and Rio Grande river basins,

which would alleviate the lack of water (which is getting critical, as an issue..)    and enable SoCal to get their water there, (sucking the Colorado more)            instead of .contemplating    two giant tunnels beneath the Sacramento / San Juaquin Delta..  (Said idea being almost as stupid as the High Speed train to Bakersfield being contemplated..)


This latter is speculative, but the entrainment of CO2 is NOT.


Further, "my" idea will cost about $20 billion dollars (after confirming field tests in the Carson Sink..),  (This includes pumping costs including a new power plant to provide approximately 800 megawatts: which coincidentally is about what it takes to operate the Edmunston power plant which pumps Valley water over the Tehachapies...)  

whereas the previously mentioned boondoggles will run at least 4 times as much.


Excuse me, I almost went into "rant" mode.


Thank you for your patience.,  


David Newell

Steven HJohnson's picture
Steven HJohnson on Feb 28, 2013

My rough calculations suggest that the first centimeter of water in the world's oceans weighs more than all the carbon dioxide that's presently in the atmosphere.  There are many issues to consider in carbon dioxide extraction and sequestration, but if the ocean passes muster on other fronts, sea level rise is not going to be a hindrance.    

1 ppm of atmospheric CO2 weighs approximately 7.77 gigatonnes.  If 280 ppm is the pre-industrial norm, 2,176 gigatonnes of CO2 would be just the right amount to leave in the atmosphere.  What needs to be extracted at the moment is an atmospheric surplus of almost 900 gigatonnes, plus all the CO2 that'd be released from the oceans as CO2 is pulled from the atmosphere.  Maybe 1,300 gigatonnes in all?

Guy Dauncey's picture
Guy Dauncey on Mar 8, 2013

David - could you send me an email? I'd love to discuss this with you in person.

Guy Dauncey  guydauncey-at-earthfuturure-dot-com

Marcio Wilges's picture
Marcio Wilges on Nov 24, 2014

It is amazing what nature actually holds. Mother Nature has definitely got more to offer to us than what we are truly aware of from the surface. Who knew that the solution to the successful removal of CO2 in the carbon storage areas might actually just be sea urchins? That is why science never fails to amaze me with the countless new discoveries that have been made since the last decade. With more advanced technology which we have today, I bet more positive findings can be made to benefit mankind.

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »