Southampton Professor leads Climate Change Breakthrough

Research in Iceland uncovers revolutionary new technique in CO2 storage


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A professor from the University of Southampton has helped uncover a new method allowing carbon dioxide to be pumped underground and turned rapidly into stone following tests in Iceland. The new method could revolutionize the way we tackle climate change.

Dr Jeurg Matter, an Associate Professor in Geoengineering, led the Carbfix project with the aim of converting carbon dioxide emissions from the Hellisheidi power plant back into stone by re-injecting over 230 tonnes of water dissolved gas into the basalt rock at depths of 400-500m. Over the course of two years, tracer chemicals found 95% of the gas to have turned into stone. This discovering promises a cheaper and more secure method of burying CO2 in comparison to underground fossil fuel burning. The alarmingly quick process has stunned even the researchers, who predicted it could have taken up hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Dr Matter spoke this Thursday following the publication of the research in ‘Science’ stressing the importance of combatting climate change, stating that “We need to deal with rising carbon emissions and this is the ultimate permanent storage”. He also said that the process, named CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage), was only being held back due to a lack of government action. “The engineering and technology of CCS is ready to be deployed. So why do we not see hundreds of these projects?” he queried.

The project has already been increased dramatically in scale with tests taking place in Washington, Oregon and the Columbia River. There are also huge basalt deposits in the Deccan Traps of India, offering even more potential CCS sites. Plans for over 10,000 tonnes of CO2 to be stored per year and Martin Stute of Columbia University believes that ‘we could think of using this [CCS] for power plants where there’s a lot of basalt’. Edda Aradottir of Reykjavik Energy welcomed the findings of Dr Matter and his team, stating the rapid turnaround in results to be a “very welcome surprise”.

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Conventional methods of carbon storage lack the minerals to convert CO2 into stone and have to be stored in sedimentary reservoirs. Not only is this method more time consuming and expensive, it also leaves the possibility of leaks meaning extra funding goes just to monitoring the stuff. All of this is abandoned with Dr Matter’s new method and despite fears that water consumption would prove to be a challenge, tests found seawater to be just as efficient, alleviating any concerns.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that CCS is hugely important in the ongoing struggle against climate change in the most cost-effective manner. They found that costs will be halved thanks to the research of Dr Matter. This figure has been further supported by the Committee on Climate Change in the UK, serving as some embarrassment to David Cameron and the UK government after they had previously had cancelled a £1bn CCS pioneering competition last November amid fears CCS was not developing quickly enough.