Sea Urchins Offer a Clue To New Way to Capture Carbon Dioxide


British researchers have discovered that sea urchins use nickel particles on their exoskeletons to effectively capture CO2 and turn it into a solid form, an intriguing finding that could offer an inexpensive way to capture and store carbon from fossil fuel-fired power plants.

Scientists from Newcastle University were studying how marine organisms absorb CO2 to make shells and skeletons when they discovered that sea urchin larvae have a high concentration of nickel on their exoskeletons, which helps them absorb CO2. When the researchers added nickel nanoparticles to CO2-saturated water, they discovered that the nickel completely removed CO2 and turned it into calcium carbonate, a chalk-like mineral.

Current efforts to capture and store carbon dioxide from power plants involve either pumping it underground or using an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase to convert it to calcium carbonate. But both methods are expensive, and the Newcastle researchers say that using nickel to capture and store CO2 bubbled through water could be a thousand times cheaper than employing carbonic anhydrase. “It seems too good to be true, but it works,” said Lidija Siller, a physicist at Newcastle. The research was published in Catalysis Science & Technology.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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