British Columbia

UVic researchers look at converting carbon dioxide to rock

An international team hopes to find a viable way to trap carbon emissions in basalt kilometres underwater.

International team hope to find a viable way to trap carbon emissions in basalt kilometres underwater

Basalt, seen here in black lava in Maui, Hawaii, is the most common rock type on the Earth's crust, and plentiful on the ocean floor. (Submitted by the University of Victoria)

As countries around the world look to stop adding carbon emissions to our global atmosphere, a team of researchers led in Victoria, B.C., are trying to develop technology that would subtract them.

On Thursday, the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions at the University of Victoria announced a new research partnership. At it's most basic, a team of international researchers will look at turning greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into rock.

Curran Crawford, an engineering professor with the University of Victoria's Institute of Integrated Energy Systems, is leading some of this research.

He says the impetus for the project is Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels due to high carbon dioxide emissions.

"Business as usual isn't going to work," Crawford told host Robyn Burns on All Points West.

"We're on trajectories ... that it's highly likely you'd need some negative emissions technologies in the next decades."

Curran Crawford, an engineering professor with the University of Victoria's Institute of Integrated Energy Systems, is leading some of the research. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Crawford's team is building upon research developed in Iceland. 

There, researchers found they were able to inject basalt — a porous type of volcanic rock — with carbon dioxide gas mixed with water. Over the course of a few years, that injected substance turned into a solid form of rock. 

"The promise there is that if you do this injection, you've got geological scale formations that can hold [carbon dioxide] sequestered out of the atmosphere for as long as we need to," said Crawford.

One issue, however, is that most of the world's basalt is located underneath the ocean. 

The idea would be to capture the carbon dioxide offshore on a floating platform powered by renewable energy. The captured carbon dioxide would be injected into rock located some 2,700 metres underwater. 

Crawford's team is looking at the engineering of such a system — how would the carbon dioxide be captured offshore, how can it be powered, and how to get that carbon dioxide into the rock located kilometres deep in the ocean.

Some of the challenges are the economics of the project and the challenges of being offshore in deep salt water. There are also regulatory legal challenges about where you would put an operation like this.

"The real promise here is it is potentially very scalable thing," Crawford said. "It's not just going to be a unique little niche application. It could go global."

Crawford says he hopes to have some sort of demonstration ready for mid-2020.

In a release, PICS executive director Sybil Seitzinger called the research urgent, even if application may be decades away.

"[This] is a highly ambitious project with many barriers to overcome but if this team can advance the technology to a commercially viable stage by mid-century, it could be a major tool to combat climate change," she said.

With files from All Points West

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