One of the ways that scientists propose that we tackle the problem of global warming is to actively remove greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere. To be an effective compliment to reducing our CO2 output from transport and industry, carbon sequestration will have to be done on a massive scale, meaning that the materials used in the process will need to be plentiful. One of those materials, magnesite, readily absorbs CO2, but there are both practical and economic limits keeping industry from mining the mineral in quantities large enough to be effective. However, researchers in Canada have discovered a way to quickly produce the mineral artificially.

Researchers with Trent University in Ontario have found that they can form lab-grown magnesite in as little as 72 days, using polystyrene microspheres as a catalyst; in nature, it takes between hundreds to thousands of years for magnesite to form, and the research team says that the microscopic plastic spheres used can be re-used, making the process that much more efficient.

"Using microspheres means that we were able to speed up magnesite formation by orders of magnitude," explains Trent University’s Professor Ian Power, referring to the difference in time scale between thousands of years and a matter of months. "This process takes place at room temperature, meaning that magnesite production is extremely energy efficient."

The process Power’s team has devised is still a small-scale operation, but they hope to find a way bringing this new method of producing magnesite, a mineral that can absorb half of its own weight in carbon dioxide, up to an industrial scale.

"For now, we recognise that this is an experimental process, and will need to be scaled up before we can be sure that magnesite can be used in carbon sequestration (taking CO2 from the atmosphere and permanently storing it as magnesite). This depends on several variables, including the price of carbon and the refinement of the sequestration technology, but we now know that the science makes it do-able."