Scientists develop “Alka Seltzer” for the ocean in order to combat growing acidification

Scientists have discovered a new method that may save the world’s marine ecosystems by offsetting ocean acidification.

The researchers, which include a group from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), has mastered on a laboratory scale a system that uses the acidity normally produced in saline water electrolysis to accelerate silicate mineral dissolution while producing hydrogen fuel and other gases.

As a result, the scientists are left with an electrolyte solution shown to be significantly elevated in hydroxide concentration that in turn proved strongly capable of absorbing and retaining atmospheric carbon dioxide.

In addition, the researchers believe that the carbonate and bicarbonate produced in the process could be used to mitigate ongoing ocean acidification the same way Alka Seltzer neutralizes excess acid in a person’s stomach.

When carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, a large part is passively taken up by the forming carbonic acid that makes the ocean more acidic, according to a press release on the study – a process that has been shown to be destructive, especially in the case of corals and shellfish.

In fact, by the middle of the century, the researchers estimate that the oceans will experience more than a 60 percent increase in acidity in comparison to pre-industrial levels as a result of global warming.

The alkaline solution generated by the new process, the scientists believe, could be added to the ocean to mitigate the effects of climate change on marine life – but it doesn’t stop there.

“When powered by renewable electricity and consuming globally abundant minerals and saline solutions, such systems at scale might provide a relatively efficient, high-capacity means to consume and store excess atmospheric CO2 as environmentally beneficial seawater bicarbonate or carbonate,” Greg Rau, an LLNL visiting scientist and lead author of the report, said. “But the processes also would produce a carbon-negative ‘super green’ fuel or chemical feedkstock in the form of hydrogen.”

While previous meothods of atmospheric carbon dioxide capture and storage have been described, they have taken more costly routes dependent on thermal and mechanical procedures to concentrate molecular carbon dioxide from the air while recycling reagents.

However, such is not the case with the new method, according to its researchers.

“Our process avoids most of these issues by not requiring CO2 to be concentrated from air and stored in a molecular form, pointing the way to more cost-effective, environmentally beneficial and safer air CO2 management with added benefits of renewable hydrogen fuel production and ocean alkalinity addition,” Rau said.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tamarra Kemsley, Nature World News, 28 May 2013. Article.

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