The researchers reported a sixfold increase in hydrate formation rate
The researchers reported a sixfold increase in hydrate formation rate

CO2 hydrates ‘hold key’ to gigascale carbon storage

Carbon dioxide (CO2) hydrate production offers a universal and chemical-free solution to carbon storage, according to US researchers.

The University of Texas at Austin’s team developed a technique for rapid formation of CO2 hydrates whose ice-like materials can bury CO2 in the ocean and prevent release into the atmosphere – and reported a sixfold increase in the hydrate formation rate compared with previous methods.

Vaibhav Bahadur, Professor in the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering who led the research, said, “We’re staring at a huge challenge – finding a way to safely remove gigatons of carbon from our atmosphere – and hydrates offer a universal solution for carbon storage.”

“For them to be a major piece of the carbon storage pie, we need the technology to grow them rapidly and at scale,” said “We’ve shown that we can quickly grow hydrates without using any chemicals that offset the environmental benefits of carbon capture.”

© University of Texas at Austin

Today, the most common carbon storage method involves injecting carbon dioxide into underground reservoirs. This technique has the dual benefits of trapping carbon and also increasing oil production.

However this technique faces significant issues, including CO2 leakage and migration, groundwater contamination and seismic risks associated with injection. Many parts of the world also lack suitable geologic features for reservoir injection.

Hydrates represent a “plan B” for gigascale carbon storage, Bahadur said, and could become “plan A” if some of the main issues relating to slow and energy-intensive formations can be overcome.

Magnesium represents the “secret sauce” in this research, acting as a catalyst that eliminates the need for chemical promoters.

This is aided by high flow rate bubbling of CO2 in a specific reactor configuration. This technology works well with seawater, which makes it easier to implement because it doesn’t rely on complex desalination processes to create fresh water.

“Hydrates are attractive carbon storage options since the seabed offers stable thermodynamic conditions, which protects them from decomposing,” Bahadur added.

“We are essentially making carbon storage available to every country on the planet that has a coastline; this makes storage more accessible and feasible on a global scale and brings us closer to achieving a sustainable future.”

The researchers have filed for a pair of patents and the team is considering a start-up to commercialise the technology.

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