An Australian firm is working to capture carbon emissions to store in building materials, with a full-scale production plant in store by 2020. The technology was officially launched on Friday at the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources, by Mineral Carbonation International (MCI), a company that focuses on carbon-utilization technology. The launch included a demonstration of the hour-long process of bonding CO2 with crushed serpentinite, from the Orica Kooragang Island operation located nearby. The process permanently coverts these materials into solid carbonates.

“This mimics but greatly speeds up the natural weathering by rainfall which produces common types of rocks over millions of years,” according to the company. “These carbonates and silica by-products have the potential to be used in building products such as concrete and plasterboard to create green construction materials.”

By 2020, MCI hopes to be able to produce 20,000 to 50,000 metric tons of their bonded material for building companies. Even without a high carbon price, the company anticipates that the process will be economically viable.

According to Marcus Dawe, chief executive of MCI:

“There is a big demand among consumers for green building products. The interest around the carbon brick has been extraordinary, but we’re going beyond that.”

The federal government announced in May that it would ease restrictions on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to allow investment in carbon capture technology. Projects along the same lines are moving forward elsewhere, including a Canadian company producing synthetic gasoline from CO2 and hydrogen gas, and a US company making plastic products out of methane gas.

Dawe explained that serpentinite was a widely available “feedstock” for absorption of CO2, found all over the world.

“Nowhere in the world had anyone scaled up enough to create enough material to give to manufacturers, to experiment and test them and find out what products they can make from them,” said Dawe. “This is all about getting them to a scale and getting them as economical as we can.”

Professor Peter Cook, a geologist at the University of Melbourne said the technology was viable and would help reduce carbon emissions, but said the challenge was in employing the process on the necessarily large scale. He said:

“We need to be realistic about it, it’s not going to be the solution to the problem of global warming and climate change. I’m sure it will work chemically, and they’ve shown that it does. The issue is the extent to which you can deploy it.”

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