The discovery that sea urchins use nickel particles to harness carbon dioxide from the sea could be the key to capturing tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Experts at Newcastle University, UK, have discovered that in the presence of a nickel catalyst, CO2 can be converted rapidly and cheaply into the harmless, solid mineral, calcium carbonate.
This discovery, which was published today in the academic journal Catalysis Science & Technology, has the potential to revolutionise the way we capture and store carbon enabling us to significantly reduce CO2 emissions – the key greenhouse gas responsible for climate change.
Dr Lidija Šiller, a physicist and Reader in Nanoscale Technology at Newcastle University, says the discovery was made completely by chance.
''We had set out to understand in detail the carbonic acid reaction – which is what happens when CO2 reacts with water – and needed a catalyst to speed up the process,'' she explains.
''At the same time, I was looking at how organisms absorb CO2 into their skeletons and in particular the sea urchin which converts the CO2 to calcium carbonate.