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13 July 2023 4 min read

Mineral carbonation is a naturally occurring geological process that involves carbon dioxide (CO2) reacting with certain minerals to permanently lock-up the carbon.

It has played a key role in the global carbon cycle for millions of years by locking CO2 into carbonate minerals.

However, these reactions occur too slowly to play a role in reducing atmospheric CO2 as quickly as we need.

The challenge of mineral carbonation is how to accelerate natural processes to achieve fast-acting, scalable, cost-effective, and responsible pathways to net-zero.

photomicrograph of rock
Figure 1: Photomicrograph of mesh-textured serpentinite, host rock to BHP’s Mount Keith nickel sulfide deposit in Western Australia. Weathering of mine tailings at Mount Keith passively sequesters atmospheric carbon dioxide. Field of view ~2 mm wide. Image courtesy of Steve Barnes.

Locking carbon in minerals symposium

To address this challenge, CSIRO recently held the Cutting-Edge Symposium: Locking Carbon in Minerals in Perth.

The meeting brought together over 100 national and international experts from across industry, academia, and government to discuss ways they can collectively accelerate efforts to advance mineral carbonation.

Dr Andrew Lenton, Director of CSIRO’s Permanent Carbon Locking Future Science Platform said the symposium was about creating a collaborative space for industry, universities and government agencies to talk about the challenges to overcome.

“The symposium allowed us to share current novel research and technologies, identify knowledge gaps, and foster the collaboration needed to ultimately unlock the potential of mineral carbonation in Australia,” says Andrew.

Sophia Hamblin Wang, COO at MCi Carbon, a company commercialising accelerated ex-situ mineral carbonation technology in Newcastle, said the symposium provided a great opportunity to share experiences.

“It was great to gather with the community and share insights from our 15 years of RD&D and key lessons from the Clean-tech Canyon of Death,” says Sophia.

Collaboration is essential to realise mineral carbonation potential

Three key steps emerged from valuable discussion over the three-day forum.

1. Realising potential through partnerships and investment

Experts from diverse fields explored how to scale up emerging technologies, develop pilot projects, and overcome industry and policy challenges. They agreed that partnerships are crucial to addressing technology gaps and investing in research pathways.

Ongoing industry engagement was also seen as important to decide if mineral carbonation is viable in business operations. Ongoing engagement will ensure solutions are industry focused and designs have industry-ready applications.

2. Co-designing policy and regulation

For mineral carbonation to be realised as a potential technology to support the transition to net-zero emissions, the industry needs to catalyse investment by reducing uncertainty.

Regulation and policy frameworks for carbon markets must be robust and have input from industry, research, and government in order to deliver effective policies and clear regulation. 

When clear policy and regulation are established, the industry can flourish, underpinned by internationally agreed monitoring, reporting and verification.

3. Government and community collaboration

Unsurprisingly, attendees named the need for strengthened collaboration and engagement between all stakeholders across industry, research, and governments, as well as regional and indigenous communities.

Multi-disciplinary stakeholders will need to collaborate to share knowledge with communities and drive a clear narrative about the benefits and limitations of mineral carbonation.

Furthermore, it is important to create frameworks for ongoing engagement with government and communities to build trust and bring them along for the journey.

6 person industry panel talking

Ex-situ mineral carbonation panel discussion, chaired by Sasha Wilson (University of Alberta). Panellists (from left to right): Sophia Hamblin Wang (MCi Carbon), Gordon Southam (University of Queensland), Greg Dipple (Arca & University of British Columbia), Paul Nelson (James Cook University), and Nicole Roocke (MRIWA).

Ex-situ mineral carbonation panel discussion, chaired by Sasha Wilson (University of Alberta). Panellists (from left to right): Sophia Hamblin Wang (MCi Carbon), Gordon Southam (University of Queensland), Greg Dipple (Arca & University of British Columbia), Paul Nelson (James Cook University), and Nicole Roocke (MRIWA). ©  CSIRO

Benefits of mineral carbonation

Mineral carbonation has numerous applications with benefits for the environment, the resources industry and Australia’s hard-to-abate sectors.

It presents an opportunity to reduce and improve the environmental impacts associated with industrial and mining waste through rehabilitation.

Another opportunity lies in the potential to recover critical minerals previously lost or unable to be extracted during mineral processing.

In agricultural applications, mineral carbonation can improve soil health by increasing pH thus increasing agricultural productivity.

CSIRO’s Dr Anton Wasson is a plant physiologist leading research into the addition of microbially activated rock-flour in agricultural environments for increased carbon sequestration and soil fertility.

He believes improved agricultural productivity is a valuable co-benefit of this application of mineral carbonation.

Dr Yuan Mei, Senior Research Scientist at CSIRO, leads research into mineral carbonation replacement reactions. These molecular-level investigations are fundamental in understanding how mineral carbonation can be accelerated and brought to scale.

In hard to abate sectors, partnering directly with industry may help them to decarbonise. By co-developing technologies that capture and store carbon at much higher rates than is currently possible and developing approaches to permanently remove atmospheric CO2, high emissions industries can start to progress toward net zero goals.

Also, by implementing mineral carbonation technologies, Australia could see positive environmental and socio-economic outcomes consistent with Environmental, Sustainability and Governance (ESG) goals.

Mapping CO2 sequestration potential

CSIRO Senior Research Scientist Renee Birchall is also the Technical Coordinator of the Enhanced Mineralisation Technical Track for Mission Innovation’s Carbon Dioxide Removal (MI-CDR).

This is an international initiative currently creating a global mineral carbonation resource map to identify CO2 sequestration potential.

The initiative creates opportunities to develop best practice methods for measuring mineral carbonation potential, whilst promoting joint RD&D and early uptake by industry.

What we are doing at CSIRO

The potential for mineral carbonation is vast. The challenge is realising its opportunity.

One of the outcomes and goals of the Symposium was to build consensus and map the next steps for Australia to galvanise action.

With so many practical applications, the opportunities for mineral carbonation are endless.

CSIRO has a unique role, bringing together industry, research, government, and universities to create multi-disciplinary solutions.

With these partners we are working to increase knowledge sharing, access to technology and drive research.

We seek collaboration with partners who see the potential for this technology to reduce their carbon emissions and environmental impact.

Learn more about our key research challenges and opportunities to collaborate.

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