A new research project could see captured CO2 emissions transformed into solid carbonate rock to be used as a green building material.

Mineral Carbonation International Pty Ltd (MCI) and Orica have announced a joint venture to establish world’s first CO2 mineral carbonation research pilot plant at the University of Newcastle (UoN), Australia.

With a budget of $9.12 million, the project is expected to run over four years, receiving $3.04 million in funding from the Australian and NSW Governments and $3.04 million from chemical giant Orica.

MCI received the funds to establish the research pilot plant and to undertake further industrial and fundamental research into mineral carbonation technology.

“Following six years of R&D undertaken by the UoN, GreenMag Group and industry partner Orica Limited, Australia is leading the development of a novel method for permanently and safely disposing of carbon from the emissions of fossil fuel electricity generators and other industrial processes, effectively closing the loop on carbon and preventing it accumulating in the atmosphere,” the company said in a release.

MCI chief executive Marcus St John Dawe said the solid product could be turned into building materials such as bricks or pavers.

“We could be making millions of tonnes of bricks and pavers which really could be green products for the future,” he said.

Orica CEO Ian Smith

Left to Right: Orica CEO Ian Smith, NSW Energy and Resources Minister Chris Hartcher, and MCI CEO Marcus St John Dawe.

Orica managing director and CEO Ian Smith said his company saw this project as a major sustainability commitment. Orica is already capturing some of its CO2 emissions at its Kooragang Island manufacturing facility in Newcastle, but with no suitable disposal technology, the plant is looking for appropriate solutions for itself and for the industry.

Orica outlined the importance of the research pilot plant project toward creating a new safe and sustainable solution in the future mitigation of CO2 emissions.

“Orica will provide its technical expertise and commitment to innovation to support the technology’s development to help reduce the environmental footprint of mining operations,” the company said.

Mineral carbonation technology copies and accelerates the Earth’s natural carbon sink mechanism by combining CO2 with low grade minerals to make inert carbonates – similar to common baking soda – turn into a solid-rock product.

“The technology is proven in the lab and we now want to see if we can scale it to reduce the cost to be in line with a future carbon price. The major difference between this and geosequestration is that we are permanently transforming CO2, not just storing it underground,” St John Dawe said.

“It’s ideal for New South Wales where there is an abundance of low grade mineral deposits that fit our environmental standards and don’t compete with farming land. The potential exists to create many new jobs in a cleaner energy industry.”

The Mineral Carbonation Bricks

Mineral Carbonation Bricks

The project is being conducted by a team of researchers and chemical/industrial engineers led by Dr. Geoff Brent of Orica and Professors Bogdan Dlugogorski and Eric Kennedy at the Priority Research Centre for Energy at the UoN.

Smith said the company is already capturing some of its CO2 emissions at its Kooragang Island plant, adding that the technology they are testing will enable every power station in the world to capture carbon dioxide emissions and turn them into rock.

“So this would enable, not just us as a company, but all the coal fired power stations around the world to be retrofitted so they can capture their CO2 off-take. It’s an alternative solution. If you look at just storing it underground that only works in certain geological formations. This can work wherever those power stations are,” he said.