Sea urchins can soak up tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and help in the battle against global warming, according to a new discovery.
Every year, humans spew a average of 33.4 billion tonnes of CO2 -- around 45 percent of which remains in the atmosphere. Typically, a petrol-driven car will produce a tonne of CO2 every 4,000 miles.
Newcastle University researchers have identified a nickel catalyst that can convert captured CO2 rapidly and cheaply into the harmless, solid mineral, calcium carbonate, the journal Catalysis Science and Technology reports.
This discovery could potentially revolutionize the way we capture and store carbon and help lower its levels, increasingly linked with climate change, according to a Newcastle statement.
Lidija Siller, physicist and reader in Nanoscale Technology at Newcastle, says the discovery was made completely by chance.
"When we analysed the surface of the urchin larvae we found a high concentration of nickel on their exoskeleton."
"Taking nickel nanoparticles which have a large surface area, we added them to our carbonic acid test and the result was the complete removal of CO2," added Siller.
At the moment, pilot studies for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) systems propose the removal of CO2 by pumping it into holes deep underground.
An alternative solution is to convert the CO2 into calcium or magnesium carbonate, but it is only effective for a very short time and makes the process very expensive.
"The beauty of a nickel catalyst is that it carries on working regardless of the pH (acidity) and because of its magnetic properties it can be re-captured and re-used time and time again, explained Gaurav Bhaduri, who led the study as doctoral student at the Newcastle School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials.
It's also very cheap -- 1,000 times cheaper than the enzyme. And the by-product -- the carbonate -- is useful and not damaging to the environment.