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Title: Integrated Experimental and Modeling Studies of Mineral Carbonation as a Mechanism for Permanent Carbon Sequestration in Mafic/Ultramafic Rocks

A program of laboratory experiments, modeling and fieldwork was carried out at Yale University, University of Maryland, and University of Hawai‘i, under a DOE Award (DE-FE0004375) to study mineral carbonation as a practical method of geologic carbon sequestration. Mineral carbonation, also called carbon mineralization, is the conversion of (fluid) carbon dioxide into (solid) carbonate minerals in rocks, by way of naturally occurring chemical reactions. Mafic and ultramafic rocks, such as volcanic basalt, are natural candidates for carbonation, because the magnesium and iron silicate minerals in these rocks react with brines of dissolved carbon dioxide to form carbonate minerals. By trapping carbon dioxide (CO 2) underground as a constituent of solid rock, carbonation of natural basalt formations would be a secure method of sequestering CO 2 captured at power plants in efforts to mitigate climate change. Geochemical laboratory experiments at Yale, carried out in a batch reactor at 200°C and 150 bar (15 MPa), studied carbonation of the olivine mineral forsterite (Mg 2SiO 4) reacting with CO 2 brines in the form of sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO 3) solutions. The main carbonation product in these reactions is the carbonate mineral magnesite (MgCO 3). A series of 32 runs varied the reaction time,more » the reactive surface area of olivine grains and powders, the concentration of the reacting fluid, and the starting ratio of fluid to olivine mass. These experiments were the first to study the rate of olivine carbonation under passive conditions approaching equilibrium. The results show that, in a simple batch reaction, olivine carbonation is fastest during the first 24 hours and then slows significantly and even reverses. A natural measure of the extent of carbonation is a quantity called the carbonation fraction, which compares the amount of carbon removed from solution, during a run, to the maximum amount that could have been removed if the olivine initially present had fully dissolved and the cations released had subsequently precipitated in carbonate minerals. The carbonation fractions observed in batch experiments with olivine grains and powders varied significantly, from less than 0.01 (1%) to more than 0.5 (50%). Over time, the carbonation fractions reached an upper limit after about 24 to 72 hours of reaction, then stayed constant or decreased. The peak Final Scientific/Technical Report DE-FE0004275 | Mineral Carbonation | 4 coincided with the appearance of secondary magnesium-bearing silicate minerals, whose formation competes for magnesium ions in solution and can even promote conditions that dissolve magnesite. The highest carbonation fractions resulted from experiments with low ratios of concentrated solution to olivine, during which amorphous silica spheres or meshes formed, instead of secondary silicate minerals. The highest carbonation fractions appear to result from competing effects. Precipitation of silica layers on olivine reduces the reactive surface area and, thus, the rate of olivine dissolution (which ultimately limits the carbonation rate), but these same silica layers can also inhibit the formation of secondary silicate minerals that consume magnesite formed in earlier stages of carbonation. Simulation of these experiments with simple geochemical models using the software program EQ3/6 reproduces the general trends observed—especially the results for the carbonation fraction in short-run experiments. Although further experimentation and better models are needed, this study nevertheless provides a framework for understanding the optimal conditions for sequestering carbon dioxide by reacting CO 2-bearing fluids with rocks containing olivine minerals. A series of experiments at the Rock Physics Laboratory at the University of Maryland studied the carbonation process during deformation of thermally cracked olivine-rich rock samples (dunite) saturated with CO 2 brines of varying compositions. A goal of these geomechanical experiments was to see if flow and deformation processes, which accompany natural carbonation reactions in underground settings, work to enhance or inhibit the reactions. The experiments involved hydrostatic compaction, followed by deformation at a constant rate of strain. Sample permeability was monitored during the reactions. Comparison of the samples’ volume changes to their axial strains (shortening) during deformation indicates that samples reacted with CO 2-saturated brines accommodate more axial compaction, before the onset of dilation (a swelling that precedes rock failure), than samples reacted with distilled water. Analyses of the reacted samples with scanning electron microscope (SEM) images indicate, first, that dissolution of olivine occurring in the initial stages of carbonation can provide pathways to fluid flow that sustain the reaction, and, second, that carbonate minerals precipitated along existing fractures in the rocks may serve as asperities, or roughness on a crack’s surface that restricts its closure. Final Scientific/Technical Report DE-FE0004275 | Mineral Carbonation | 5 In a related study undertaken by one of the principal investigators as a spin-off of the main project, a simple model of (magnesite) crystal growth in the pore space of basalts undergoing carbonation was developed. The model suggests that, under a carefully controlled program of CO 2 injection, carbonate mineral growth can harden the rock formation against earthquakes that might otherwise be induced by the injection of large fluid volumes (Yarushina and Bercovici, 2013). The overall conclusion of the research project is that mineral carbonation of underground mafic and ultramafic rock formations is a viable candidate for long-term sequestration of man-made carbon dioxide. No results obtained during the project indicate that the method is inherently intractable in its implementation; moreover, enormous volumes of basalt near Earth’s surface are candidate locations for large-scale injection programs. The geochemical experiments do indicate, however, that there will be significant engineering challenges in maintaining high rates of carbonation, by delaying the onset of chemical conditions that promote formation of secondary silicate minerals and, therefore, slow down, or even reverse, the carbonation process. It remains an open question as to whether carbonation processes can be sustained for many years in an engineered system operating on a large scale—a scale capable of accommodating millions of tons of CO 2 annually. The development of realistic theoretical models that can systematically describe the combined effects of reactive flow, precipitation and geomechanical deformation is a major barrier to further understanding of the practical viability of mineral carbonation as large-scale method of carbon sequestration.« less
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  1. Yale Univ., New Haven, CT (United States)
  2. Univ. of Maryland, College Park, MD (United States)
  3. Univ. of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI (United States)
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Technical Report
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Yale Univ., New Haven, CT (United States)
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United States