Key to speeding up carbon sequestration in the ocean discovered

Scientists at Caltech and USC have discovered a way to speed up the slow part of the chemical reaction that ultimately helps the earth to safely lock away, or sequester, carbon dioxide into the ocean. Simply adding a common enzyme to the mix, the researchers have found, can make that rate-limiting part of the process go 500 times faster.

On paper, the reaction is fairly straightforward: Water plus carbon dioxide plus calcium carbonate equals dissolved calcium and bicarbonate ions in water. In practice, it is complex. “Somehow, calcium carbonate decides to spontaneously slice itself in half. But what is the actual chemical path that reaction takes?” Adkins says.

Studying the process with a secondary ion mass spectrometer (which analyzes the surface of a solid by bombarding it with a beam of ions) and a cavity ringdown spectrometer (which analyzes the 13C/12C ratio in solution), Subhas discovered that the slow part of the reaction is the conversion of carbon dioxide and water to carbonic acid.

“This reaction has been overlooked,” Subhas says. “The slow step is making and breaking carbon-oxygen bonds. They don’t like to break; they’re stable forms.”

Armed with this knowledge, the team added the enzyme carbonic anhydrase — which helps maintain the pH balance of blood in humans and other animals — and were able to speed up the reaction by orders of magnitude.

Key to speeding up carbon sequestration discovered | EurekAlert! Science News

That makes me wonder about the chemical limitation of carbon sequestration in soils.