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Carbon Sequestration in Biogenic Magnesite and Other Magnesium Carbonate Minerals

McCutcheon, Jenine, Power, Ian M., Shuster, Jeremiah, Harrison, Anna L., Dipple, Gregory M., Southam, Gordon
Environmental science & technology 2019 v.53 no.6 pp. 3225-3237
Cyanobacteria, bioreactors, carbon dioxide, carbon markets, carbon sequestration, carbonation, coatings, greenhouse gas emissions, leaching, longevity, magnesite, magnesium carbonate, mine tailings, mining, polymers, temperature, wastewater, wetlands
The stability and longevity of carbonate minerals make them an ideal sink for surplus atmospheric carbon dioxide. Biogenic magnesium carbonate mineral precipitation from the magnesium-rich tailings generated by many mining operations could offset net mining greenhouse gas emissions, while simultaneously giving value to mine waste products. In this investigation, cyanobacteria in a wetland bioreactor enabled the precipitation of magnesite (MgCO₃), hydromagnesite [Mg₅(CO₃)₄(OH)₂·4H₂O], and dypingite [Mg₅(CO₃)₄(OH)₂·5H₂O] from a synthetic wastewater comparable in chemistry to what is produced by acid leaching of ultramafic mine tailings. These precipitates occurred as micrometer-scale mineral grains and microcrystalline carbonate coatings that entombed filamentous cyanobacteria. This provides the first laboratory demonstration of low temperature, biogenic magnesite precipitation for carbon sequestration purposes. These findings demonstrate the importance of extracellular polymeric substances in microbially enabled carbonate mineral nucleation. Fluid composition was monitored to determine carbon sequestration rates. The results demonstrate that up to 238 t of CO₂ could be stored per hectare of wetland/year if this method of carbon dioxide sequestration was implemented at an ultramafic mine tailing storage facility. The abundance of tailings available for carbonation and the anticipated global implementation of carbon pricing make this method of mineral carbonation worth further investigation.