Sea Urchins: The Key to Carbon Capture and Storage?

Written by on February 6, 2013 in Invertebrates, Marine Life
White long-spined sea urchin (Diadema antillarum).

White long-spined sea urchin (Diadema antillarum). Photo credit: NOAA.

Sea urchins have a natural ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the ocean. Researchers recently discovered that by using particles of Nickel, urchins can rapidly (and cheaply) convert CO2 into calcium carbonate, a harmless solid material.

This discovery could forever change the way we capture CO2 from the atmosphere and could be a model for reducing CO2 emissions.

“We had set out to understand in detail the carbonic acid reaction – which is what happens when CO2 reacts with water – and needed a catalyst to speed up the process,” explained Dr. Lidija Šiller, a physicist at Newcastle University, who noted that the discovery was made unintentionally.

“At the same time, I was looking at how organisms absorb CO2 into their skeletons and in particular the sea urchin which converts the CO2 to calcium carbonate,” she continued.

“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.”

“The beauty of a Nickel catalyst is that it carries on working regardless of the pH and because of its magnetic properties it can be re-captured and re-used time and time again. It’s also very cheap,” said lead author Gaurav Bhaduri, a PhD student in the University’s School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials. “And the by-product–the carbonate–is useful and not damaging to the environment.”

Calcium carbonate is the main component in the shells of marine organisms and is responsible for the structure of coral reefs. It is also used in cement and other building materials, as well as in plaster casts for broken bones.

“What our discovery offers is a real opportunity for industries such as power stations and chemical processing plants to capture all their waste CO2 before it ever reaches the atmosphere and store it as a safe, stable and useful product.”

Purple-spined sea urchin (Arbacia punctulata).

Purple-spined sea urchin (Arbacia punctulata). Photo credit: NOAA.

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Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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