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Why Mineral Carbonation and Mining is Not the Solution We're Hoping For

A look inside an alternative method of fossil fuel usage.

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Photo: Albert Hyseni

For years, humanity has heavily relied on the usage of fossil fuels, in fact, 81 percent of the total energy used in the U.S. is extracted from oil, coal, and natural gas. This energy is being utilized to heat and provide electricity to run homes, businesses, cars, and factories. 


Unfortunately, the excessive use of the Earth's natural resources is leaving us at risk of depletion of these necessities and poses a threat to all life and our human existence. With measurable harm to planet Earth, Scientists have begun searching for new solutions to fossil fuel problems in order to sustain human life.


One alternative that is being studied and considered is the mining and usage of mineral carbonation. Although anything may seem better when compared to fossil fuels and their harmful impact, mineral carbonation is not a solution and has proven to be time-consuming, expensive, and causes harm to our soil, air, and water. 


Logging taking place in Chatham County, NC.

Land Clearing and Harm to Soil

With fossil fuels contributing to low-quality soil and erosion, mineral carbonation, and mining do not seem to be beneficial. The material required involves displacing millions of tonnes of rock, earth, and soil which escalates the potential for sedimentation, erosion, and loss of habitat

In the event that this method is used, there would be an increased need for land rehabilitation. This would involve the reshaping of landform due to the volume of tailing which would be larger than the mined rock and in this sense, this method would be unsustainable.


For environmental benefits, sustainable energy sources can provide economic advantages such as job creation and reduced energy costs in the long run. Investing in renewable energy can also lead to new opportunities for innovative technologies and advancements in the energy sector.
 

The Impact on Air and Water

One of the major environmental impacts of mining is the pollution of air and water. When mineral ore is extracted from underground, it is often done through drilling and blasting which can create dust and particulate matter. These pollutants can then be carried by the wind or water and contaminate nearby streams, lakes, and other water bodies. 


This can have serious consequences for aquatic life and drinking water sources. Moreover, mining dust can also pose serious health risks for humans, particularly those living in close proximity to the mining sites. Dust particles can cause respiratory problems as well. In addition, excessive dust can reduce visibility, particularly in areas where mining operations are close to roads and highways.


To address this issue, mining companies need to adopt measures to control the amount of dust and fine matter produced during mining operations. This can include implementing proper ventilation systems, using dust-suppressing agents, and investing in new technologies to reduce emissions. Additionally, mining companies should prioritize responsible waste management practices to prevent habitat destruction and limit the release of toxic substances into the environment.


Eventually everything hits the bottom, and all you have to do is wait until someone comes along, and turns it back again. ⌛️


The Impact on Time and Money

When it comes to assessing the feasibility of carbon capture and storage methods, time and money are two key factors to consider. Mineral carbonation - a process that involves combining CO2 from industrial emissions with naturally occurring minerals to form stable carbonates - may not be the most efficient or cost-effective storage option available.


Aside from the fact that mineral carbonation requires additional energy to be used, its implementation leads to the production of more CO2 in the process. This essentially defeats the purpose of carbon capture since the emission offsets are minimal. Additionally, the mining industry would have to be drastically expanded to store the amount of CO2 produced from burning coal, which poses significant environmental concerns and financial burdens.
Other carbon capture methods, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and direct air capture (DAC), may be more practical in terms of their time and financial costs. CCS involves capturing CO2 emissions from industrial processes and storing them in underground reservoirs. DAC, on the other hand, directly captures CO2 from the air and stores it in a similar way to CCS. Both methods, while still facing challenges, have the potential to be more scalable and cost-effective in the long run compared to mineral carbonation.


 A final note on mineral carbonation and mining

In order to use natural resources effectively for mankind, we must take into account all facets of the situation, as disturbing the environment can cause a number of adverse consequences. Cyanide spills, destruction of wildlife habitats, and fish kills are all "side effects" of mining on public lands in the West and can be found all over the world.


In summary, mineral carbonation is a process by which minerals are converted into carbon dioxide through a chemical reaction. This process is becoming increasingly popular as a way of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. 


While mineral carbonation may appear to be a better alternative to fossil fuels, it has not been proven to be a solution; instead, it has been shown to be an expensive, time-consuming, and environmentally damaging process. 


References

National Geographic Society, (2023) Fossil Fuels, https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/fossil-fuels/


Silicate Production and Availability for Mineral Carbonation

P. Renforth, C.-L. Washbourne, J. Taylder, and D. A. C. Manning

Environmental Science & Technology 2011 45 (6), 2035-2041

DOI: 10.1021/es103241w


Mazzotti, Marco, (N/A) Mineral carbonation and industrial uses of carbon dioxide, https://archive.ipcc.ch/pdf/special-reports/srccs/srccs_chapter7.pdf


Bertrand, Savannah (2021) Fact Sheet Climate, Environmental, and Health Impacts of Fossil Fuels, https://www.eesi.org/papers/view/fact-sheet-climate-environmental-and-health-impacts-of-fossil-fuels-2021


Denchak, Melissa, (2022) Fossil Fuels: The Dirty Facts, https://www.nrdc.org/stories/fossil-fuels-dirty-facts#sec-whatis


What is Renewable Energy? , (N/A) What is Renewable Energy? https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/what-is-renewable-energy