Dutch designer Teresa van Dongen has launched Aireal, an online library showcasing materials that can capture atmospheric carbon.
Materials featured include olivine, an abundant mineral that can absorb its own mass of carbon dioxide when crushed and scattered on the ground.
The library also features materials ranging from paper to fibre and food that neutralise atmospheric carbon dioxide by absorbing the carbon and releasing the oxygen.
“Aireal is a growing material library showing materials that capture carbon dioxide in their production process,” said van Dongen, describing the project as a” library of possibilities”.
“The materials were developed in the spirit of the circular economy, where waste does not exist and carbon dioxide is seen as a resource for the creation of the products that we will use tomorrow,” she said.
Olivine, a green-coloured magnesium–iron silicate, is one of the most common minerals on earth, making up between 60 and 80 per cent of the earth’s mantle.
As part of its natural weathering process, the surface of the mineral reacts with CO2 contained in rainwater, absorbing the carbon to create a new carbonate mineral.
Yet olivine has been overlooked in the rush to explore ways of tackling climate change, van Dongen said.
“It absorbs CO2 very easily,” van Dongen told. “One tonne of olivine sand can take in up to one tonne of carbon dioxide, depending on the conditions. You just have to spread it out and nature will do its job.”
European climate initiative Climate-KIC estimates that olivine could capture 850,000 tonnes of CO2 if it was used in small-scale projects in Rotterdam alone. Potential uses include fertiliser and a replacement for sand and gravel in landscaping projects.
Van Dongen said that the potential of natural materials such as olivine is being ignored as researchers and startups rush to develop more complex ways of reducing atmospheric carbon.
The Aireal library showcases a range of olivine products made by Green Minerals, who will produce the first 1,000 sheets of paper made from the carbonated mineral later this year.
“It is an unknown fact that a range of materials can be made with the reacted olivine mineral,” van Dongen said.
Aerial also includes potential food sources made from CO2 including spirulina, a carbon-guzzling algae, and methane-consuming microbial proteins.
Her more recent Mud Well project is powered by electricity generated by bacteria.
Van Dongen sees Aerial as a way of helping people see carbon as a useful resource rather than a problem material.
“CO2 currently suffers from the connotation of pollution, but CO2 is an irreplaceable part of the cycle of life,” she said.