Move over Al, Leo, and the rest of the politicos and A-listers working to, “save the planet.” The next great green enviro hero might just be a tiny little creature who lives in the sea.
As scientists scamble to find cost-effective ways to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels, a group of researchers from the U.K.’s Newcastle University may have stumbled across a way to achieve this – thanks to the humble sea urchin.
Here’s the connection between science and the spiny “brillo pad of the sea:”
The most effective way to eliminate CO2 from entering the atmosphere is to convert it into harmless calcium carbonate. By chance, Dr Lidija Šiller, a physicist at Newcastle University, was looking at the way in which organisms absorb CO2 into their skeletons. She discovered the sea urchin converts CO2 into calcium carbonate to form its endoskeleton.
It turns out urchins have a high concentration of nickel on their armor-coated exoskeletons (their outer skin). The nickel acts as a catalyst to create a reaction between water and CO2 – known as the carbonic acid reaction. This reaction results in the complete removal of CO2 – and the creation of calcium carbonate necessary for the urchins healthy internal skeletal system.
It’s this nickel catalyst that has researchers absolutely giddy. Gaurav Bhaduri, a PhD student in Newcastle University’s School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials states, “…a Nickel catalyst…because of its magnetic properties can be recaptured and reused time and time again. It’s also very cheap…and the by-product, the carbonate, is useful and not damaging to the environment.”
So, the next time you are lounging on the sundeck of your Caribbean yacht charter vessel and you spot a tiny little urchin slippping along under the waves, give him a quick wink of the eye, and remember – so much of what makes our world great comes from the sea…