Researchers in the United Kingdom are currently working on removing all of the left over asbestos in mines across the world. Not only would the method rapidly reduce the amount of asbestos, it would also reduce the amount of carbon in the air.
Jenine McCutcheon, a geomicrobiologist at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, has been working alongside colleagues to create a method of turning the left over mined asbestos into carbonate rock. Using bacterial mats, McCutcheon is hoping that she can speed up the natural process of asbestos turning into carbonate rock.
As this process is completely natural, McCutcheon states, “we are looking to accelerate this process and transition it from a pile of asbestos waste to a deposit of carbonate mineral which is completely harmless.”
As of now, these piles of mined asbestos fibers can absorb the carbon from carbon dioxide containing water and turn into harmless carbonate rock piles in around a year or so. However, without the help from humans, not all of the asbestos have a chance to completely become carbonate. In these asbestos piles, water must reach the asbestos for them to become carbonate. Large amounts of asbestos stay at the bottom of the piles, never coming into contact with rainwater and not becoming carbonate.
McCutcheon has devised a system of using cyanobacteria to concentrate more carbon into these asbestos piles and ensuring all of them can become carbonate. According to McCutcheon, cyanobacteria “are really good at concentrating carbon from the atmosphere because unlike most bacteria, they photosynthesize and absorb carbon dioxide during that process. They collect it, they concentrate it, and when they die, they are decomposed by other bacteria, and that replenishes the supply of dissolved carbon in solution.”
With this method, mines across the world could be ridded of asbestos.