Carbon sequestration

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See carbon cycle for information on natural carbon sequestration processes

Carbon sequestration is the storage of carbon dioxide (usually captured from the atmosphere) through biological, chemical or physical processes, for the mitigation of global warming.[1] Most projects can be regarded as geoengineering. It has been proposed as a way to mitigate the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere released by the burning of fossil fuels.[2]

Where the CO2 is captured as a pure by-product in processes related to petroleum refining (upgrading), or from flue gases from power generation.[3] CO2 sequestration can then be seen as being synonymous with the storage part of carbon capture and storage, a term which refers to the large-scale, permanent artificial capture and sequestration of industrially-produced CO2 using subsurface saline aquifers, reservoirs, ocean water, or other sinks. In September 2008, a coal-fired power plant in Spremberg eastern Germany, became the world's first coal using plant to capture and store carbon dioxide.[4]


[edit] Biological processes

An oceanic phytoplankton bloom in the South Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Argentina. Encouraging such blooms with iron fertilization could lock up carbon on the seabed.

Biological processes have a huge effect on the Global carbon cycle. Major climatic fluctuations have been driven by these processes in the past, such as at the Azolla event which started the current Arctic climate. Fossil fuel formation is as a result of such processes, as is the formation of clathrate or limestone. By manipulating such techniques, geoengineers seek to enhance sequestration. Methods such as ocean iron fertilization are examples of such geoengineering techniques.[5]

[edit] Ocean iron fertilization

Iron fertilization[6] of the ocean to encourage plankton growth which removes carbon from the atmosphere on a temporary, or arguably permanent basis.[7][8] This technique is controversial due to difficulties of predicting its effect on the marine ecosystem,[9] and the potential for side effects or large deviations from expected efficacy. Such effects potentially include the release of nitrogen oxides,[10][10] and disruption to the nutrient balance in the ocean. Iron fertilization is a natural process and it is the enhancement of this process which is the geoengineering technique.[5]

[edit] Ocean urea fertilisation

Proposed by Ian Jones with the purpose to fertilize the ocean with urea, a nitrogen rich substance, to encourage phytoplankton growth.[citation needed]

Australian company Ocean Nourishment Corporation (ONC) plans to sink hundreds of tonnes of urea into the ocean, in order to boost the growth of CO2-absorbing phytoplankton, as a way to combat climate change. In 2007, Sydney-based ONC completed an experiment involving 1 tonne of nitrogen in the Sulu Sea off the Philippines.[11]

[edit] Forestry

Reforestation of marginal crop and pasture lands to transfer CO2 from the atmosphere to new biomass.[12] It is essential to ensure that the carbon did not return to the atmosphere from burning or rotting when the trees died. To this end, it would be important to either manage such forests in perpetuity or use the wood from them for biochar, BECS (see below) or landfill. This technique can give 0.27W/m2 of globally-averaged negative forcing,[13] which is sufficient to reverse the warming effect of 1/6 of current levels of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. It is notable, however, that this CO2 levels will have risen by the time this could be achieved.

[edit] Peat production

Peat bogs are a very important store of carbon. By creating new bogs, or enhancing existing ones, carbon sequestration can be achieved.[14]

[edit] Ocean mixing

Encouraging various layers of the ocean to mix can move nutrients and dissolved gases around and thus act as a geoengineering approach.[15] Placing large vertical pipes in the oceans to bring nutrient rich water to the surface, triggering algal blooms, which also store carbon when they die.[16][17][18][19] - a mechanism somewhat similar to ocean iron fertilization. This technique may result in a short-term rise in CO2 in the atmosphere, which limits its attractiveness.[20] Forced upwelling can give 0.28W/m2 of globally-averaged negative forcing,[13] which is sufficient to reverse the warming effect of 1/6th current levels of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. An alternative forced downwelling approach can give 0.16W/m2 of globally-averaged negative forcing,[13] which is sufficient to reverse the warming effect of about 1/10th current levels of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. It is notable, however, that this CO2 levels will have risen by the time this could be achieved.

[edit] Physical processes

Biochar can be landfilled, used as a soil improver or burned using carbon capture and storage

[edit] Biochar burial

Biochar is charcoal created by pyrolysis of biomass. The resulting charcoal-like material is landfilled, or used as a soil improver to create terra preta.[21][22] Biogenic carbon is recycled naturally in the carbon cycle. By pyrolysing it to biochar, it’s rendered inert and sequestered in soil. Further, the soil encourages bulking with new organic matter, which gives additional sequestration benefit.

The carbon contained in the soil is therefore unavailable for oxidation to CO2 and consequential atmospheric release. As a result, the radiative forcing potential of the avoided CO2 is removed from the planet’s energy balance. This technique is advocated by prominent scientist James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis.[23] It can give 0.52W/m² of globally-averaged negative forcing,[13] which is sufficient to reverse the warming effect of about 1/3 current levels of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. It is notable, however, that CO2 levels will have risen by the time this could be achieved. According to Simon Shackley, "I would say people are talking more about something in the range of one to two billion tonnes a year."[24]

The mechanisms related to the carbon sequestration properties of biochar, is referred to as bio-energy with carbon storage, BECS.

[edit] BECCS

The term BECCS refers to Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage [25] – Burning biomass in power stations and boilers which utilise carbon capture and storage.[26] Using this technology with sustainably produced biomass would result in net-negative carbon emissions, as the carbon sequestered during the growth of the biomass would be captured and stored, thus removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.[27]

This technology is sometimes referred to as bio-energy with carbon storage, BECS, though this term can also refer to the carbon sequestration potential in other technologies, such as biochar.

[edit] Biomass burial

Burying trees locks the carbon they contain in the soil, removing it from the atmosphere.

Burying biomass (such as trees[28]) directly, thus sequestering the carbon in the ground rather than allowing it to escape, mimicking the natural processes that created fossil fuels.[29] Landfill of trash also represents a physical method of sequestration.

[edit] Biomass ocean storage

The production of fossil fuels is a natural process which often involves the ocean burial of biomass in the ocean, often near river mouths which bring large quantities of nutrients and dead material into the ocean. Transporting material, such as crop waste, out to sea and allowing it to sink into deep ocean storage has been proposed as a means of sequestration of carbon.[30][31]

[edit] Carbon Capture and Storage

CO2 can be injected into old oil wells and other geological features, or can be stored in pure form in the deep ocean.[citation needed]

CO2 has been used extensively in enhanced crude oil recovery operations in the United States beginning in 1972.[32] There are in excess of 10,000 CO2 wells in the state of Texas alone. The gas comes in part from anthropogenic sources, but principally from large naturally-occurring geologic formations of CO2. It is transported to the oil-producing fields through a large network of over 5,000 kilometres (3,100 mi) of CO2 pipelines. The use of CO2 for Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) methods in heavy oil reservoirs in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB)has also been proposed.[33] However, cost of transport remains an important hurdle. A similar CO2 pipeline system to that of Texas does not yet exist in the WCSB that could connect most of the sources for CO2 in Canada associated with the mining and upgrading operations in the Athabasca oil sands, with the subsurface heavy oil reservoirs that could most benefit from CO2 injection hundreds of km to the south.

[edit] Chemical techniques

Carbon, in the form of CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere by chemical processes, and stored in stable mineral forms. This process is known as carbon sequestration by mineral carbonation or mineral sequestration. The process involves reacting carbon dioxide with abundantly available metal oxides–either magnesium oxide (MgO) or calcium oxide (CaO)–to form stable carbonates. These reactions are exothermic and occur naturally (e.g., the weathering of rock over geologic time periods).[34][35]

CaO + CO2 → CaCO3
MgO + CO2 → MgCO3

In nature calcium and magnesium are found typically as calcium and magnesium silicates (such as forsterite and serpentine), and not as binary oxides. For forsterite and serpentine the reaactions are:

Mg2SiO4 + 2CO2 = 2MgCO3 + SiO2
Mg3Si2O5(OH)4 + 3CO2 = MgCO3 + 2SiO2 + 2H2O

The following table lists principal metal oxides of Earth's Crust. Theoretically up to 22% of this mineral mass is able to form carbonates.

Earthen Oxide Percent of Crust Carbonate Enthalpy change
SiO2 59.71
Al2O3 15.41
CaO 4.90 CaCO3 -179
MgO 4.36 MgCO3 -117
Na2O 3.55 Na2CO3
FeO 3.52 FeCO3
K2O 2.80 K2CO3
Fe2O3 2.63 FeCO3
21.76 All Carbonates

These reactions are favored at low temperatures.[34] This process occurs naturally over many years and is responsible for much of the surface limestone. The reaction rate can be made faster, for example by reacting at higher temperatures and/or pressures, or by pre-treatment of the minerals, although this method can require additional energy.

[edit] Industrial use

Traditional cement manufacture releases large amounts of carbon dioxide, but newly developed cement types from Novacem[36] can absorb CO2 from ambient air during hardening.[37] A similar technique was pioneered by TecEco, who have been producing EcoCement since 2002.[38]

In Estonia, oil shale ash, generated by the oil shale-fired power stations could be used as sorbents for CO2 mineral sequestration. The amount of CO2 captured averaged 60–65% of the carbonaceous CO2 and 10–11% of the total CO2 emissions.[39]

[edit] Chemical scrubbers

Various carbon dioxide scrubbing processes have been proposed to remove CO2 from the air, usually using a variant of the Kraft process. Carbon dioxide scrubbing variants exist based on potassium carbonate[40] which can be used to create liquid fuels, or on sodium hydroxide.[40][41][42] These notably include the artificial trees proposed by Klaus Lackner with the purpose to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using chemical scrubbers.[43][44] This technique can give 1.43W/m2 of globally-averaged negative forcing,[13] which is almost sufficient to reverse the warming effect of current levels of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. It is notable, however, that this CO2 levels will have risen by the time this could be achieved.

[edit] Rock weathering

CO2 naturally reacts with peridotite rock, notably in Oman. It has been suggested that this process can be enhanced to carry out natural mineralisation of CO2.[45][46]

[edit] Ocean acid neutralisation

Adding crushed limestone[47] or volcanic rock[48] to oceans to restore the solubility pump, which naturally tends to remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere. This technique can give 0.46W/m2 of globally-averaged negative forcing,[13] which is sufficient to reverse the warming effect of around a third of current levels of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. It is notable, however, that CO2 levels will have risen by the time this could be achieved. Various other scientists have explored this technique, and suggested a variety of different bases which may be added to the ocean. [49][50][51][52][53][54]

[edit] Ocean hydrochloric acid removal

Chemically removing hydrochloric acid from the ocean by electrolysis and neutralize the acid through reactions with silicate minerals or rocks.[55] This technique is rumoured to have significant venture capital interest.[56]

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