Carbon sequestration

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Carbon dioxide is one of the major greenhouse gases whose rise in concentration in the atmosphere is responsible for the global rise in temperature during the past 200 years. Carbon dioxide is produced by many processes, both natural and by humans. It is the rapid rise in human, or anthropogenic, CO2 that is thought to be mainly responsible for the current episode of global warming. To reduce global warming, it will be necessary to reduce the release of CO2 to the atmosphere, so that the system can gradually recover and slow global warming. There are several ways that the release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere can be reduced. Most CO2 is produced through the combustion of fossil fuels. One way to reduce CO2 release to the atmosphere therefore is to use energy more efficiently and wisely and to increase use of low-carbon and carbon-free fuels and technologies. These include renewable green energy sources such as nuclear power, solar and wind energy, geothermal power, and tidal and current power. A new technology for managing carbon is being developed by the U.S. Department of Energy and many other countries and industries around the world. This new promising technology is called carbon sequestration.

Carbon sequestration is basically a group of processes that enable long-term storage of carbon in the terrestrial biosphere, in the oceans, or deep underground, effectively isolating that carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon sequestration can be done in a number of different ways. Some of these processes enhance natural processes, whereas others are basically advanced ways of disposing of the carbon.

Carbon sequestration may be done in underground reservoirs. The basic idea is that carbon dioxide can be captured from power plants and other carbon-producing industries, and then injected underground into porous geological formations. Although this technology has existed for some time, it is nowhere in widespread use, and exists as a potential way to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. Simple carbon sequestration technologies that already exist could reduce the emissions from each plant that uses this technique by 80-90 percent. However, the energy required to \_/

Many sectors of industry and agriculture need to respond to reducing the emissions of several greenhouse gases. One of the promising developing technologies is that of carbon sinks, either burying the carbon in the ground or in other carbon sinks isolated from the atmosphere system. This new technology of carbon sequestration is described in the sidebar above.

Education and changes in lifestyle choices have the potential to dramatically change greenhouse gas emissions. Consumer choice in using environmentally friendly or green technologies can drive industry to move toward products that produce fewer greenhouse gases, lowering emissions. Urban and community planning, where new communities include lower transportation distances, improved energy efficiency, and alternative energy, farming, and waste technologies have potential to continue to reduce emissions. As sea level rises and large sectors of the population are forced to move, community planning will become an implement this carbon sequestration would increase the fuel needs of each plant by 11-40 percent, increasing the cost of energy from each plant that uses this technology by 20-90 percent.

Some novel ways of sequestering carbon involve enhancing the natural carbon sequestration of the terrestrial biosphere cycle through removal of CO2 from the atmosphere by plants and storing the carbon in biomass and soils. Research is being funded through the Department of Energy to understand better the biological and ecological processes of the formation of organic matter in soils in different terrestrial ecosystems, particularly wetlands, and searching for ways to enhance these processes. Different topics that are investigated include increasing the capture of CO2 from the atmosphere by plants, retaining carbon and transforming it to soil organic matter, reducing the emission of CO2 from soils, and investigating the possibility of increasing the use of deserts and degraded lands to sequester carbon.

One of the largest potential reservoirs for sequestering carbon is the oceans. Techniques are being developed that can increase the uptake of CO2 by the oceans through the fertilization of phytoplank-ton with nutrients and by directly injecting pure CO2 streams into the oceans to depths below .62 miles (1 km). The CO2 being targeted for direct injection would come from power plants and other industrial CO2 producers, reducing the emission to the atmosphere. Research by the Department of Energy is still focusing on determining if there may be any unseen environmental consequences of sequestering carbon deep in the oceans and how effective this process may be.

A final way that carbon may be sequestered and isolated from the atmosphere is by sequencing and designing microbes that aid in carbon sequestration, searching for the genetic components that organisms use to capture greenhouse gases. There are organisms known as extremophiles that presently live in hot environments and ingest methane, sequestering carbon, and giving off hydrogen gas as a byproduct. Since much of the living material on the planet that sequesters carbon is microbial, research into enhancing microbial carbon sequestration is a promising field for potentially reducing anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere and its heating effects.

increasingly important element in decades to come. Eventually these techniques will lead to increased agricultural production and decreased stress on ecosystems.

Development and investment in new energy technologies and infrastructure will promote lower production of greenhouse gases and serve to increase the energy security of nations. Investments in new energy technologies are expected to surpass 30 trillion U.S. dollars by 2030, including the use of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, nuclear, waves, tides, currents, and hydrothermal sources. As easily accessible oil resources become increasingly scarce, it is important that industry adopts carbon capture and storage technologies as the fossil-fuel industry moves into resources with higher carbon contents, otherwise greenhouse gas emission will increase. Underground carbon capture and storage is a rapidly developing technology that has potential to lower emission of greenhouse CO2, especially from fossil fuel mining. Technologies should be developed that are able to extinguish underground coal fires, as CO2 released from coal fires in China alone rival the amount of CO2 emitted by all the automobiles in the United States.

Improved fuel efficiency of cars and trucks is essential and within reach with existing and developing technologies. Biofuels may play an important role in this regard, but biofuels may have environmental impacts of their own that need to be addressed. Lifestyle and industrial shifts to wider use of railroads and multi-passenger vehicles would lower CO2 emissions, as would urban planning that would help decrease distances traveled and offer opportunities for wider use of light rail and non-motorized transportation modes. Aviation emissions are significant and can be reduced by better air traffic management.

Wider adoption of green building technologies can reduce the emission of greenhouse gases from this sector of the economy by at least 30 percent by 2030, and more by the end of the century. However, many developing countries will not be able to afford the initial investment in green building construction, despite the longer-term economic benefit.

New industrial facilities in developing countries are tending to move toward adopting new technologies with lower emissions, but many old highly inefficient industrial facilities exist in both developed and developing countries. These facilities are in drastic need of upgrade and offer considerable opportunities for reduction in greenhouse gas emission.

The agricultural sector can move toward more sustainable agricultural practices, with synergy between the agriculture and developing soils for carbon sequestration. Some widespread agricultural practices currently expose the carbon soil to atmospheric loss. Reduction of other agricultural greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide can be achieved through land use changes and other implementations. Using feedstocks for biofuels has benefits and drawbacks and must be managed with land and water use and maintenance of sufficient feedstock for fiber production.

Forest management strategies such as reduction in deforestation in tropical regions can significantly help by increasing the carbon sink, reducing the emissions from deforestation, with co-benefits such as employment for local people in the eco-tourism business, preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity, and a renewable energy supply. Other sectors of the economy can also be managed better to improve the environment, including management of the waste sector to minimize wastes and wastewater and research into geo-engineering options for developing technologies that potentially remove CO2 from the atmosphere, sequestering it in the oceans or on land.

Longer-term climate mitigation, beyond the year 2100, will require that emission of greenhouse gases not only stop at current levels but be reduced further to lower levels. This will require long-term development of energy-efficient technologies, changes in lifestyles and land use patterns, and investment at national scales in green industrial technologies. National and international policies still need to be developed to balance environmental concerns over greenhouse gas emissions with cost, equity and distribution, and the feasibility of proposed steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The world will continue to develop but must develop new pathways of development to ensure that global growth is sustainable.


Earth's climate has oscillated between hot and cold states for billions of years, due to a variety of climate-forcing mechanisms. Some climates, known as global icehouses or Snowball Earth, have been much colder than the present, and other climate intervals, known as hothouses, have been much warmer than the present. Until recently these climate variations have all been driven by natural variations in Earth's orbit, the solar luminosity, the concentration of gases in the atmosphere, and plate tectonics and volcanism. In the past 200 years humans have injected so much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that the climate is warming rapidly as a result.

Global climate models predict that the climate will continue to warm for at least several hundred and probably at least several thousand years. The planet may have an average temperature that is three to five degrees hotter by the year 2100, changing many climate patterns across the globe. Deserts will expand, Arctic ice and permafrost will largely melt, and sea levels will rise by seven inches to nearly two feet (0.18-0.59 m), or as many as 23 more feet (7 m) if the Greenland ice cap melts catastrophically.

Global warming cannot be stopped. Even a major event such as a catastrophic volcanic eruption that places large amounts of aerosols into the atmosphere would likely lower temperatures only for a year or two. Nonetheless, the warming can be slowed by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and beginning programs of carbon sequestration to isolate carbon from the atmosphere system. Green energy technologies such as solar, wind, nuclear, tidal, and geothermal sources should be employed, and people's lifestyles need to change to use less fossil fuels. As sea levels rise and hundreds of millions of people are displaced from the current coastlines, new cities and communities should be planned to be more energy efficient, involving less traveling, using green energy technology in building, utilizing sustainable agriculture, and recycling wastes and water.

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