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Carbon-Negative Strategy May Fight Climate Change

BiomassStanford scientists have determined that using biomass may be the perfect way to achieve large-scale carbon-negative systems.

Greenhouse gas emissions management is nearly impossible because we are so far behind in the fight. Experts have determined that a carbon-negative strategy may be ideal to combat it.

The Stanford team aims to break the carbon cycle. Plants absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but rather than letting the plants emit the CO2 back into the atmosphere, there is a way to capture and convert the carbon dioxide into other products.

Using the capture method, plants are used on an enormous scale to remove carbon from the atmosphere. These biomass-based systems are called bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

There is a downside. Massive agricultural operations require enormous amounts of equipment, and this means that as BECCS scales up so does agricultural equipment manufacturing.

So, for this plan to work, industrial carbon capture has to be part of the solution.

New Zealand company LanzaTech demonstrated this method in 2009 when it used its carbon recycling platform to capture CO (not to be confused with CO2) to produce 2,3-Butanediol, a foundational chemical used to make a host of products like fuel, synthetic rubber, and plastics.

Though considered a weaker global warming gas than carbon dioxide, CO does play a significant indirect role in global warming. Approximately 50% of the Earth’s CO emissions are man-made, mostly from burning biomass and fossil fuels.

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About the author

Leigh is a Senior Technical Communicator working in the energy sector in Dallas, Texas. Prior to her work in the energy industry, Leigh spent years specializing in life saving engineering projects for the US Department of Defense. In her spare time, Leigh pursues her passions of environmental awareness, vegan baking, dog rescue, and defending the place of art, literature, and music in a world that values science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

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Comments

  • http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/ Almuth Ernsting

    GCEP’s report – as all calls for Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) ignore a vast volume of scientific studies which show that large-scale bioenergy is anything but carbon-neutral (which, by implication means, it’s anything but carbon-negative with BECCS). For a list of some of the studies that look at carbon impacts of biomass power stations, see http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2013/resources-biomass/ . Not only this, but the authors ignore many of the uncertainties, technical hurdles and major risks involved in carbon capture and storage. The costs involved in BECCS are such that the only likely prospect of large-scale ‘BECCS’ involves capturing CO2 from ethanol fermentation (and nobody can call corn ethanol carbon neutral!) in order to pump more oil out of partially depleted wells, i.e. to increase fossil fuel emissions. Please see our recent report for details: http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2012/beccs_report/ .
     
    LanzaTech currently produces small quantities of ethanol from CO from steel mills. CO is not a long-life greenhouse gas and in how far it affects the climate is highly uncertain (http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg1/229.htm ). Unlike the massive CO2 emissions from steel production. Worldwide, around 12% of all hard coal burned is burned to produce pig iron, a precursor to steel production. That’s just for carbon enrichment of iron and does not even include the coal burned to provide the energy for steel making, a particularly energy intensive process. So, according to this article, if Lanzatech captures a gas component that’s not normally classed as a greenhouse gas from a highly polluting and carbon intensive steel mill to make ethanol – that’s what ‘carbon negative energy’ is supposed to look like?!