Over the years, we have continued to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and now we realise that it’s time to extract it back. It’s like the famous L.M. Montgomery quote, which goes like:
‘Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?’
Yes, we need to come up with some form of ‘carbon-negative technology/solutions’, which may help us turn the direction of the current pathway. However, the idea seems nor pragmatic nor realistic, since the technology doesn’t exist for activities such as farming, flying, cement production and steel-making, which are branded as ‘necessary evil’ and inject carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Well, to be frank, the technology already exists, and it is we who never looked at the it seriously. We might not be able to reach a freezing zone where we are able to extract all the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but we can strive to achieve a zero-carbon emission rate by planting trees.
A new phrase, referred to as the bioenergy carbon capture and storage, deems to plant trees and extract as much atmospheric carbon dioxide as possible, post which it can be burned to generate electricity and store the carbon released. However, the concept is still in the ideation stage and needs to be tested on a scaled-up prototype to measure its efficacy.
According to a report, even if the concept is scaled up, several concerns can be raised against it. The proposal needs a vast amount of land, which might take the aid of the arctic zones. The usage of the arctic zone infers that we shall possibly be removing a layer of sunlight-reflecting snow, therefore influencing the Sun’s heating on the Earth’s surface, especially in the polar regions.
Moreover, the implementation of a monoculture of trees over a vast area can deteriorate the wildlife nearby. Hence, the process needs a superior optimisation of biodiversity and carbon removal, and the environmental management system needs to be completely operational.
Several pieces of research claim that wetland restoration may be another successful method to help extract and store carbon. The carbon is stored underwater and remains locked in the form of peat when a vegetation sinks. When these areas are converted to farmland, the dead vegetation decomposes and liberates a substantial amount of carbon into the environment.
Therefore, helping restore this dilapidated vegetation by re-wetting these lands may allow us to extract carbon from the atmosphere. The chart below gives an estimate of the amount of carbon dioxide we can remove from the atmosphere by employing various burgeoning scientific technologies.
|Process||Minimum amount of Carbon captured ( In gigatonnes per year)||Maximum amount of Carbon captured ( In gigatonnes per year)|
|Carbon Soil Sequestration||NA||5|
|Direct Air capture||0.5||5|
|Bioenergy carbon capture and storage||0.5||5|
Soil managing, popularly termed as ‘Carbon Soil Sequestration,’ is also an option that aims to modify the soils in a way so that they encapsulate the maximum amount of carbon. Moreover, heating a plant in the absence of oxygen yields biochar, which not only traps the carbon, but also helps in providing nutrients to the plants. It may take several hundred years for these biochars to break down and release carbon dioxide, thereby providing a convenient solution to trap carbon dioxide.
The emergence of technologies that trap carbon directly from the environment revolutionised the science of carbon sequestration. The plan neither aims to use vast plots of lands nor water supply, but is still able to capture carbon directly from the atmosphere and trap it underground (just like plastics).
However, initial data suggests that the process requires a considerable amount of energy. Therefore, the only way to harmonise the process as eco-friendly is by using renewable sources of energy. Dr Fuss’s study estimates (ideally) that with renewable sources of energy, the direct capturing method could remove almost five gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, with negligible impact on the environment.
Thus, to address the scaling of the process, the idea of bioenergy carbon capture and storage emerged, which may be implemented to drive the steering of the current carbon-negative technology. However, with all these emerging technologies, I want to tell that these methodologies do not mean we are allowed to pump more carbon dioxide recklessly into the atmosphere if we’re extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The technology is a correction to the mistakes we have made, not a process of manipulation to sustain our errors.