Carbon Capture and Storage - “Naturally”
By Alan Page, Green Diamond Systems
Reports from the Paris Climate Conference have made it clear that there is an urgent need for global implementation of a variety of carbon negative solutions to both remove new emissions of carbon dioxide as well as to take back carbon dioxide that has already been released to the atmosphere. Media reports claim that there are 15 or more operational carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities that remove much of the carbon dioxide emitted from coal fired power plants where they are installed. The reporter mentioned that the research was slowly improving the process and the operation is costly. The currently installed capacity was less than 1/10,000th of the current volume of emissions globally. The disposal of the collected carbon dioxide had issues as well. There is much to be done and little time to do it.
There is a well understood but officially undisclosed natural system that can perform these extraction and storage functions with benign or beneficial outcomes – the “capture” part employs vegetation like forests, in a manner similar to the REDD programs common now in discussions with large landowners, but the similarity ends there. The long term Natural CCS can be done with off the shelf systems that can provide employment to many people and provide a myriad of beneficial services as well as being immediately carbon negative. It is quite likely that these systems can be constructed and maintained locally with a little ingenuity and recognition of the urgent need for sustainable systems.
There are many questions that have easy immediate answers and others that are harder to answer and comprehend. The easy ones should come first:
How does “natural” CCS work?
The “capture” part of the system is already in place in many places where there is enough water to grow something agricultural or forest related. The capture part of the process can be added to by planting or re-vegetating abandoned land and capture performance can be improved by providing opportunities for people to actually care for this natural system. In most instances forests are “mined” for value with little thought being given to what is happening between harvests.
How does the “storage” part differ from what is being done now?
“Storage” can be short or long term. There are significant efforts to use undisturbed forests as the storage part of the process, but this provides little permanent or long term sequestration. Trees are vulnerable to many facets of climate change (fires, drought, wind and ice storms, floods, etc.) as well as being in a competitive situation where the number of trees per unit area decreases as the trees increase in size and age. This mortality if not recovered results in carbon dioxide and methane being released as the tree deteriorates. The current “REDD” process involves periodic remeasurement of a given forest to determine the quantity of carbon currently stored. Payments are made to owners from this calculation, but there is no means for capture of carbon that is released from biomass that results from either forest harvesting or gradual decay. To top it off, older trees can become methane sources from interior anerobic bacterial action (with no exterior indications of this condition) as well as being know sources of carbon dioxide from aerobic decay. Much of the organic portion of our human waste stream including plastics and paper products can be handled locally with the same conversion systems. Such conversion could remove the need for land-filling this material. There are many examples of prior civilizations that used this same process for dealing with their organic wastes and supported very high populations while doing so. It should be pointed out that building structures with heavy wooden support systems can last as long as the wood does not deteriorate – much of the wood in the Windsor Castle was ~1200 years old at the time it burned.
The “natural” part of long term storage involves human effort to develop stable carbon compounds that can be used through out the community as helpful carbon filters for all kinds of current pollution problems with the eventual application of the filter medium to soil situations where the nutrient additions can be returned to the ecosystems along with very stable carbon that works just as the original natural soil carbon that formed from organic residues, that has been squandered by our oil based form of farming. In case you have not guessed the form of carbon which is stable and made easily in local settings very near where the carbon was originally taken up – it is charcoal – the primary ingredient in normal drinking water filters. The burning of prairie grasses left behind charcoal that helped to build the deep black soils of the midwest.
How and where should the “storage” happen?
In a word - EVERYWHERE. In order for this to work effectively (sustainably) most of the carbon should not leave the community in which it was captured and collected. The “storage” should happen in the fields and forests within the community. The filtration which is part of the conditioning of the charcoal should happen within the community as well, and should be done by community members as opposed to service providers from outside.
These are some of the easy questions, the harder questions are searching ones that deal with the whys.
Why is this not discussed anywhere?
Why is it not being done now?
Why are people and organizations, including our governments, profiting from continuing the pollution that is clearly very dangerous?