Arrival of Spring; first of 3 features on Carbon Capture, Removal and Sequestration
Taking a wonderful walk, which was certainly a procrastination instead of writing today, I was reminded that spring is well and truly here. And then this childhood rhyme floated into my mind; does anyone else remember it?
Spring has sprung, the grass is riz (risen?)
I wonder where the birdie is?
The bird is on the wing, but that’s absurd!
The wing is on the bird.
Delightfully silly poem! The other things I loved to see were the lambs, back in our fields after about 20 years of seeing only cattle. The young lass in charge tells me she has lambed 210 ewes and had a bumper ‘crop’, because the weather has been so fine and dry.
As we talked about the lambs, we both instantly agreed that we are worried that grass will not ‘RIZ’ this spring, as there has been so little rain. According to the Met Office,
England had its driest February in 30 years, according to provisional figures, as meteorological winter concluded with a dry and mild month for most.
I know I ‘bang on’ about this regularly, but it is a major worry. We will be in serious drought again soon, if rain doesn’t arrive.
Truro Planetary Event
Last evening I spent a fascinating, but very demanding 2.5 hours at the seminar, where Planetary described their vision for capturing carbon, off the coast of West Cornwall near St. Ives. After a restless night of pondering what to tell you, the clear thing I must do is put Carbon Capture into some degree of perspective first. To do that, I shall begin with a mention, just in passing, of a new prize, conceived and largely funded by Elon Musk and called XPrize, with mega $s at stake. In the Carbon Capture section no less than 1,132 teams are listed as having signed up. There are various categories of Carbon Capture (Air, Land, Ocean, Rock and Reporting/Verification), but also categories in regard to winning status – e.g. Milestone Award Winner, Student Award Winner, Top 60 and Qualified Competitor.
Hopefully you will cut me some slack, when I say I haven’t managed to survey 1,132 teams. In fact I barely touched the list but I promise to return to it another week. Instead, I just put the various Carbon Capture categories into Google to see what came up.
Interesting. Don’t miss the final line – ‘capitalise on developing markets for CO2’. This, in case you cannot guess, is coming from Shell Catalysts and Technologies. It alerts us at once to the big moral problem (AKA the moral hazard) of carbon capture. Those who can afford to invest will trade and also use their carbon capture tech as an excuse to keep burning fossil fuels. Bad news ☹
CO2 REMOVAL TECHNOLOGY
Current and anticipated legislation throughout most of the developed world suggests that a reduction in the amount of CO2 emissions across industries will be enforced. However, the demand for energy will not subside and is expected to increase by nearly 50% by 2030.
Have you considered how you can…
- Meet stringent greenhouse gas abatement regulations?
- Enhance refining margins?
- Capitalize on developing markets for CO2?
Land-based solutions are more natural, less expensive to develop and I hope would not prove so easy to turn into huge trading schemes. I found an interesting page, called ‘Getting more on the Ground’ dot com, which proposes paying a farmer or forest owner $5 for every ton of increased CO2 capture achieved in an acre of soil. This can either be done by planting trees, or – the author, Bobby, tells us – by doubling the amount of SOM or Soil Organic Matter, put on. I was surprised to see him advocate digging in to a depth of 10 inches, when our local Cornish farmers are trying to avoid breaking the soil. But I accept what he says about soils with more organic matter potentially taking up CO2 that might otherwise be released into the air, with also an excellent 2nd benefit of helping to store water and release it slowly into clean streams and rivers.
I like this Bobby page, it has a lot of good stuff on it albeit from a USA perspective.
Soil and forests are the most practical and available carbon sinks. And it makes sense to motivate those with the most soil—farmers and foresters—to use plants to capture carbon from the air and store it.
Oceans are the largest carbon sink in the world. Soils are second, forests are third. U.S. farmland soil is capable of sequestering 650 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, offsetting 11 percent of America’s greenhouse gas, according to a report published by the Soil Science Society of America.
My first source for this turns out to be the World Resources Institute or WRI. Based in Washington DC, this is another useful web page and on first acquaintance seems to have a solid, not-too-commercial approach. The starting point is always thorough professional research work. When they say
We know the ocean is good at sequestering carbon because it has already absorbed 30% of the CO2 — and 90% of excess heat — caused by human activities, significantly dampening the impacts of climate change. In total, the ocean holds around 42 times more carbon than the atmosphere…
I like to think the figures are true. However, if this sounds like all good news it isn’t. The result of so much carbon in the water is changing our seas. The key indicators are
Increased warming, acidification and oxygen loss; changing currents and nutrient cycling; which imperils plants and animals essential to marine ecosystems. These changes are compromising the ocean’s ability to provide food, support livelihoods and insulate us from the worst effects of climate change.
The page goes on to summarise 7 options for ocean capture, which I will analyse in detail next time. But if you are interested to prepare, here is the link:-
The last option on the Carbon Capture list is storage in rocks. I wrote about this back in 2020 and found it very interesting, though quite complex. You will probably be delighted to learn that my source here is written for children and has no commercial axes to grind!
In Iceland, a method has been developed that takes CO2 captured from the air and turns it into stone, deep underground. This might sound like magic, but it is actually the Earth’s way of getting rid of excess CO2 from the atmosphere: nature turns the CO2 into stone using metals that are present in certain rocks. The best rocks for this process are volcanic rocks, such as basalt and peridotite, which contain a lot of the metals needed for this reaction. In nature, this is a slow process—too slow to prevent the global warming that is currently affecting the Earth.
Basalt is the most common rock type on the surface of the Earth, covering most of the ocean floor and about 5% of the continents. The global storage potential of all the basalt on Earth is larger than the CO2 emissions that would be produced from burning all fossil fuels on Earth. (I’d like to know where those figures can be checked??!) This means we have plenty of the right kinds of rock to successfully store CO2 in minerals that would otherwise affect our atmosphere. Water can be scarce in some areas, so scientists are now exploring ways of supplying the necessary water directly from natural underground reservoirs or using seawater.
The Icelandic project, called Carbfix, speeds up the natural process of converting CO2 to rock. It is dissolved in water, the same way a soda machine makes sparkling water. The water with the dissolved CO2 is then pumped deep into the ground and the rocks release metals that mix with the CO2 in the water and turn the CO2 into stone. This process safely and permanently removes the CO2 from the atmosphere, since rocks cannot leak out of the ground.
The permanence of this process means we can use the word ‘Sequestration’ here – removal and storage in a form that should last for hundreds or even thousands of years.