Science Reducing Carbon Means Destroying Carbon

Published on February 18th, 2013 | by Joshua S Hill


Stanford Scientists Aim To Remove CO2 From Atmosphere

Turn the clock back a decade and we had all sorts of grand plans for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions levels, hoping that by 2020 we would be on the path to saving our planet.

Reducing Carbon Means Destroying Carbon

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Welcome to 2013 and … not so much.

Unsurprisingly, scientists at Stanford University have recently come out and said that curbing our CO2 emissions may simply not be enough any more. Instead of simply hoping the long-tail of emissions reductions do something, they believe we need to start looking at carbon-negative technologies that actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“To achieve the targeted cuts, we would need a scenario where, by the middle of the century, the global economy is transitioning from net positive to net negative CO2 emissions,” said report co-author Chris Field, a professor of biology and of environmental Earth system science at Stanford. “We need to start thinking about how to implement a negative-emissions energy strategy on a global scale.”

The Stanford scientists findings are summarised in a report by Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP), which describe a suite of emerging carbon-negative solutions to global warming.


“Net negative emissions can be achieved when more greenhouse gases are sequestered than are released into the atmosphere,” explained Milne, an energy assessment analyst at GCEP. “One of the most promising net-negative technologies is BECCS, or bioenergy with carbon capture and storage.”

For example, a BECCS system could convert woody biomass, grass, and other vegetation into electricity, chemical products, or fuels such as ethanol, leaving the CO2 emissions released during the process to be captured and stored.

Estimates show that by 2050 BECCS technologies could sequester 10 billion metric tonnes of industrial CO2 emissions from installations like power plants, paper mills, ethanol processors, and other manufacturing facilities. But we have a ways to go before we are technologically able to manage this.


Biochar is a plant byproduct similar to charcoal that is made from lumber waste, dried corn stalks, and other plant residues. A process called pyrolysis — which heats the vegetation slowly without oxygen — produces carbon rich chunks of biochar that can be placed in the soil as a fertiliser, which locks the CO2 underground instead of letting the CO2 re-enter the atmosphere as the plant decomposes as it naturally would.

EHowever, long-term sequestration “would require high biochar stability,” they wrote. “Estimates of biochar half‐life vary greatly from 10 years to more than 100 years. The type of feedstock also contributes to stability, with wood being more stable than grasses and manure.”

Net-negative Farming

Another option included in the GCEP report is the idea of net-negative farming. The authors cited research done by Jose Moreira of the University of Sao Paulo who found that from 1975 to 2007, ethanol production from sugar cane in Brazil resulted in a net-negative capture of 1.5 metric tons of CO2 per cubic meter of ethanol produced.

“In this model, the system took 18 years to recoup carbon emissions, with most reductions coming from soil replenishment from root growth and replacement of gasoline with ethanol,” the GCEP authors wrote.

However, questions remain about the long-term effects of ethanol combustion on climate.

Other Options

The report also explored other options, such as sequestering carbon in the ocean, specifically the problem of ocean acidification. Currently, the more CO2 the oceans absorb the more acidic they become, resulting in algae blooms often seen in locations throughout Asia as well as the Gulf of Mexico in the US.

However, research by David Keith of Harvard University suggests that adding magnesium carbonate and other minerals to the ocean to reduce acidity would also sequester atmospheric CO2 in absorbed in seawater.

For more information on these options, check out the full report here.

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About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium.   I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.

  • Charles Hammond

    Japan has a program also to grow eels.

  • Charles Hammond

    In South Korea they are also fish farming. They had a project growing milk fish with the phillipines and they even were growing King Flounder and selling them to the USA.

  • Charles Hammond

    In Korea they grow good soil in a kind of bacteria farming process. I saw it on a video. It turns soil alive in a more natural state. There is also a technique using Alaskan snow peas that grows nitrogen nodules on the roots, then when the plant flowers it uses the nitrogen to make seeds but if you chop the plant up about the time that it flowers, you can get free nitrogen.

  • erichj

    Ms.Ernsting has obviously not kept Up with recent developments.
    The peer reviewed studies concerning biochar continue to increase exponentially, with 60 papers published in
    2008, 129 in 2009, 140 in 2010, 171 in 2011, and to date 235 in 2012.

    Please review My opening presentation at the fourth USBI Biochar Conference in Sonoma California;
    “Carbon Conservation for Home, Health, Energy & Climate”

    to my focus on animal feed supplements as practiced by the European and
    Japanese companies, here is this latest in vivo study by Dr.Leng in
    Australia. This Black Revolution for agriculture could be
    fermented by our livestock. In the EU, 90% of the Biochar produced is
    passed through livestock before composting and field application. On Swiss Farms they have eliminated manure odor and closed the nutrient loop by retaining N in the Char/Compost. Dr. Ron Leng have shown cattle fed char reduced enteric methane emissions (40%), enhancing feed conversion (25%!), this has to be one the greatest advances in bovine nutrition in the last few decades.

    A New discovery from the Advanced Light Source at Berkeley about fungal potassium salts being the primary nucleating catalyst for clouds & rain. That
    vision of how life itself calls the rain is another unaccounted for ecological service provided by a healthy soil. Several other findings concerning soil microbiology and Soil Carbon are extremely supportive to Carbon Farming initiatives & Soil Carbon Standards [1].

    Demonstration, Using quantitative 13C nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy measurements, concluding that both Terra Preta Soils and Midwest dark soils contain 40% to 50%+ of their organic carbon (SOC) as pyrolytic carbon char, that this pyrolytic carbon can account for all CEC

    Abundant and Stable Char Residues in Soils: Implications for Soil Fertility and Carbon Sequestration
    J.-D. Mao, R. L. Johnson, J. Lehmann, 2012, American Chemical Society

    (Potassium) Salt Seeds Clouds in the Amazon Rainforest;

    Fertile soil doesn’t fall from the sky. The contribution of bacterial remnants
    to soil fertility has been underestimated until now

    Biologists Unlock ‘Black Box’ to Underground World: How Tiny Microbes Make Life Easier for Humans,

    Cross-biome metagenomic analyses of soil microbial communities and their functional attributes,

    Re-Building the World’s Soil: The Role of Soil Carbon Methodology for U.S. and Global Carbon Offset Projects,

  • 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 . Not only this, but the authors ignore all of the uncertainties, technical hurdles and major risks involved in carbon capture and storage as well as the cost. Those 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: . As for Erich Knight’s comments on biochar, the impacts of procuring vast quantities of biomass to produce it on climate, ecosystems etc will be much the same as with BECCS. Furthermore, claims that biochar can be relied upon to sequester carbon in soils are entirely unproven and contradicted by several studies/findings. For more information, please see .

  • Erich Knight

    Top Soil is the Bank…..All Else are Dividends;

    A Carbon-Based Religion

    Carbon, as the center of life, has high value to recapitalize our soils. Yielding
    nutrient dense foods and Biofuels, paying premiums of pollution abatement and toxic remediation and the growing dividends created by the increasing biomass of a thriving soil community.

    Carl Sagan’s human connection to stardust leaves out a
    critical stage. We are stardust, but only stardust transformed by life.
    Every time I look at an SEMs of Char, it strikes me, the perfect
    preservation of the base structures of life, a fractal vision, how life
    creates the greatest surface area with the least amount of material. The
    preservation of this structure, for return to the lowest order of life,
    seems almost a religious act. A perfect cradle to cradle recycling,
    biotic carbon should never be combusted and destroyed, be revered, as
    life is revered, be returned to the cradle of terrestrial life the Soil.
    This view of biologic carbon has led me to compose several paraphrases;
    “That Terra Preta prayer”,;Our carbon who art in heaven, “The soil
    carbon Commandments”; Thou shall not have any molecule before me, and
    the “Soil Carbon Dream”; I have a dream that one day we live in a nation
    where progress will not be judged by the production yields of our
    fields, but by the color of their soils and by the Carbon content of
    their character. Google them to read the rest.

    The photosynthetic “capture” collectors are up and running all
    around us, the “storage” sink is in operation just under
    our feet, conversion reactors are the only infrastructure we need to
    build out. Carbon, as the center of life, has high value to
    recapitalize our soils. Yielding nutrient dense foods and Biofuels,
    paying premiums of pollution abatement and toxic remediation and the
    growing dividends created by the increasing biomass of a thriving
    soil community.

    If CoolPlanet Biofuels processed the entire biomass harvest in the US, 1.6 Billion Tons, the yields would be;
    120 Billion Gallons of tank ready fuel , The US uses 150 Billion gallons per year

    0.3 Billion Tons of Biochar
    The big numbers are jaw dropping,
    That 0.3 Billion Tons of Biochar, with a surface area of 400 M2/gram means; One Ton has a surface area of 98,000 Acres!
    Now for conversion fun: 98,000 Acres is equal to 152 square miles!! ….

    So; 300 Million Tons of Biochar equals 45 Billion Square Miles, or 230 times the entire surface of the earth!

    If I May be so bold,…

    As I speak for Biologic Carbon… I speak for the very
    center of life itself. We have been burning it for over one million
    years, exploiting it out of the soil for 10,000 years, combusting fossil
    carbon for 150 years.

    Now, we can grow nano-structured fossil carbons into unprecedented
    materials and even human tissues. Graphene; a two-dimensional,
    one-atom-thick membrane in a three-dimensional world, able to sieve
    water from the seas, Buckminsterfullerene & Nanotubes; for
    superconductivity, Solar & Thermo-electrics.

    The Stone Age did not end for a lack of stones, as well, the Combustion
    Age will not end for lack of fossil fuels. Nanotechnology and Terra
    Preta Technology has thrust The Diamond Age upon us, with it, the
    rectification of the Carbon Cycle, this train is leaving the station,
    either get on board or be left in the combusted soot and CO2 pollution
    of history!

    Since we have filled the air, filling the seas to
    full, soil is the only beneficial place left. Carbon to the Soil, the
    only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.
    you for your efforts.

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