Carbon Removal – Deep Dive

Carbon removal falls mainly into two main categories – technology-based and nature-based

Shaun Mattingley


3 mins

It is now generally accepted that not all carbon credits are equal – indeed there are a vast array of individual characteristics that make carbon offset generating projects individual and thus more or less appealing to offsetters.

Carbon Removal

Through carbon removal, when one metric tonne of CO2 is emitted, one metric tonne is actually removed completely from the atmosphere. Carbon removal falls (largely) into two main categories – technology based and nature based, although the latter tends to need a helping hand.

Carbon removal impact can appear to be more clean cut than carbon avoidance – there is a recognised physical process - removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (Carbon Dioxide Removal, CDR) and disposing of it in non-atmospheric carbon reservoirs is easy to understand and accepted as becoming increasingly necessary to maintain the chance of keeping the average global temperature increase below 2°C and to limit long-term climate change.

Technology based solutions at their purest can be identified as direct air capture – “DAC” whereby engineered technology draws and removes CO2 from the air. Technologies such as the forced calcification of CO2 captured from biowaste and incorporated into aggregate to be used in the manufacture of concrete are emerging.

Biochar is another fast-emerging category of carbon removal. Biochar is a kind of charcoal created when biomass from crop residues, grass, trees, or other plant matter is combusted at temperatures between 300–600°C without oxygen. This process, known as pyrolysis, enables the carbon in the biomass to resist decay. The resulting biochar can then, for example, be incorporated into soil, improving soil conditions and locking away the CO2.

On the pure nature side, reforestation – tree planting – is simple and makes perfect sense. Its simplicity means this is a perennial favourite for offsetters, however it takes considerable time and labour to mature a new forest and land availability is a challenge to be kept in mind. This means that right now, the emerging practises garner far more headline interest. For example, kelp cultivation and mangrove restoration/planting are both far quicker to be effective carbon sinks than trees – tending to get referred to now as “blue carbon”. Such projects are proving very popular from environmental, efficiency and financial standpoints.

Enhanced weathering is also gaining traction – the natural process of air reacting naturally with minerals to fix CO2 as carbonates can be helped along by grinding rocks into small particles, thus increasing surface area to maximize the carbon fixing.

Another process that is proving more controversial is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage “BECCS” – whilst this process has gathered support and investment from some large industrials and governments alike, the basis of the process is to burn biomass – usually wood pellets. Burning wood produces more CO2 than burning fossil fuels and the jury is well and truly out as to whether BECCS removes less carbon that it actually emits.

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