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Exploring Biochar and Other Negative Emissions Technologies


Net zero illustration

In the quest to combat climate change and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, innovative solutions are emerging to tackle the challenges posed by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.


Among these solutions are Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs), which encompass various methods to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it for the long term. One of the promising NETs is biochar, which holds tremendous potential in mitigating climate change.


In this article, we will delve into the concept of negative emissions technologies and explore the significance of biochar in capturing and storing carbon dioxide.


Understanding Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs)

Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs) refer to a suite of cutting-edge techniques designed to capture and store carbon dioxide, ultimately reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.


Recognizing the pressing need to limit global warming, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted the vital role of NETs in achieving climate goals and keeping global temperature rise in check.


NETs operate on the principle that removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is just as crucial as reducing carbon emissions from sources like industrial activities, transportation, and energy production.


These technologies complement emission reduction efforts and play a pivotal role in achieving the Paris Agreement and maintaining a stable climate.


Biochar: An Effective Carbon Capture and Storage Technology

One of the most promising negative emissions technologies is biochar. Derived from pyrolysis, which involves heating biomass in the absence of oxygen, biochar is a highly stable form of carbon that can endure for centuries in the soil.


So how does biochar remove and store carbon?


Plants pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it in their leaves, stems, and roots during photosynthesis. When they die, the carbon will be released again into the atmosphere as they decay.


However, this release can be prevented. The pyrolysis process converts biomass waste into biochar and stabilizes the said carbon, thus locking it for hundreds of years to come.


Biochar applied on soil as one of the negative emissions technologies
Biochar applied on soil for cabbage farming

This biochar can then be mixed into the soil, where it sequesters carbon while promoting water and nutrient retention, thus benefiting plant growth. As such, biochar not only captures carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, but also serves as a valuable soil amendment, enhancing soil fertility and agricultural productivity, and helping the agricultural industry to become carbon negative.


Biochar also has positive effects on livestock production. In poultry, for instance, a recent pilot by WasteX found that applying biochar to chicken bedding can reduce the mortality rate by up to 25%, decrease overall bedding use by 30%, and help the farm achieve the highest-ever recorded value in its Performance Index (PI).


Considering that producing and applying biochar is even easier with an end-to-end biochar solution such as one from WasteX, any agricultural producer can take advantage of their biomass and help achieve negative carbon emissions.


Other Negative Emissions Technologies

Aside from biochar, below are other NET options available to use.


Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)

Another negative emissions technology closely related to biochar is Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). BECCS involves the production of bioenergy from biomass while simultaneously capturing the CO2 emitted during energy generation. The captured carbon is then stored underground, resulting in a double-negative effect on emissions.


BECCS operates on the premise that the carbon released during bioenergy production is part of a closed-loop cycle. The biomass used to produce energy absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it grows, and this carbon is later recaptured and stored through the BECCS process. This closed-loop approach ensures that carbon dioxide removals exceed carbon emissions, achieving a net negative result.


Afforestation and Reforestation

Replanting a forest as one of the negative emissions technologies

Both afforestation and reforestation involve the establishment and restoration of forests, which act as carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the form of biomass.


Let’s break them down to see their differences.


Afforestation refers to the deliberate and planned process of planting trees on lands that have not been forested for a significant period. It involves converting non-forest areas, such as agricultural land, degraded land, or urban spaces, into new forested areas. Through afforestation, carbon dioxide is sequestered from the atmosphere as trees and other vegetation absorb CO2 during photosynthesis, converting it into organic matter.


The process of afforestation offers various benefits beyond carbon sequestration. Trees provide habitats for wildlife, protect soil from erosion, promote biodiversity, enhance water quality, and offer recreational opportunities for communities. However, it's essential to carefully choose tree species to ensure they are well-adapted to the local climate and do not harm the existing ecosystem.


Meanwhile, reforestation involves replanting trees in once forested areas that have been deforested or degraded. Deforestation occurs when trees are cut down or removed, typically for agriculture, logging, or urban development. Reforestation aims to restore these lost forests, thereby regaining their carbon sequestration capabilities.


Enhanced Weathering


Enhanced weathering as one of the negative emissions technologies

Enhanced weathering involves accelerating the natural weathering process to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.


Weathering is a geological process where certain minerals react with CO2 in the air or dissolve in rainwater to form stable carbonates. These carbonates are then washed into the oceans and stored in the sediment, effectively removing CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it in the Earth's crust.


The enhanced weathering process is typically done by grinding down rocks or minerals that naturally undergo weathering and spreading them over large land areas. This increases the exposed surface area of the minerals, making them more reactive with CO2. Common minerals used in enhanced weathering include olivine, serpentine, and basalt, among others.


The process can occur in different environments, including agricultural fields, coastal regions, or even large-scale land reclamation projects. When these minerals are applied to the soil in agricultural areas, they can improve soil fertility and agricultural productivity while simultaneously capturing CO2 from the atmosphere.


Direct Air Capture

Direct Air Capture (DAC) is a type of negative emissions technology that directly removes carbon dioxide (CO2) from the ambient air.


Unlike other methods that focus on reducing emissions at their source, DAC targets the CO2 that has already been released into the atmosphere. This makes DAC particularly valuable in scenarios where it is challenging to mitigate emissions from specific point sources or where historical emissions have contributed to elevated atmospheric CO2 levels.


DAC systems can be deployed almost anywhere, regardless of the source of CO2 emissions, making them versatile in addressing emissions from hard-to-decarbonize sectors like aviation, cement production, or agriculture.


However, DAC is currently energy-intensive and requires significant power to operate effectively. The power source needs to be renewable to ensure the overall process is truly carbon-negative. Moreover, the cost of DAC technologies is relatively high compared to other climate mitigation options.


Conclusion

As the world faces the escalating impacts of climate change, negative emissions technologies (NETs) hold the key to achieving a sustainable and greener future. In this article, we’ve discussed several NETs options and how they differ.


Among those technologies, producing and applying biochar stands out due to its effectiveness and capabilities to boost farm productivity. If applied at full scale, this technology can transform the agricultural industry, making it more sustainable and climate positive.


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