Burning Crops to Capture Carbon? Good Luck Finding Water

An important consideration is the type of crop you would grow to feed a large-scale BECCS system. This would probably be switchgrass or Miscanthus, another type of grass, none of which needs as much water or added nutrients as a crop like corn. “They’re pretty efficient,” says David Lawrence, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and co-author of the new article. They are also perennial crops, so there is no need to plant and cultivate the soil all the time. “But in the context of the study, we found that, despite this, we are still seeing increases in water stress and degraded water quality,” Lawrence adds. “And that’s because of the scale of BECCS implementation: in this scenario, a large-scale increase in the amount of bioenergy is required.”

For the United States to do its fair share in reducing atmospheric carbon to keep global warming at 2 degrees Celsius, in addition to large cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, 460,000 square miles of bioenergy crops should be added if ‘uses BECCS, while reforestation would require. only 150,000 square miles. With this additional space, BECCS could sequester between 11.4 and 31.2 gigatonnes of CO2 in 2100, similar to 19.6 to 30.2 gigatons for reforestation. (For reference, humanity as a whole is currently emitting nearly 40 gigatonnes a year.) This means that reforestation would be a more carbon-negative option because it uses less land to achieve the same effect. This and all these additional crops would divert water from other needs, such as hydrating people. Forests, on the other hand, should be able to be cared for.

Increasingly, though, this is great ought to. A forest is a powerful tool for capturing carbon because it has a lot of simultaneous benefits: let it grow and you will get a boost to biodiversity, locals can use it to make money from tourism and a healthy forest cools a region because it plants release. steam. But forests around the world are threatened by a rapid rise in temperatures, which calls into question their ability to persist for centuries to come.

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In other words, if humanity does not massively reduce emissions, temperatures will continue to skyrocket and we will lose forests as carbon sequestration plants. In the American West, in particular, climate change is overfeeding forest fires, so if you put a lot of effort into restoring a forest and lighting it up, all the carbon goes straight back into the atmosphere. (Forests adapt to burning from time to time, but only gently: the mega-fires we’ve seen in recent years are far from natural.) And if it’s too hot for the forest to grow back In a healthy way, you can’t sequester that carbon again. “Can we find enough places where the climate favors the growth of a healthy forest?” Lawrence asks. “It’s a very difficult question to answer. Does it make sense to put your efforts into reforestation if this forest is likely to burn? It will really depend a lot on the location.”

Bioenergetic crops can also have problems as the world warms. Switchgrass i Miscanthus they are good bioenergy species, in part because they are drought resistant, but heat stress remains a serious concern, just as our bodies struggle with extreme temperatures, so do plants. Scientists should adapt a particular species to a specific environment: in a wetter climate like Florida, perhaps a crop like sugar cane would be better. “Finding the right plant for bioenergy production, which adapts to the climate and does not consume more and more water, is a better strategy than thinking that Miscanthus and Switchgrass will be rolled out nationwide as a solution, “said hydrologist Praveen Kumar, who is studying bioenergy crops at the University of Illinois but was not involved in the new research.

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