What is Carbon Sequestration?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Carbon sequestration is a hot research field that owes its latest popularity to the upswing in global attention directed towards global warming. The phrase refers to efforts to capture excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, condense it, and store it in some benign way. Carbon capture and storage (CCSD) technologies are implemented in some limited way in many fossil fuel power plants. The technology for capturing is ahead of the technology for storing, which is just starting to be explored seriously. Carbon sequestration could be an important part of the fight against greenhouse gases.

Transportation of CO2 to be disposed is usually done by ship or pipeline.
Transportation of CO2 to be disposed is usually done by ship or pipeline.

In early 2007, Al Gore and Richard Branson kicked up the interest in carbon sequestration technology by announcing a $25 million US Dollars (USD) prize to go to the first individual or group capable of removing a billion tons of carbon dioxide per year from the atmosphere for a ten year period. Clearly, removing a billion tons of anything from the atmosphere per year is not a trivial challenge.

Carbon is continuously being absorbed in the process of photosynthesis, which uses carbon dioxide to create carbohydrates.
Carbon is continuously being absorbed in the process of photosynthesis, which uses carbon dioxide to create carbohydrates.

The most primitive form of carbon sequestration would be to simply plant more trees. Plants naturally take CO2 from the atmosphere and output oxygen. Much of the carbon from the CO2 is integrated into their biomass and released safely into the soil upon their deaths.

A more sophisticated version of carbon sequestration would be the pursuit of artificial photosynthesis. If the principles of photosynthesis could be reliably instantiated in solar cell-like devices, they would both generate power and remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, probably at rates substantially superior to that of plants, which are limited to a certain palette of chemical reactions and approaches.

One of the best places to practice carbon sequestration technologies is right at the source of heavy carbon dioxide emitters. A variety of approaches have been used to lessen the CO2 output of coal power plants, for example.

After CO2 is gathered, it has to be disposed of. This is usually done by ship or pipeline. Current approaches involve injecting it into the ground or pumping it to 1000m-deep waters at the bottom of the sea, where it forms large "lakes" that take time to dissipate. Both these approaches are not viable for the long-term, however, because given enough time, the CO2 levels reach equilibrium with the atmosphere.

Some industrial processes involving minerals, metals, and petroleum-based products result in substantial CO2 emission.
Some industrial processes involving minerals, metals, and petroleum-based products result in substantial CO2 emission.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments


International bodies (including the UN) are already convinced about increasing forest cover as the best available option for sequestering CO2. I am proposing a study to find out the amount of CO2 that can be sequestered by a unit acre of forest.

I am convinced that sequestration is affected by tree species, age and location. I need research funding of $10,000 for this research in tropical rain forests of Uganda. Robert S., MSc student, Makerere University Institute of Environment and Natural Resources.


according to me, we need to think about the sources from where co2 is increasing and we need to focus our mind to manage the co2 level.

And instead of capturing it by other means, we should accept a simple way of reforestation. With this we can make our ecosystem stronger and more stable. It wouldn't cause any disasters as a result. The o2 and co2 ratio would be balanced to sustain.


I believe the issue lies within more effective forest management. We need to optimize the use of forests for storing CO2. If we can sustain healthy ecosystems and biodiversity more CO2 can be absorbed in forests and there is no need for spending money on carbon capture technology. Its a win-win situation: we get the benefits of preserving biodiversity and store more carbon in the biosphere.


According to some scientists all the planets are getting hotter because of a natural cycle of the sun. It seems no one knows for sure.


Wind and solar are OK for homes but how do you supply an electric arc furnace at a steel mill with wind and solar? The arc furnace can go from 0 to 100 megawatts in 5 minutes. We have one near my coal plant and they have to plan their melts with us so we have the capacity to accommodate them.

Nuclear is the answer for base load. Renewables are problematic when it comes to major swings in load.

Additionally the construction of distribution necessary to get power from the areas where renewables work best to where the power is needed will cost a lot. When there are windmills off of Martha's Vineyard then I will believe there is a chance. If CO2 and Mercury are the problem, nuclear is the answer.


the issue here exists because the entire concept is only halfway there -

the problem with CO2 storage is that,

one does *not* store the CO2, but, instead one processes it into something useful in an ongoing fashion and, mimicking nature, as is the best way, returns it to the environment, turned to some good use.

elle fagan


response for mmcmenus,

So that commercial is true that states, "There is no such thing as *clean coal".

Wouldn't it be more responsible fiscally then to avoid the whole problem and work on a full national plan to create recyclable energies such as wind and solar, but to the extent to make it affordable for the average home buyer to purchase or at least be a part of? Why can't we do this? Germany has a law that states "every new home needs a solar panel to aid in the nations energy program" Are we that far behind that we don't have a means to do so? If we can do it, then how does one go about it?


The issue is so simple: We must drastically lower the rates of CO2 into the atmosphere, otherwise it will kill us.


Is it possible to transport excess carbon dioxide into the sun in rockets where it brakes up or disintegrates? The immense expense for this transport should decidedly compensate by the clean air we get. Every nation should contribute about 5% of their income annually for this. This program should be managed by the U.N.

It is far better than taking it to the sea bottom because eventually the gas gets back into the atmosphere.


I am an environmental manager at a coal fired power plant. I can say that carbon sequestration is harder than changing lead into gold. My plant generates 1.8 million standard cubic feet per minute of flue gas with about 12% CO2. The kind of equipment this would take to capture this much CO2 would use about 50% of the gross megawatts my power plant makes. So for every two operating power plants we would have to build a third one to power the pollution control systems.


There is a way to sequester carbon and actually perform several other important functions.

Research in the Amazon has discovered that the indigenous people admixed charcoal into their soil. Some farm plots have been farmed continuously for over 40 years without adding fertilizer. This is because the charcoal contains a percentage of activated carbon, which captures and holds nutrients which would otherwise wash away. While these nutrients cannot be leached away, they are still readily available for plants.

So, by admixing activated carbon into our farmlands, we can simultaneously sequester carbon, reduce or eliminate manufactured fertilizer use, increased crop productivity, reduce energy costs related to transporting and applying fertilizer. It works. It only needs be done *once*, it is relatively inexpensive, and the payback is fairly rapid--a matter of a few years at most, a couple seasons perhaps.

Reducing fertilizer use cuts energy to manufacture, transport, and apply fertilizer and in preventing leaching, helps preserve the waterways by eliminating run-off pollution (non-point source.)

Google "Amazon Dark Earth" for more information.



Climate change:

The cause is not so much C02 as human population growth. Governments around the world are paying people to have more children than Earth can support.


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