Carbon Sequestration…The New Deficit Problem

According to current policy, the recent shift in Greenhouse Gas policy toward more sustainable futures is in the form of a very fancy term for a very simple topic. As noted by the US Geological Survey:

The term “carbon sequestration” is used to describe both natural and deliberate processes by which CO2 is either removed from the atmosphere or diverted from emission sources and stored in the ocean, terrestrial environments (vegetation, soils, and sediment), and geologic formations.1

Though this process occurs both naturally (or induced anthropogenically), the process of carbon sequestration can only occur using natural settings as long as these cycles are not saturated with excess carbon. For instance, if too much carbon is added, the process will become saturated, and therefore not function whatsoever; like a computer overwhelmed with input and crashing, the carbon system also functions in a similar manner. According to the EPA office of research:

Currently in the United States, forest and agricultural lands comprise a net carbon sink of almost 830 teragrams (Tg or million tonnes) of CO2 equivalent (or nearly 225 Tg of carbon equivalent) per year, according to the U.S. GHG inventory (EPA 2005). Removal of atmospheric CO2 through carbon sequestration is greater than CO2 emissions from events such as forest harvests, land conversion to other uses, or fire. The U.S. net carbon sink—over 90 percent of which occurs on forest lands—currently offsets 12 percent of U.S. GHG emissions from all sectors of the economy on an annual basis (EPA 2005).2

Therefore, natural carbon fluxes are a substantially large aspect of the carbon cycle. This being said, as carbon emissions are running in a deficit, the EPA, in a measure to mitigate the effects of GHG, have begun to stress anthropogenic measures of carbon sequestration in order to remove man-made emissions. EPA mandates:

New coal-fired or pet coke-fired units could meet the standard either by employing carbon capture and storage (CCS) of approximately 50% of the CO2 in the exhaust gas at startup, or through later application of more effective CCS to meet the standard on average over a 30-year period.3

Therefore, a large proportion of gas needs to be filtered in order to attain this. In conjunction, these plants need to be “operated to emit at less than 1,000 lbs. CO2/MWh to address startup concerns or short term interruptions in their ability to sequester captured carbon dioxide”3

The EIA states: “The 1999 national average output rate, 1.341 pounds of CO2 per kilowatt-hour generated”4, which is over a quarter reduction in total GHG reduction that we currently see. Assuming Carbon Sequester (or green initiative) can account for a maximum 12% decrease currently (generally suggested as closer to 6%), but what else can be done? The costs to account for the other half of these changes come from the removal of carbon from the smoke-stack (not the atmosphere). Therefore, the same question of jobs versus more efficient emission measures becomes an issue. What should be done? What can we do?  That’s for politicians to decide – not me.


1 –http://www.usgs.gov/climate_landuse/carbon_seq/

2 http://www.epa.gov/sequestration/pdf/greenhousegas2005.pdf

3 http://epa.gov/carbonpollutionstandard/pdfs/20120327proposal.pdf

4 http://www.eia.gov/cneaf/electricity/page/co2_report/co2report.html#electric

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