, Volume 94, Issue 3, pp 170-182
Date: 14 Nov 2006

Making carbon sequestration a paying proposition

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Abstract

Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) has increased from a preindustrial concentration of about 280 ppm to about 367 ppm at present. The increase has closely followed the increase in CO2 emissions from the use of fossil fuels. Global warming caused by increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is the major environmental challenge for the 21st century. Reducing worldwide emissions of CO2 requires multiple mitigation pathways, including reductions in energy consumption, more efficient use of available energy, the application of renewable energy sources, and sequestration. Sequestration is a major tool for managing carbon emissions. In a majority of cases CO2 is viewed as waste to be disposed; however, with advanced technology, carbon sequestration can become a value-added proposition. There are a number of potential opportunities that render sequestration economically viable. In this study, we review these most economically promising opportunities and pathways of carbon sequestration, including reforestation, best agricultural production, housing and furniture, enhanced oil recovery, coalbed methane (CBM), and CO2 hydrates. Many of these terrestrial and geological sequestration opportunities are expected to provide a direct economic benefit over that obtained by merely reducing the atmospheric CO2 loading. Sequestration opportunities in 11 states of the Southeast and South Central United States are discussed. Among the most promising methods for the region include reforestation and CBM. The annual forest carbon sink in this region is estimated to be 76 Tg C/year, which would amount to an expenditure of $11.1–13.9 billion/year. Best management practices could enhance carbon sequestration by 53.9 Tg C/year, accounting for 9.3% of current total annual regional greenhouse gas emission in the next 20 years. Annual carbon storage in housing, furniture, and other wood products in 1998 was estimated to be 13.9 Tg C in the region. Other sequestration options, including the direct injection of CO2 in deep saline aquifers, mineralization, and biomineralization, are not expected to lead to direct economic gain. More detailed studies are needed for assessing the ultimate changes to the environment and the associated indirect cost savings for carbon sequestration.