Black carbon sequestration as an alternative to bioenergy

Fowles, Malcolm (2007). Black carbon sequestration as an alternative to bioenergy. Biomass & Bioenergy, 31(6) pp. 426–432.



Most policy and much research concerning the application of biomass to reduce global warming gas emissions has concentrated either on increasing the Earth’s reservoir of biomass or on substituting biomass for fossil fuels, with or without CO2 sequestration. Suggested approaches entail varied risks of impermanence, delay, high costs, and unknowable side-effects. An under-researched alternative approach is to extract from biomass black (elemental) carbon, which can be permanently sequestered as mineral geomass and may be relatively advantageous in terms of those risks. This paper reviews salient features of black carbon sequestration and uses a high-level quantitative model to compare the approach with the alternative use of biomass to displace fossil fuels. Black carbon has been demonstrated to produce significant benefits when sequestered in agricultural soil, apparently without bad side-effects. Black carbon sequestration appears to be more efficient in general than energy generation, in terms of atmospheric carbon saved per unit of biomass; an exception is where biomass can efficiently displace coal-fired generation. Black carbon sequestration can reasonably be expected to be relatively quick and cheap to apply due to its short value chain and known technology. However, the model is sensitive to several input variables, whose values depend heavily on local conditions. Because characteristics of black carbon sequestration are only known from limited geographical contexts, its worldwide potential will not be known without multiple streams of research, replicated in other contexts.

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