Large plantations might pull CO2 out of the air
A recent study by German researchers presents the possibility of “carbon farming” as a less risky alternative to other carbon capture and storage technologies.
It suggests that a significant percentage of atmospheric CO2 could potentially be removed by planting millions of acres of a hardy little shrub known as Jatropha curcas, or the Barbados nut, in dry, coastal areas.
But other experts raised doubts about the study’s ambitious projections, questioning whether the Barbados nut would be able to grow well in sandy desert soils and absorb the quantity of carbon their models predict.
The researchers behind the study say Barbados nut plantations could help to mitigate the local effects of global warming in desert areas, causing a decrease in average temperature and an increase in precipitation. If a large enough portion of the Earth were blanketed with carbon farms, they say, these local effects could become global, capturing between 17 and 25 metric tons of CO2 per hectare each year over a 20-year period.
“All the other techniques we know about just prevent emission, nothing else,” said lead author Klaus Becker of the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany. “Only plants are able to extract carbon dioxide from the air.”
The study, published in the journal Earth System Dynamics, states that if 730 million hectares of land — an area about three-quarters the size of the United States — were devoted to this method of carbon farming, the current trend of rising atmospheric CO2 levels could be halted.
Carbon farms would not compete with food production if they were concentrated in dry coastal areas, the researchers said. In their scenario, oceanside desalination plants, partially powered by biomass harvested from the plantations themselves, provide a low-emissions irrigation method.
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