Low-tech garbage heap makes for simplest carbon sequestration

File:Mt Trashmore.jpg
Photograph of the front of Mount Trashmore Park in Virginia Beach, Virginia Image: Wikimedia

From the Washington Post

By Hugh Price

In New Haven, W.Va., the Mountaineer Power Plant is using a complicated chemical process to capture about 1.5 percent of the carbon dioxide it produces. The gas is cooled to a liquid at a pressure of about 95 atmospheres and pumped 2,375 meters down to a sandstone formation, where it is meant to remain indefinitely. The objective is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being added to the atmosphere from the coal burning at the plant.

This certainly seems to be doing it the hard way. Extracting just this 1.5 percent of the CO2 from the plant’s flue requires a $100 million investment, and whether the gas will remain underground or bubble to the surface is in question.

Fortunately, there is a way to capture and store excess carbon from the atmosphere that is cheap, efficient and environmentally friendly. It relies on two technologies that have been in use for more than 8,000 years: agriculture and the garbage heap.

The biggest problem with this approach may be that it’s so low-tech. No green-technology subsidies are required, so there may not be a natural constituency for it. On the other hand, environmentalists should love it. What could be greener than growing plants? And for those concerned about the economy, this approach provides a low-cost method of reducing the country’s carbon footprint without increasing the cost of energy. It is also reversible. If current concerns about CO2 concentrations turn out to be unwarranted, the stockpiled material will be readily available for use. What could be simpler?

Read the entire story here

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Ken Corkins
September 20, 2010 5:12 am

That’s so crazy, it just might work!

David Wright
September 20, 2010 5:30 am

A nice, neat idea, but it offends my gardening soul. Better, I think, to compost ALL of it, and use the resulting compost to enhance soil fertility and plant growth. Besides, all of that uncomposted plant waste is going to need a very big hole indeed to put it in. And what about all the carbon dioxide generated by transporting it to landfill sites? And how are you going to stop air from getting at the stuff? Back to the drawing board chaps!

September 20, 2010 5:36 am

We could contribute to improve it. As you know, we , humans, we are made out of carbon and water, thus we gladly acknowledge the contribution of the greenies by self-donating their corpses in order to alleviate the burden of the world of carrying such a lot of carbon and water (both, as they themselves contend, generating positive feedbacks). Such an attitude will reduce the carbon problem to its minimum, thanks that this process will be exponential.
Be sure that your contribution will be remembered by us, and more importantly, by mother Gaia herself.

Bruce Cobb
September 20, 2010 5:36 am

Idiocy on the cheap is still idiocy.

September 20, 2010 5:41 am

This is what nature does all the time!. The next time Gaia comes with her broomstick to wipe some of us out, don´t complain: It´s Gaia making compost!

Steve from Rockwood
September 20, 2010 5:44 am

A direct quote from the article “With an overabundance of CO2 in the atmosphere…”
When was that decided?

September 20, 2010 5:46 am

Even better than just piling it up is to turn it into charcoal, and use the “biochar” to enhance the soil for higher crop output. The carbon stays put in the soil for thousands of years. The indians in the Amazon did this thousands of years ago and the resulting soil is still more fertile than “regular” soil. It is mined and sold in garden stores in Latin America. If it was done worldwide, it could reverse CO2 buildup and improve agriculture at the same time. Apparently, the very high surface area of the charcoal provides a perfect environment for soil micro-organisms. Charcoal can be made in a 50 gallon oil drum, as I myself have done, or scaled up easily. Thousands of years old tech…

September 20, 2010 5:48 am

One problem with large piles of vegetation – they get hot and stink. Check out a cotton gin sometime after the harvest. Look around back where they pile the cotton meal 20 or 30 feet deep or more (huge black, smelly mountain – you can’t miss it ). On the other hand. it makes some of the best soil amendment and fertilizer going, and I get a couple truckloads every year – free.

September 20, 2010 5:52 am

There is a defect of intellect inherent in the discussion of carbon sequestration, that is, that carbon sequestration is a desirable human activity. The impetous leap to cloister carbon implies an attempt to garner intellectual cred/siphon tax dollars on the part of those who do not realize there is no reason to sequester carbon. *cue “Circle of Life”* “Class, class, let us now remember that carbon is a part of what we and all other forms of life on Mother Earth are constructed. Will the Karbon Kuarantiners in back please sit down, and remind themselves that AGW was a hoax begun in the 80’s and now is as popular as “I Love You, Miss Robot” by the Buggles?”

Don Shaw
September 20, 2010 5:52 am

Several Comments/questions
Sounds like a lot of energy will be wasted to cool and compress the CO2. I recall that the efficiency of a power plant is significantly reduced with current CO2 capture and sequestration.
Do we really want to take oxygen from the atmosphere forever?

September 20, 2010 5:54 am

I’ve long said the best way to capture CO2 is to send as much food, paper, carboard, plastic to land fill as possible.
If Greens really did want to reduce CO2, then they wouldn’t waste our time recycling all that rubbish/garbage, but instead praise people who put as much as possible in the rubbish bin/trash can.

September 20, 2010 5:57 am

But, THINK!, have you noticed that every green proposition is tanatic?, enthropic, against Eros, against Life itself?.
Their dream world: A Giant mountain of human compost!
Life is Nature´s “trick” to overcome Death
Let´s awake: They are the preachers of Thanatos, the pontifices of doom, the church of Negation, proclaiming the Gospel of Hate!
We may sing:
Love it´s a many splendoured thing,
It´s like the April Rose that grows in the early Spring…
It´s Nature´s way of giving,
A Reason to believing,
The Golden Crown that makes
A Man A King!

September 20, 2010 5:58 am

I’ve often thought this seems like a potential solution. It isn’t without its issues, but it could be done without expensive infrastructure, big plans, etc.
David Wright says:
September 20, 2010 at 5:30 am
Carbon is bound into the plant material. Sequestering the leafy materials probably isn’t the best way to go, but what about more the woody parts. If they are kept from decomposing they’ll keep the carbon sequestered indefinitely. A good example is the way some antique furniture has kept its carbon sequestered for hundreds of years.

September 20, 2010 6:01 am

The problem here will be that there’s no incentive at all to do it. Most other emmission reduction ideas – nuclear, wind, solar, efficiency measures etc – hold out the hope that they could be cheaper than the status quo one day. For this, you really need to pay someone to do it because the emitter is very removed from the guy growing weeds. The only ways to make this happen really are either for a government to pay people to do it, or to somehow impose a price on carbon – both very popular ideas!

September 20, 2010 6:04 am

Why not just plant and grow trees? Wouldn’t that do?

September 20, 2010 6:06 am

Low tech is great, but this is very misguided. Maybe it is meant to be satire? Agricultural “waste” typically goes back into the soil. This helps to maintain soil structure and fertility thereby reducing the amount of fertilizer and irrigation required. The assumption that the amount of waste is atleast equal to the production is ridiculous. Has the author ever seen a corn field after it has been combined for silage? If there is waste, the first aim should be to adjust systems to make as much of the waste as possible stay in the fields. Then, if there is still waste, pile it up, or burn it for electricity production, or pyrolisize it for bio-oil, etc. Of course, these last options assume CO2 even matters.

September 20, 2010 6:14 am

Where’s the profit?
How does this bolster Gore?
Where’s the Governmental control?
What’s in it for the U.N. ?
Major stumbling blocks, I’d say.

September 20, 2010 6:14 am

I thought about this a while back when the greenies were talking about forest as carbon sequesterers (?) My thought was to use bamboo, its hardy and fast growing, and would be easy to harvest.

September 20, 2010 6:15 am

Or we could pipe the CO2 into the forests…

September 20, 2010 6:16 am

The hypothesis that man made CO2 emissions will cause global warmin, climate change or global climate disruption is false hence there should be no need to carry out expensive methods for carbon sequestration or to stop composting.
Here in the UK in the mid 1980’s the water utilities were privatised and people started to pay large bills for water consumption. People moaned “what next they’ll be charging us for the air we breathe”
Any business bill for energy has a Climate Change Levy, so just a small step before we are charged for breathing clean air?

September 20, 2010 6:22 am

Keith Kloor recently gave a link to a massive rejuvenation project for New York, which plans to transform the enormous Fresh Kills landfill zone into a thriving nature park. It will be three times as big as Central Park. Methane is already being captured from the off gassing of the garbage and is used to power nearby houses.

Doug in Seattle
September 20, 2010 6:23 am

What could be simpler?

Spending millions instead of billions (or trillions) dealing with what is essentially a non-issue (CO2’s effect on climate) is a start in the right direction.
It’s still wasting money, but a lot less, and it allows some face saving of the political class while we wind down the AGW juggernaut.

September 20, 2010 6:29 am

This process requires a lot of water.

September 20, 2010 6:34 am

Does it really matter whether there are 3 molecules of CO2 or 4 molecules of CO2 per 10,000 other molecules in the atmosphere? Get a life, folks!

September 20, 2010 6:40 am

The not very secret purpose for CO2 sequestration legislation is to make coal plants more expensive than renewables so utilities will be forced to phase them out.
The not very secret purpose for “clean coal” technologies is to pretend that coal can be a clean fuel if we just put enough money into R&D, so we just need utility subsidies today, not carbon legislation.

September 20, 2010 6:54 am

It would never work.
The feds/EPA would be in charge of regulation.
’nuff said !!

September 20, 2010 6:56 am

To everyone who commented that it better to compost plant waste on site. You are so correct!

John Marshall
September 20, 2010 6:58 am

CCS, Carbon capture and Storage as enormously expensive to no environmental gain. CO2 does not drive climate. It never did in the past so why would the physics change to make it drive climate now. During the Ordovician, 450ma ago atmospheric CO2 content was over 8000 ppmv ( we have 384 ppmv now) and there was a severe ice age. We need to look again at the science and stop living in this costly dream where the laws of physics are violated. Extra atmospheric CO2 will help feed people due to extra crop yield.
Increase CO2 and feed Africa!

Neil Jones
September 20, 2010 7:01 am

The bacteria in this process http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaerobic_digestion will take over and fill the dump with methane.
Bang goes that idea.

September 20, 2010 7:03 am

Commercial greenhouses use CO2 generators to boost growth. Studies in many universities have shown the optimum concentration is 800 PPM compared to the current 385 PPm in the atmosphere. The arguement that the carbon cycle is in equilibrium and handles the 97% of carbon dioxide created naturally (according to the IPCC 200y report) and is overwhelmed by the 3% of CO2 fossil fuel creates is unrealistic.
There may be a good arguement that worldwide deforestation may be somewhat responsible. Supporting this possibility is the fact that North America is a carbon dioxide sink (net minus CO2 production) which may be caused by reforestation upon conversion from an agrarian society. The Northeast especially and most of the land East of the Mississippi during the mid eighteen hundreds was cleared for farming. Even with greatly expanded populations there are far more forests than there were 150 years ago.
I also don’t know where Mr. Price gets the idea that landfilling is inexpensive, he oviously has not been to the dump lately.

September 20, 2010 7:24 am

@MikeEE says:
September 20, 2010 at 5:58 am
‘I’ve often thought this seems like a potential solution.’
To a non-existent problem?

September 20, 2010 7:28 am

Remove all of the ag “waste” and you have to replace it with more fertilizer. Producing the extra fertilizer will make way more CO2e than is saved. The authors idea is misguided and uneducated.

September 20, 2010 7:30 am

If you don’t capture the methane released during anerobic decomposition, this solution might actually cause a net larger radiative forcing in the short-term due to the 20x or so higher GWP or methane. Depends on what methane generation per volume of carbon stored you end up with.

September 20, 2010 7:30 am

Jack says: “Why not just plant and grow trees? Wouldn’t that do?”
Jack, you may as well ask: “why have solar panels — why not just have big windows?”
Big windows are virtually cost free … there’s no money to be made flogging big south facing windows, similarly solar hot water heating is very cheap to install and pays for itself within a few years … but PV is expensive, requires huge public funding and in most cases never pays for itself before it breaks down.
So, where does the public money go? To bigger windows? To increasing the amount of carbon based trash/rubbish with capture in land fill?
This is the worst kind of commercialism … money making businesses … making money without giving any benefit, without being competition … just because they can con some government toady to push huge subsidies their way to do what could be done much better some other way and which in most cases needn’t be done at all!

September 20, 2010 7:31 am

An extra composting tax is just the solution.

Peter Miller
September 20, 2010 7:36 am

If I don’t say it, somebody else will:
Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.
The cost of this stupid scheme to achieve almost nothing is ridiculous. Perhaps, we shall now see thousands of pictures of power generating executives from all over China and India hanging their heads in shame for not burying their CO2 emissions as well – a visit by the tooth fairy is more likely.
This concept and cost of burying CO2 is so ridiculous and pointless, it could only be deemed worthwhile by greenies and leftie/loony/loser politicians.

September 20, 2010 7:39 am

Physicist Denis Rancourt has an interesting essay with some calculations where he concludes that fossil fuel burning releases no more CO2 (and maybe less) than the amount of CO2 released by simple breathing from humans and their domestic animals.
Is the burning of fossil fuel a significant planetary activity?
by Denis G. Rancourt – 2010
“Given all the fuss that is made about the present rate of fossil fuel burning (2010; 0.8 x 10^13 kg-C/y), it is important to keep in mind that this represents an amount of CO2 release comparable to or somewhat less than the CO2 released by simple breathing from humankind and its domestic animals [LINK]. The combined biomass of humankind and its domestic animals (cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, pigs, pets, etc.) is in turn estimated to be only 0.04% of Earth’s living biomass (all expressed as kilograms of carbon, kg-C), which is a lot more CO2-producing breathing. (Ants, for example, are estimated to represent ten to one hundred times the biomass of humankind, and ants can be argued to have “transformed” the planet and its ecology far more than humans.)”
Full article:

Hu McCulloch
September 20, 2010 7:47 am

Don’t forget all those non-biodegradable plastics that go into landfills, thereby returning petrochemicals to whence they came.
As for whether anything can go wrong with pumping high-pressure CO2 into the ground, just ask BP… I expect that within decades the CO2 geysers will start to erupt.

September 20, 2010 7:53 am

We knew it already!….It is LITERALLY that: All that Green stuff it’s S*….sorry!, I meant COMPOST.

Henry chance
September 20, 2010 8:17 am

Sloppy discussion. The garbage heap is carbon sequestration. It is not CO2 sequestration. Why do they use the expression of carbon sequestration interchangeably with CO2 sequestration? Remember if we sequester CO2, we sequester twice as many Oxygen molecules as carbon. Mt Garbage is now generating CH4 another greenhouse gas as we speak.

September 20, 2010 8:24 am

Now I remember a couple of years back reading in an old National Geographic about a project studying rubbish heaps (In Arizona, I think) finding thirty year old newspapers that were still readable, and commenting in jest to someone that the simplest method to sequester carbon would be to take every newspaper article, every book and every pamphlet about global warming and bury it forever in a dry, airtight landfill in a desert somewhere.
That should be good for a gigatonne or two….

September 20, 2010 8:26 am

Pampers come in “Dump” sizes?

September 20, 2010 8:27 am

Carbon sequestration will end in people’s sequestration

September 20, 2010 8:35 am

I’ve often thought the best solution would be to use the CO2 to grow cannabis plants, press them into blocks and over the decades contruct a new desert mountain range. Should things go the coolist way then we could get together and release that needlessly pent up CO2 in a joint effort.

Rob Potter
September 20, 2010 8:37 am

Make houses out of wood.
[We can still burn them when it gets cold, he he he.]

Tim L
September 20, 2010 8:51 am

harvest the 300year+old forest and sink the logs in the 500ft deep parts of the great lakes, this has some side benefits as well, in 500 years the wood can be recovered and made into wood products.

September 20, 2010 8:56 am

I once commented on Slashdot that perhaps what we need to do to help carbon sequestration is to stop recycling paper.
After all, paper comes from trees, most of which are farmed. Farmed trees take up carbon, and turning it into paper means the carbon in the trees have a temporary useful form which helps subsidize the process. And given that in the New York dump, nearly intact newsprint was found 50 years later, paper is fairly stable, allowing it to hold its carbon without degrading and releasing methane in the process.
So if we were to stop recycling paper, paper can then go straight to the landfill where it will help sequester captured carbon.
My comment at Slashdot did not go well.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)
September 20, 2010 9:01 am

Gee, massive piles of undisturbed biomass. Which numerous critters will burrow into. Which will yield numerous air passageways throughout the piles of biomass. What could go wrong?
New tonight on the News at 11: The raging fires at the South Side Carbon Sequestration Site continue unabated. EPA officials have confirmed the magnitude of the catastrophe. To compensate for this release of carbon, the EPA has ordered an immediate reduction in electricity use of 40% statewide. For the few homes still not connected to the SmartMetering energy control system, you can expect an immediate disconnection if you are found to not be in compliance.
On the upside, the EPA has noted that the high percentage is due to the drastic reduction in carbon-based power generation. Just ten years ago before the three trillion dollar federal investment plan in clean renewable wind and solar power, the equivalent carbon reduction offset would have been only 35% by EPA figures.

September 20, 2010 9:08 am

I am glad that I do not live anywhere near New Haven, W.Va. If that CO2 fails to remain below ground and finds its way to the surface, it will create a blanket of death across a wide area. It looks like it would probably follow the Ohio River valley southwest.
I wonder if the Mountaineer Power Plant has taken out insurance against this possibility?

September 20, 2010 9:12 am

MJB says:
September 20, 2010 at 6:06 am
Low tech is great, but this is very misguided. Maybe it is meant to be satire? Agricultural “waste” typically goes back into the soil. This helps to maintain soil structure and fertility thereby reducing the amount of fertilizer and irrigation required. The assumption that the amount of waste is atleast equal to the production is ridiculous. Has the author ever seen a corn field after it has been combined for silage? If there is waste, the first aim should be to adjust systems to make as much of the waste as possible stay in the fields. Then, if there is still waste, pile it up, or burn it for electricity production, or pyrolisize it for bio-oil, etc. Of course, these last options assume CO2 even matters
well said.
I can’t believe how ill informed the articles writer is.
in France for decades they have mulched all green and food waste along with any organic materials ie fabrics. and fed it direct to a worm farm, then to biogas production. and back to the soils.
to suggest removing any remaining stubble and not return it to the soil is arrant stupidity, for every grain and gram Taken as food crop or animal product the soil need it back
the law of return, no return and the soils fail.
I dont believe in chem No till at all I believe in ploughing the material in with oxygen ablet o get into the soil to assist the good bacteria, health rich and plant material rich soils dont blow away as easily and allow deep retention of any moisture. hard paked no till soils create hard pan and run off issues.
and the Idiotic comment re its safe to pile green waste.
sheesh! the nitrogen/chlorophyll etc run off is large, it would cause havoc in artesian and ground water in no time.
send him back to school!

September 20, 2010 9:16 am

Damn, now how will I explain this to my petroleum and coal industry clients. Are these Washington Post guys are trying to put me out of a job.

Dan Pangburn
September 20, 2010 9:28 am

The added cost of electricity generated at coal fired plants if they incorporate carbon sequestration, as pointed out by Vboring, is spot on. This is not unlike the phony safety issue which makes electricity from nuclear plants more expensive (and arguably less safe since most malfunctions occurred during safety tests).
Those unfamiliar with agriculture may be oblivious to the unintended consequence of loss of soil fertility if all organic material is removed as noted by MJB.
Global warming has stopped. Objective application of science and engineering reveals the cause of temperature trends since 1895 including the temperature run-up late in the 20th century and the flat temperatures since. Without human-caused global warming there can be no human-caused climate change or human-caused Global Climate Disruption.
Research, with findings regarding projected temperature trends is reported at http://climaterealists.com/index.php?tid=145&linkbox=true. The 6/27/10 pdf there presents a rational equation that accurately calculates the average global temperatures since 1895 with a coefficient of determination of 0.88. That means that it explains 88% of the measured temperatures for 114 years and counting. The best that GCMs have done is significantly less than this. The equation shows that CO2 is, at most, a minor contributor and predicts that the future trend of average global temperatures will be down. The above link and sub links, including links to the temperature data reported by the five reporting agencies, track the data back to the published credible sources. The work can be verified by anyone competent with a spreadsheet.
From 2001 through June 2010 the atmospheric CO2 increased by 20% of the total increase from 1800 to 2001 while the average global temperature has not increased significantly and the trend of yearly averages from 2001 through 2009 is down. The El Nino that made early 2010 appear to be a bit warmer than the down trend, peaked in March, 2010 and average global temperature is now declining.
This El Niño warmed the air enough for NOAA to announce the warmest ever period. They failed to say that ‘ever’ includes only the last 130 years or so. They also failed to mention that the new record was only 0.02C higher than their previous record. A more correct announcement would have been that average global temperature has not changed significantly for over a decade. Saying that the average global temperatures are the hottest on record is about as profound as saying that you drove 10,000 miles last year and the last 10 days were among the greatest distance traveled since the beginning of the year

September 20, 2010 10:08 am

William Woody says:
September 20, 2010 at 8:56 am

By definition recycling generates loss of jobs and growth of poverty. Every time you recycle remember you are firing somebody out of his/her job.
Recycling of animal residues provoked the “mad cows disease” in europe, though the reinforcement of prions.

Vince Causey
September 20, 2010 10:35 am

So you capture the CO2 from burning fossil fuels and feed it to plants, thus preventing the gas from entering the atmosphere. But when you eat/burn/compost these plants, the CO2 ends up in the atmosphere anyway.
What freakin’ genius came up with that plan?

September 20, 2010 11:36 am

Burying all plant waste also wastes nutrients, as you’re also burying the minerals which are in the plants. Biochar is indeed a better idea, as then you’re burying carbon where plants can reach the minerals. I also see that biochar is being sold online, so it’s not hard to get a sample with which to inoculate the proper bacteria into your own charcoal.
Also, conservationists have been complaining for a while about agricultural black soil being reduced. Increasing the fertile soil is a better idea than intentionally filling valleys with quilt padding.

September 20, 2010 11:39 am

Also, you can make biochar out of used household lumber. We sequester lumber for dozens or hundreds of years, but then demolition returns some of that lumber to the environment unless it is sequestered in a landfill. Turning it into charcoal (if it’s not lead-contaminated) can be done even if it still has some drywall or nails in it.

September 20, 2010 11:45 am

This propsosal does not seem very practical. Maybe that is the pointof it that is to point out the impracticality of carbon sequestration.
One good source of plant material is the “green” garbage now bing collected by cities. This is commonly incinerated in Europe and used to create biogas in landfills in North America. The ininceration and biogas will priduce energy wipthout fossil carbon. This is essentially what the proposal is trying to do only more directly and more efficiently.
One thing that one should not do is to remove the waste plant material from the fields. This is the basis of the modern no-tllage methods of farming which greatly reduces soil erosion etc. At least this is what I ahve read.

September 20, 2010 11:55 am

The optimal process would be to minimize the handling of the non food organic field residue so as to retain the maximum amount of organic content in the field’s soil.
Crop rotation regimes that work use the minimum till approach to maximize the texture, organic content and soil microbial life concentration, to optimize the conversion of non edible “wastes” to boost soil fertility for the next crop to be grow in the same field.
Removing residual organic content from this cycle of soil regeneration is the first step increasing erosion that leads to the loss of vigor and healthfulness of the plants, that results in the loss of yield and nutritional content of the edible crop harvested.
Taking soil nutrients away from fields is about as Malthus as you can get out of stupidity. I commonly import discarded yard wastes from stupid suburbanites to augment my farm soils via applying compost liberally to all food crops, yield, water conservation, nutritional content, and taste are much improved at little cost.

Daniel M
September 20, 2010 12:20 pm

How ridiculous. With all the “green” posturing that goes on, has anyone taken the time to calculate the carbon footprint of a “greenback”? It takes energy to create wealth, and in the current day and age, the majority of that energy comes from the burning of fossil fuels. My guess is that the amount of carbon sequestered is LESS than the amount of carbon that had to be expended in order to pay for this venture.

September 20, 2010 12:20 pm

Picture of run off coming onto my farm from 3″ rain
Picture of run off still leaving my property 48 hours later.

September 20, 2010 12:21 pm

Richard Holle says:
September 20, 2010 at 11:55 am
OT: Igor finally degraded….

September 20, 2010 12:27 pm

Here’s what drives me to drink with the Green/AGW/CO2 movement: The music. That damn emotionally laden background music that accompanies every single tv commercial or program associated with the supposed moral and intellectual superiority of the Green agenda.

September 20, 2010 12:42 pm

Not all greens support AGW and all that rot. DO stop being so tribal, you guys. Please.

September 20, 2010 12:43 pm

Curiousgeorge says:
September 20, 2010 at 12:27 pm
BTW all those nice guys gather in these days at the UN in NY….There is the source of all evil.

September 20, 2010 1:42 pm

Landfills, had we the sense to cumbust the carbon product parts of our waste for energy, would be the metal mines of the future.
There is what I choose to call an MQ, a madness quotient, that increases in size and scope as an organization grows larger. The larger the organization, the greater its Madness Quotient. Eventually, when the organization grows large enough, its MQ kills it off. Governments are organizations. Businesses are organizations, and there are many other kinds of organizations. All eventually get killed off because of increases of their Madness Quotients due to growth.

September 20, 2010 3:23 pm

As satire, the article is not bad. It seems like it gets harder all the time telling The Onion from normal media.

September 20, 2010 5:44 pm

Sooo, we want to pay farmers to grow, and then bury, useless plants. However, that means we are NOT paying them to grow plants, or aninals, we can eat. So that means world overall food production must go down, possibly way down. We have already lowered food production by growing plants to make feul, result, eventually someone must go hungry.
So, the question about this is, how many people are we willing to KILL to sequester this carbon?
And that fact that this is an obvious consequence of this idea, that was NOT realised by the author, says what about the author?

Mustafa Quit
September 20, 2010 6:14 pm

The science of the compost heap is all WRONG.
People are wrong to think in short terms about a long term process. Let’s use trees and farms as an example.
In the long term, virtually all of the carbon taken in by photosynthesis or plant roots goes out again as CO2 by oxidative decomposition. You have nil effect on CO2 balance if you merely farm for centuries. It’s a reversible chemical equation, to a good approximation.
Think again about planting trees. Same problem, longer time span. The ONLY way for tree planting to reduce atmospheric CO2 is to plant more growing mass where once there was less mass e.g. replace grasslands by forests. This will produce a temporary blip downwards in CO2. But, if the forests are not managed to contain the same weight of carbon that they gained when growing, they too will decay and admit the possibility of return to grassland. Net effect of the exercise – some carpetbaggers got rich at your expense via carbon credits of a temporary nature.
New forests for carbon sequestraton have to be managed forever. There is no point in putting them in and leaving them unmanaged. If you want to invest in tree schemes, read the fine print to ensure they will be managed forever, or refrain from investing because otherwise it’s a con.
The argument that wood lasts a long time as a carbon store is fictional. How much wood harvested 1,000 years ago can be accounted for today? A miniscule amount. Sorry folks, it mostly decays away and puts its CO2 back in the air. Reversible chemical equation.
This nonsense about soils becoming incredibly rich in carbon, the South American miracle soil, the biochar story … these are stupid distortions. Sure, you can make charcoal and put it in the soil and make it more productive. But, it becomes more productive because it takes the carbon our of the charcoal, over time, and makes CO2 again. It also helps the ion exchange capacity, but it does not last forever. It’s a transient way to improve crop yield, but as a way to reduce atmospheric CO2 – forget it, it’s trivial.
On the downside, once amateurs start burying biomass, they get problems like production of inwanted substances like methane. Sure, pros can make a gas tight system and recover methane for energy, but burning methane produces CO2. Like I keep saying, reversible chemical reactions. Nature tends to favour the stable CO2 as the end product.
It’s devilish difficult to sequester carbon permanently. That’s why nobody is doing it.

September 20, 2010 7:39 pm

Mustafa Quit says:
September 20, 2010 at 6:14 pm
“”The science of the compost heap is all WRONG.””
Only if the short sighted goal is CO2 sequestration, the real process is more dynamic than that. Recycling organic matter through a composting processes that enhance the usability of the plant nutrients, works for the enhanced production of foodstuff, the goal I [an organic farmer] am striving for is keeping it IN the food chain.
Long term CO2 sequestration will be affected by the continual long term additional biomass that is alive and growing, whether animal, microbial, or plant. The atmospheric levels of CO2 that is slowly acclimating from the burning of fossil fuels, and petroleum oil products, is but a visible measure of the slower response of the total volume of biosphere’s growth rate to catch up to CO2 release, (just another example of negative feedback damping to prevent over shooting in nature,) that gives stability to the complete system.
As the background level of CO2 increases a wider variety of plants will grow better, increases in the density of those that would like higher CO2 levels will benefit, as will the selective consumers of those plants, you might like to investigate if you are on that list.

September 21, 2010 3:02 am

High growth forests add about 50 tonnes of tree mass per acre per year. Calculate the mass of CO2 over that acre. It’s not possible to cover the whole land area with such a forrest as it would deplete the CO2 to the level of crop reduction in short order.
And that is exactly what happened. That is why plant growth improves with added CO2 up to about 1,000 – 2,000 ppm. They evolved for higher levels, then the interglacial let them suck it all out of the air, until they are starving for more.
Want to remove all the ‘excess’ CO2 from the air? About 1% of the earth surface turned into a high growth forest for one life time does it. Then just leave it a mature forest. So think maybe cutting down all the mature forests of the last few hundred years might have had an impact?
FWIW, my looking in to this has lead me to believe that burning fossil fuels is one of the best things we can do for the planet. It lets the plants thrive instead of just survive.
Oh, an algae grow about 10 x as fast, you even smaller ‘pond scum’ operations could suck the air empty of CO2. Many attempts to use algae as fuel run into the problem that they are severely CO2 limited due to their rapid growth.
I have some ‘timber bamboo’ in my back yard. By observation I’m certain it grows faster than just about anything but corn… At 50 foot tall and 1 year to grow a stem from nothing to full sized I’m pretty sure that a bamboo forest will suck the air down to nearly plant starvation levels in one pass of air through the leaves.
I have a ‘bunny brush pile’ of bamboo stems from 5 – 8 years ago sitting in the open. It’s just not going away despite my wishes… If buried and kept dry it will last nearly forever… Wet it decomposes in about 2 years (in contact with wet dirt).
So the upshot of all this? The sequestration would work, and it’s just not needed. Plant life on the planet is CO2 limited and anything we can do to put more in the air just makes things better.
But please, do the math. 50 tons per acre, 1/2 dry matter, carbohydrates. Per year… Then compare to tons of CO2 per acre…

Bruce Cobb
September 21, 2010 1:01 pm

Huth says:
September 20, 2010 at 12:42 pm
Not all greens support AGW and all that rot. DO stop being so tribal, you guys. Please.
By “greens” do you mean the Green Party? When people refer to “Green” they generally mean Big Green, or the greenie religion, and not any political party. That said, I don’t believe I’ve heard of any Greens (the pol party) speaking out against AGW. Probably because they find it to be useful.

Geoff Sherrington
September 22, 2010 4:06 am

E M Smith – but you have to look at dynamics over a long time. There’s no point in adding carbon weight in biomass to an area of land unless you are prepared to sustain it forever. If you do not, it might just revert back to business as usual.
That’s why forestry schemes are a scam unless there is a plan to maintain the carbon storage forever. If it gets burned down to CO2 plus other stuff, the investor should get his money refunded.
Any of these subsidised schemes should work the way Ross McKittrick proposed for carbon taxes. Work out the change in global temperature every couple of years, then either tax ot rebate according to the results. It’s a wonderfully logical outcome of property rights thinking.
Carbon sequestration payments should be paid in arrears each couple of years after a measurement is made of the carbon change on the selected land. If it’s gone down, the schemer pays out. If it’s gone up, he gets money to put in his pocket. This is another case of advance model bad, post-measurement calculation good. Seems a little known principle in climate science.

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