Algae-Forestry Could be the Solution to Climate Change
Bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) has been proposed to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations, but concerns remain about competition for arable land and freshwater. Further, the synergistic integration of algae production, which does not require arable land or freshwater, with BECCS (called “ABECCS”) can reduce CO2 emissions without competing with agriculture.
Now, researchers from Cornell, Duke University, and the University of Hawaii at Hilo have concocted a plan to help power and provide food protein to large regions of the world – and simultaneously remove a lot of carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere.
“Algae may be the key to unlocking an important negative-emissions technology to combat climate change,” said Charles Greene, Cornell professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and a co-author of new research reported in Earth’s Future, published March 24 by the American Geophysical Union.
“Combining two technologies – BECCS and microalgae production – may seem like an odd couple, but it could provide enough scientific synergy to help solve world hunger and at the same time reduce the level of greenhouse gases that are changing our climate system,” Greene said. Based on an idea first conceptualized by co-author Ian Archibald of Cinglas Ltd., Chester, England, the scientists call the new integrated system ABECCS, or algae bioenergy with carbon capture and storage.
The new system – which the paper’s authors call ABECCS, or algae bioenergy with carbon capture and storage – integrates the protein- and biofuel-producing capabilities of industrial-scale microalgae production with the energy output of conventional bioenergy systems that burn wood to generate electricity and then capture and store the resulting carbon dioxide underground.
“BECCS is proposed as a key technology for the planets future and it will not work unless something is done about reducing its negative effects upon natural forests and agricultural land,” says Bruce Mathews, dean of the UH Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management (CAFNRM), who served as the facilitating principal investigator at UH Hilo. “And micro algae are crucial to the proposed potential solution. If the problems with BECCS can be resolved then an important technology for reaching climate change mitigation goals is enabled while also offering the world a nutritious new foodstuff.”
Their analysis showed that the experimental ABECCS facility could yield as much high-quality protein as the original 7,000-acre soybean field, while simultaneously generating 17 million kilowatt hours of electricity and sequestering 30,000 tons of CO2 each year.
“In the future, as the price of carbon increases, ABECCS will have even greater potential to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in an environmentally sustainable and profitable way,” says Charles Greene, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell.