(Bloomberg) -- The US alone could remove 1 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually by midcentury using existing technologies.
Forests, soil and manmade solutions in their early stages of development could help get the US to net zero, according to a report published on Monday by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that lays out a roadmap to pull CO2 from the air.
Biomass carbon removal and storage (BiCRS) accounts for about 70% of the US’s carbon removal potential, or approximately 700 million tons annually, said Jennifer Pett-Ridge, lead author and a senior staff scientist at the lab. BiCRS — pronounced “bikers” — involves collecting municipal solid waste and forestry scraps that have pulled CO2 from the air and then using them to make products like hydrogen, biogas and charcoal.
When it comes to BiCRS, “the science is really settled,” she said, adding that the US has enough waste biomass to do this and the processes are clear. What’s missing is the financing to build facilities capable of transforming the waste into new materials that effectively lock up the CO2.
Reaching the capacity to remove 1 billion tons of carbon annually using BiCRS and other methods could cost $130 billion, according to the report. That amount is equivalent to a mere 0.5% of current US gross domestic product or less than the amount the country spends on solid waste management annually, the report notes.
“Instead of schlepping all that stuff over to a landfill and just letting it decompose and be released back to the atmosphere as CO2 or methane, this is an opportunity to recycle stuff that is gross, that you put into your trash and you don't want to see again,” Pett-Ridge said.
Relying on biomass to help clean the atmosphere comes with some risks. That includes ensuring that only waste is used rather than, for example, chopping down a healthy forest that would otherwise go on sequestering carbon and providing habitat while standing. A technique that involves burning biomass and using carbon capture known as BECCS has drawn scrutiny for those reasons. Mitigating risks will require “stringent frameworks to manage feedstock supply,” according to a BloombergNEF report.
Each passing year that global greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels fail to fall — or even worse, rise as they did in 2023 — makes it increasingly likely the world will need to remove billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere to limit global warming to 1.5C. Deep decarbonization remains critical to the US reaching its net-zero goals. But growing the carbon removal industry could also create more than 440,000 new jobs, report authors found. That’s about five times the number of jobs the coal industry has lost since 1990.
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