Trillions of Tons - Part 3 of 3

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In Part 1 of this blog post, I introduced the idea of carbon capture (removing CO2 from the atmosphere), the drivers for the effort, but also the project, program, and portfolio management aspects of the idea.  In Part 2, since it featured the direct air capture technique, I went into some of the technical details of that particular strategy.

In that post, I asked readers to think about secondary effects of the technique, the fact that even in a project which is geared at long-term thinking, ecology, and sustainability, the second-order effects (secondary risks) must be taken into account – with at least as much vim, vigor, and vitality as in a “regular” project (whatever that means).

In this post, I’d like to take that idea a little further and also, as promised, survey the various strategies for carbon capture, beyond the direct air capture technique featured in the photos and in the first two posts.

Much of this material comes to you courtesy of an outstanding article by Richard Conniff in Scientific American.  Hey, it’s still effectively time for New Year’s resolutions, how about adding one for yourself – subscribe to this magazine, an American ‘treasure’ – the oldest continuously-published magazine in the United States.  Disclaimer: I have no connection to Scientific American, other than a subscriber, I just think that project managers can’t know enough about the world around them and this magazine provides that knowledge in an intelligent but accessible fashion.  Facts are good!


So: on to the strategies.  They are:

  • Bioenergy
  • Weathering
  • Forestry
  • Biochar
  • Direct Air Capture
  • Ocean Fertilization
  • Soil Sequestration

In summary:

 Bioenergy involves taking advantage of the fact that plants ‘breathe in’ CO2.  Plants are burned or fermented to turn them into fuel  The CO2 is extracted and stored underground.

Weathering starts by creating stone dust from rock.  The dust is then spread onto fields, and as it draws CO2 from the air, it fertilizes the soil.  Or it can be added to seawater converting the CO2 into carbonates that fall to the sea floor.

Forestry – really reforestation and afforestation involves planting trees (in large numbers) to replace clear-cut forests or to expand currently-growing forests.  This is about helping nature help us!


Biochar involves (hold your nose!) the oxygen-less heating of crops (technically called pyrolysis, see below), manure, or organic waste, which creates biochar, a residue quite like charcoal which is, of course, rich in carbon.  This can be used as fertilizer.

Direct Air Capture has been discussed in Parts 1 and 2.

Ocean Fertilization uses iron filings distributed into seawater, aiding in the growth of plankton, which breathe in CO2 and convert that into sugars (and more plankton).  Dead plankton (with CO2 embedded) sink to the sea floor.

Soil Sequestration takes advantage of grasses or other plants that breathe in CO2 and convert it to root material which helps bind the carbon into the soil.  Soil can hold a limited amount of carbon.

As you have probably deduced, each of these techniques have advantages and disadvantages.  Also, as a project manager, you are already familiar with decision making techniques such as weighted tables.  The chart below (courtesy of the referenced Scientific American article) does a good job of comparing each of the technologies (rows) and showing the secondary risks in the columns, taking advantage of color (maroon is negative, green is positive, amber is limited) to show whether we’re dealing with a threat or an opportunity.

Have a look at the article, in particular the section called “How the Carbon Capture Strategies Stack Up” to learn not only more about this subject, but how, as a PM, you can use a tool like the one shown here to compare options in any sort of project.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: January 04, 2019 02:42 PM | Permalink

Comments (9)

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A very detailed topic, often controversial.

Thanks for sharing .

This is an interesting comparison of the various techniques for carbon sequestration. I look forward to reading the referenced article, and agree that it is a good example of a useful tool for exploring options.

Maybe you can clarify how forestry is negative for food security. Not clear to me.

@Vincent, refer to the article linked below, "Balancing the environmental benefits of reforestation in agricultural regions", but basically, there's a need to consider what happens to grassland biomes if vast areas of land become forested, especially if we want to continue to be omnivores (I'm still in that category). As the article says, it's about balance.

Rich energy consumption, and renewal article.

I love this topic! It's great to learn about all these techniques. Thank you for the last picture too to see the pros and cons of each approach. Very informative!

thanks for the clarification and link.
I'm still in the Omnivores, but clearly moving away from meat, getting closer and closer to vegans.

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