Ecological Limits to Terrestrial Biological Carbon Dioxide Removal

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 9:00 AM
Margaret S Torn1,2, Lydia J Smith2, Umakant Mishra3, Daniel Sanchez2 and Jim Williams4, (1)Berkeley Lab/UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States, (2)University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States, (3)Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, IL, United States, (4)E3: Energy + Environmental Economics, Berkeley, CA, United States
Many climate change mitigation scenarios include terrestrial atmospheric carbon dioxide removal (BCDR) or carbon neutral bioenergy production through bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECS) or afforestation/reforestation. Very high sequestration potentials for these strategies have been reported, and we evaluate the potential ecological limits (e.g., land and resource requirements) to implementation at the 1 Pg C y-1 scale relevant to climate change mitigation for U.S. and global scenarios. We estimate that removing 1 Pg C y-1 via tropical afforestation would require at least 7×106 ha y-1 of land, 0.09 Tg y-1 of nitrogen, and 0.2 Tg y-1 of phosphorous, and would increase evapotranspiration from those lands by almost 50%. Because of improved carbon capture technologies, we are updating (and reducing) our previous estimates for switchgrass BECS (previous estimate was 2×108 ha land and 20 Tg y-1 of nitrogen (20 % of global fertilizer nitrogen production)). Miscanthus could meet the same biomass production with much lower N demand. Moreover, transitioning the U.S land currently under corn- ethanol production to no-till perennial grasses for bioenergy would meet U.S. needs and have additional environmental benefits (such as improved wildlife habitat and soil restoration). Thus, there are both signficant ecological limits to BCDR as well as potential ecological benefits, depending on implementation.