Environment Magazine

What is Carbon Sequestration?

Posted on the 01 January 2016 by Rinkesh @ThinkDevGrow

More and more people are gathering at conferences to find urgent solutions which will have long-lasting but positive effects on reversing the current problems associated with rising carbon dioxide levels and the unsettling specter of global warming and climate change. While many people are making concerted efforts to radically adjust their lifestyles and reverse the damage already done, only a clearer understanding of all the natural and industrial processes associated with carbon levels will lead to better results. Carbon sequestration is also little-known by most readers. This short guide sets out to empower readers who want to make a difference with some basic knowledge and information.

So, what is carbon sequestration exactly? This first set of notes explains the term briefly by calling up highlights of different explanations that have already been given.

  • Clearly defined, how carbon sinks remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the Earth’s atmosphere is called carbon sequestration.
  • Importantly, carbon sequestration is both a natural and artificial process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the Earth’s atmosphere and then stored in liquid or solid form.
  • It is a process of capture and deliberate, whether natural or artificial, storage of CO2 over a long period of time. The initial purpose of doing this is to delay global warming and avoid extreme climate change.
  • It is also important to note that other forms of carbon, not just CO2 are stored during this sequestration process.
  • A more scientific explanation (and example) is; the removal and storage of carbon from the atmosphere to sinks – oceans, soil, forests – through physical means and the natural process best known as photosynthesis.
  • There is one positive trend of carbon sequestration. While large areas of forests have been cleared over the years, today humankind are still making concerted efforts to grow more forests to invigorate carbon sequestration.

Read here more about carbon footprint , carbon sinks and carbon credits.


In other words, carbon sequestration means capturing the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced from new and old coal powered power plants and large industrial sources before it is released in the atmosphere. Once captured, the CO2 is put into long term storage either by storing it in carbon sinks (such as oceans, forests or soils) or underground injection and geologic sequestration into deep underground rock formations.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and sequestration (CCS) is therefore  a 3 step process that involves:

  • Capturing the CO2 from coal or natural based powered plants
  • Transporting the stored carbon usually through pipelines
  • Storage of CO2 into deep non-porous layers of rock that trap it and prevent it from migrating upward.

According to Wikipedia,

Carbon sequestration is the process involved in carbon capture and the long-term storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon sequestration describes long-term storage of carbon dioxide or other forms of carbon to either mitigate or defer global warming and avoid dangerous climate change. It has been proposed as a way to slow the atmospheric and marine accumulation of greenhouse gases, which are released by burning fossil fuels.

Carbon sequestration has the potential to reduce the amount of carbon from the atmosphere by putting into long term storage to mitigate the effects of global warming and reduce the effects of climate change. EPA says, “Carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and sequestration (CCS) can significantly reduce emissions from large stationary sources of CO2, which include coal- and natural-gas-fired power plants, as well as certain industry types such as ethanol and natural gas processing plants”

How Carbon Sources Work?

At the opposite end of carbon sequestration, the process of releasing carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere, whether naturally or artificially is known as the carbon source. Briefly, these next notes give an indication of how it all works.

  • Firstly, like the carbon storage areas, there are large carbon sources across the Earth, on land and in the oceans.
  • In the oceans, gasses are released from the oceans, while on land, dead organic matter is a releasing agent.
  • Here’s one compound example; sugar as a nutrient provides carbon skeletons which are needed for the synthesis of new organisms.
  • And here’s an important point to bear in mind; natural carbon sources do not alter the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere (artificial sources do). Over a period of many years, the perfect balancing act is performed. As carbons are released into the atmosphere, so similar amounts of carbon are absorbed from the atmosphere by the earth’s carbon sinks.

The Carbon Sink

Let’s look at the carbon sink next then. Here, we can give readers a more definitive description by including some examples. Interestingly, different scientific and ecological explanations have been provided, so again, we merely highlight various remarks made by ecologists and scientists.

  • Today, the carbon sink is both a natural and artificial storage area that collects chemical compounds that contain carbon and store these for an indefinite period.
  • In ecological terms, here’s another way of putting it; a carbon sink is pretty much any form that absorbs more carbon than it actually releases.
  • In its most natural form, carbon sinks, just to remind you, are made up of forests, rocks and soil and the oceans. An in all natural cases, carbon continues to move between these sinks in ongoing revolutions.
  • Controversially, industrial processes of storage are also regarded as carbon sinks. The debates are raging on how or when these fossil fuel storages will be released, if ever, into the earth’s atmosphere. Originally, the intention was to store fossil burning carbon for later energy use.

Carbon Capture Process

Carbon capture and storage (also known as CCS or carbon capture and sequestration) is a process that allows nearly one hundred percent of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels produced from electricity and industrial use to be captured. The capture and storage process is also further exacerbated because waste material from industrial processes is transported, relocated from silos and transferred to underground geological sites where it is perceived that carbon dioxide cannot enter the atmosphere. Step by step, here’s another dramatic way of putting this capture and sequestration process.

  • It is adversely a contributing effect towards global warming.
  • Excessive harmful compounds such as methane, nitrous oxide and sulfur hexafluoride are stored.
  • Picture this fatal storage process another way. Looking at a natural volcano erupt, think what might happen when all these dangerous substances are either accidentally or deliberately released into the Earth’s atmosphere. Image all hell breaking loose.

How Carbon Storage Takes Place?

Here are some more notes to add on how carbon storage, natural and industrial, takes place. Some of these notes may mitigate a fresh argument about why industrial carbon storage is inherently dangerous. Much like nuclear power, it is all very well for scientists and the industrialists who task them to say that storage is safe, because accidents do happen.

  • On the other side of the coin, ludicrously in favor of industrial carbon storage, the argument goes that it will be decades before most or all power will be produced entirely from renewable and sustainable sources that emit little or no CO2.
  • The industrial carbon storage process is still being developed, so a question worth asking is; is it still possible to reverse and halt such processes.
  • In the meantime, carbon dioxide is sent through a pipeline to underground rock formations where it is believed that CO2 can be stored there permanently and safely.
  • It is also alleged (at the time of writing) that the USA has enough storage capacity to store up to four trillion tons of carbon dioxide.
  • Finally, one more question worth asking is this. If technicians suggest that just over half a mile underground for carbon storage is deep enough, how far are they able to substantiate that their monitoring processes ensure safety?

Some Thoughts

Firstly, we’ll give the benefit of the doubt to the scientists and advocates of industrial and artificial carbon sequestration by asking them one final question. Is it possible to store carbon dioxide deep down in the ocean?

  • The emphatic answer to that question so far has been; yes.
  • And the explanation thus far has been that oceans can store CO2 because it is mainly soluble in water. Further, when CO2 levels increase in the atmosphere, more CO2 is absorbed by the oceans.
  • Potentially, scientists say, carbon dioxide could be injected directly deep into the oceans and most (but not all) of it could remain there for centuries.
  • But this last point is important. Such CO2 injections will ultimately harm marine life, particularly micro-organisms near the so-called injection point. Further, large amounts of carbon dioxide will gradually but eventually affect the entire ocean.

To conclude this introduction to carbon sequestration, and to argue in favor of environmental sustainability rather than the perpetuation of producing and simply storing fuel, a note from a source elsewhere states emphatically that because the implications of CO2 storage in the oceans are so severe it has generally been accepted that this is no longer on option worth exploring.

From what it is to how it works and how it is ultimately stored, this introduction has clearly explained the nature carbon sequestration and even hinted at the consequences of the industrial versions of storing carbon dioxide deep underground. There are arguments in favor and against these processes. All readers need to do is read and research extensively to help them make up their own minds. This was the starting point to that.

Image credit: energyclimatechange

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