SOURCE: Washington Post

DATE: January 22, 2018

SNIP: Widespread use of a futuristic energy technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would create severe environmental problems, scientists argue in a new critique, casting doubt on one potential method of helping humanity escape the worst effects of climate change.

The technology, known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), comes in many variations. But the core idea is burning trees or other plants for energy while pulling in the resulting carbon dioxide and storing it below ground. When the plants grow back again, they would pull more carbon dioxide from the air, resulting in a net removal of the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.

[I]n the new paper, scientists argue that deploying BECCS technology on the scale needed to address the problem would use up massive amounts of water, fertilizer and land. That would probably lead to large environmental problems or even destabilize key planetary systems.

BECCS at such a scale would lead to millions of square miles of forest loss and large pressures on biodiversity, the study found. Meanwhile, the huge plantations would require tens of millions of tons of nitrogen fertilizer that would alter flow of this chemical around the Earth, and huge amounts of water — over a trillion tons of it each year.

“Negative emissions using biomass has great potential for removing carbon from our air,” said Rob Jackson, a Stanford University earth scientist who has also studied the environmental limitations of BECCS but was not involved in the current paper. “It can’t be done, though, without using more land, more water and more nutrients. There is no free ride.”