Historic carbon emissions currently in the atmosphere are driving climate change today, and as our nation innovates and scales technologies to rapidly decarbonize the economy over the coming decades, CDR will be needed to remove and store the roughly 1 gigatonne -- equal to 1 billion tonnes -- of annual U.S. emissions from hard-to-decarbonize industries like steel, paper and cement.
The Long-Term Strategy of the United States: Pathways to Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050 indicates that land-based and technological carbon removal pathways will both serve vital roles in counterbalancing residual and legacy emissions. While the need for a portfolio of CDR pathways is evident, the regional opportunities, tradeoffs, and benefits of these approaches has not been comprehensively assessed.
In a new report, Roads to Removal: Options for Carbon Dioxide Removal in the United States, leading scientists found that the United States has sufficient capacity to remove carbon dioxide at the scale needed to achieve net-zero emissions, while also providing economic opportunity, ecological benefits, and public health benefits.
The study, led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in collaboration with experts across the U.S. and with support from the Department of Energy, shows that carbon removal can deliver benefits to the environment, communities, and the economy. Uniquely, Roads to Removal takes a bottom-up approach, characterizing the local opportunities available to deploy CDR, by addressing the benefits and tradeoffs of implementing these technologies and land management decision, allowing communities to make informed decisions.
The report focuses on location-specific opportunities for removing and storing CO2 across the United States and highlights four key methods for carbon removal:
- Reforestation and afforestation, in addition to improving forest management practices.
- Enhanced soil carbon sequestration through improving soil management on working lands.
- Capturing carbon in biomass during cultivation followed by durable storage or conversion into new products to prevent CO2 release.
- Capturing CO2 directly from the air using chemicals or naturally sourced alkalinity paired with renewable energy.
“The big takeaway from this report is that we can achieve upwards of a billion tonnes of CO2 removal from the atmosphere in this country, and we can do it affordably,” said the report’s lead author, Dr. Jennifer Pett-Ridge of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. “But it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Every region has a different story to tell. It will take policy and changes that are happening locally and engagement between the public and the private sectors to achieve the gigaton-scale required.”
The study’s Top Ten specific findings include the following:
- Reforestation and afforestation (planting trees on land not previously forested) can remove up to 72 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year.
- Managing commodity-cropland soils for the benefit of carbon management is a low-energy CO2 -removal strategy that can be deployed immediately. The suite of identified practices could remove up to 37 million tonnes of CO2e annually.
- The study found that half the land area in the United States has the potential for secure geological CO2 storage at an estimated average cost of less than $53 per tonne of CO2.
- U.S. Biomass Carbon Removal and Storage (BiCRS) could approach 900 million tonnes of CO2 annually from a combination of biomass wastes, residues, and purpose-grown crops.
- Direct Air Capture and Storage (DACS), powered by local purpose-built renewable electricity, has the potential to remove over 9 billion tonnes of CO2 per year at costs largely ranging between $200 and $250 per tonne.
- Achieving 1 gigatonnes of CO2 removal could create more than 440,000 long-term jobs.
- Reaching 1 gigatonnes of CO2 removal per year could require less than 1 percent of the total land mass of the United States if agricultural residues and organic wastes are prioritized for BiCRS processes.
- The land area suitable for BiCRS and DACS is roughly equally divided between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged communities across the United States, setting a key baseline for equitable siting as the industry grows.
- Large-scale CO2 removal will likely result in net improvements in air quality at the national level; however, these impacts, whether positive or negative, may unevenly distributed.
- There are many region-specific CO2-removal opportunities. Western and Northeastern urban areas could divert large amounts of municipal solid wastes to more economical and permanent forms of carbon storage. The Rocky Mountain region and West Texas have a remarkably high potential for large-scale DACS co-located with renewable energy.
All regions of the United States have an opportunity to advance and implement carbon removal. Success can be accomplished without impacting commodity prices and while directing social, economic, and environmental benefits toward disadvantaged communities. The removal of CO2 from the atmosphere will be needed to reach the nation’s goal of net zero by 2050, and the U.S. has ample capacity to supply the necessary amounts.
The Department of Energy’s Carbon Negative Shot provides a coordinated objective to rapidly drive down the costs of these carbon removal approaches while developing many more pathways and technologies beyond those analyzed in Roads to Removal. This all-hands-on-deck approach will further improve our options and reduce the costs of reaching net zero carbon pollution by 2050.
If you’re interested in accessing the Roads to Removal report, please click here.