Plains CO2 Reduction (PCOR) Partnership

What Is CO2 Sequestration?

Carbon sequestration means capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere or capturing anthropogenic (human) CO2 from large-scale stationary sources like power plants before it is released to the atmosphere. Once captured, the CO2 gas (or the carbon portion of the CO2) is put into long-term storage.

CO2 sequestration has the potential to significantly reduce the level of carbon that occurs in the atmosphere as CO2 and to reduce the release of CO2 to the atmosphere from major stationary human sources, including power plants and refineries.1

There are two major types of CO2 sequestration: terrestrial and geologic.

Terrestrial Sequestration
Terrestrial (or biologic) sequestration means using plants to capture CO2 from the atmosphere and then storing it as carbon in the stems and roots of the plants as well as in the soil. In photosynthesis, plants take in CO2 and give off the oxygen (O2) to the atmosphere as a waste gas. The plants retain and use the carbon to live and grow. When the plant winters or dies, part of the carbon from the plant is preserved (stored) in the soil. Terrestrial sequestration is a set of land management practices that maximizes the amount of carbon that remains stored in the soil and plant material for the long term. No-till farming, wetland management, rangeland management, and reforestation are examples of terrestrial sequestration practices that are already in use. It is important to remember that terrestrial sequestration does not store CO2 as a gas but stores the carbon portion of the CO2 (the C in the CO2). If the soil is disturbed and the soil carbon comes in contact with oxygen in the air, the exposed soil carbon can combine with O2 to form CO2 gas and reenter the atmosphere, reducing the amount of carbon in storage.

Learn more about the considerations for terrestrial sequestration in the region.
Learn about terrestrial sequestration field projects in the PCOR Partnership region.

Geologic Sequestration
Geologic sequestration is putting CO2 into long-term storage in geologic zones deep underground.

Geologic sequestration is the method of storage that is generally considered for carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects. CCS is the practice of capturing CO2 at anthropogenic sources before it is released to the atmosphere and then transporting the CO2 gas to a site where it can be put into long-term storage.

Before geologic sequestration can be widely used, two issues need to be addressed:
  1. Only a handful of specialized facilities like natural gas-processing plants, coal gasification plants, and ethanol plants currently have processes that separate CO2 and make it available for geologic sequestration. Actions are under way now to develop economical methods of separating and capturing CO2 at other large-scale systems like power plants that produce relatively large quantities of anthropogenic CO2.
  2. Although pure CO2 has been stored as a gas in natural underground deposits for millions of years and oil field operators have safely pumped millions of tons of CO2 underground into oil-producing formations to increase production (CO2 flooding), we need validation demonstrations in geologic environments to ensure that we understand the best ways to site the systems as well as monitor the CO2 in storage over the long term.
Learn more about the considerations for geologic sequestration in the region.
Learn about the geologic sequestration field projects in the PCOR Partnership region.

References:
  1. Pacala, S., and Socolow, R., 2004, Stabilization wedges-solving the climate problem for the next 50 years with current technologies: Science, v. 305, p. 968-972.