Is biosequestration technically feasible?

Is the global warming strategy of improving nature’s ability to remove CO2 from the air technically feasible?

Here is the entire line of reasoning:

It is unlikely that mankind will cut their greenhouse gas emissions so drastically, and so fast, as to avoid either abrupt climate change or runaway global warming.

Mankind is burning oil and natural gas as fast as it is recovered from the ground. Furthermore, burning coal to generate electricity is 1/6th the cost of either oil or natural gas. Worldwide electricity demand is expected to double by 2030. China is adding coal-fired plants at the rate of Britain’s entire power grid each year! India is about to follow suit. American generates about half of her electricity from burning coal.

CCS (carbon capture and sequester) technology for coal-fired plants won’t be widely available for decades. When it is it will be very expensive to build and operate. Furthermore, it is unlikely that old dirty coal-fired plants will be able to be retrofitted with CCS technology.

Dr Hansen of NASA says to avoid dangerous warming we need to put a moritorium on building dirty coal-fired plants (i.e. non-CCS technology), and start decommissioning the ones currently operating (per “King Coal” ). In my opinion, this is a non-starter for any international climate treaty, since developing nations will predictably want to “catch up” to developed nations in per capita CO2 emissions, and coal is a stable cheap domestic energy source.

Besides, cutting emissions is a weak mitigation strategy, because a warming earth means that carbon sinks will become carbon emitters (i.e. like mega forest and peat fires, melting permafrost, and increased SSTs), erasing any feasible cuts mankind would make.

Furthermore, nature already removes about half of mankind’s CO2 emissions, and the purpose of mankind cutting CO2 emissions would be so nature could lower the CO2 level in the air. It is estimated that nature’s ability to remove CO2 from the air will decrease 30% by 2030.

In other words, not only would the developed countries have to cut their emissions even more to compensate for developing nations continuing to dramatically increase their emissions, but also for the increased natural emissions AND the decreased ability of nature to remove the CO2 from the air.

Besides, the very expensive rebuilding of our entire energy infrastructure to institute the global warming mitigation strategy of reducing our emissions is creating political gridlock.

Instead, I suggest improving nature’s ability to remove the CO2 using genetic technology-perhaps seeding a GMO into the ocean.

Biosequestration (biologically impound the carbon) is a low cost, highly scalable, and technically feasible solution to global warming.

That excess CO2 must be removed from the air as soon as possible, or the earth’s carrying capacity will abruptly drop in the next couple of decades. Biosequestration could save billions of lives and trillions of dollars.

Again, my question: Is my global warming biosequestration strategy of seeding a GMO into the environment technically feasible?

You haven’t actually described your strategy (you’ve just described the problem), so how can we comment on it?

Instead, I suggest improving nature’s ability to remove the CO2 using genetic technology-perhaps seeding a GMO into the ocean.

Yeah, that’s a bad idea on the same scale as entering into a land war in Asia.

Introducing an organism with the sole purpose of it rapidly reproducing (which is how I presume you intend to sequester the carbon) would probably result in the creation or enlargement of existing dead zones.

I can see this going straight to Great Debates.
Just to echo Mangetout’s post, you haven’t actually explained how "biosequestration is a low cost, highly scalable, and technically feasible solution to global warming. All you’ve done is claim that this is the case.

What sort of biosequestration are you talking about? Are you looking at algae? Trees? Elephants?
All ecossytems have a mximum primary productivity. How exactly do you propose that your GMO will achieve higher the higher NPP needed to accelarate biosequestration above the current baseline?
What will that cost in terms of energy, dollars and most importantly environmental and social problems?

Without that minimal information we really can’t comment.

Methinks you need a few more cites there for your statements. And how does your strategy compare with switching electricity generation to non-polluting methods like nuclear? What about side effects?

Do you mean like what these folks are working on:

If so, we simply don’t know the answer yet.

It would be difficult to answer that question without knowing the characteristics of the GMO, but as others have already mentioned, people are likely to be highly skeptical of large-scale introduction and spread of a GMO into the ocean with the likelihood of unintended consequences. Is this GMO hypothetical? That’s fine if it is, but in the hypothetical you can ignore lots of nasty side effects that we all suffer through in the real world.

I don’t think anyone claims that there is a solution to anthropogenic global warming. What there is, however, is a whole lot of partial solutions. Whether those partial solutions combined are enough is not yet known, but we’d be foolish not to try. Power plant carbon sequestration is one of those partial solutions.

One thing to consider - Biosequestration may not be a good long-term solution.
For example, if one covers the entire Earth in forests, they may remove quite a bit of carbon from the atmosphere, but the trees will eventually die and start to decay, at which point the carbon is released again. I suppose that the ocean algae solution might work better long-term, if the dead algae sink to the bottom and are trapped there.

Yeah - that’s the idea. Trees really only sequester carbon short-term on a geological time scale, while ocean sediments offer the possibility of somewhat longer-term sequestration - thousands of years (for the most part.)

Thank you for your replies, let me address some of the points raised:

Nature doesn’t remove both oxygen molecules from CO2 and deposit the carbon directly into the environment because the energy usage would be inefficient. By the way organisms do use carbon from carbon dioxide in shell and carbohydrate, but the calcium carbonate in shell is (in my opinion) an inefficient process for fixing the carbon (especially in an acidic ocean), and carbohydrate decays, releasing the carbon back into the environment.

Therefore, such an organism would have to be genetically engineered.

As I stated in the first posting, using logic, the CO2 would have to be removed from the air either mechanically or biologically. Mechanical removal needs large amounts of energy (from burning fossil fuel), is costly (to build machines on such a large scale), and be logistically difficult to build on such a large scale.

These are disadvantages not shared by biological removal, because the energy would come from the sun (photosynthesis), be low cost (the only explicit expense would be engineering the organism), and be easy to impliment large scale (biological reproduction is at a geometric rate in an environmental niche).

Since the theoretical GMO would emit oxygen, dead zones (anoxic) in the ocean are not a problem.

I have bounced this idea off of experts, and their main objection is the unintended consequences of seeding a GMO into nature. It is a risky strategy, when the alternative (mankind cutting their CO2 emissions) is safe.

Unfortunately, I am of the opinion that not only is it unlikely that mankind will cut their CO2 emissions drastically or fast, but that the consequences of excess CO2 in the air are more imminent and grave than is generally understood.

In other words, GMO biosequestration isn’t the ideal solution, but it FAR outweighs the only other likely solution: mass extinction. If you think I’m exaggerating, please read the quote at the end of this posting.

In fact, I believe that removing the excess CO2 biologically is the only strategy that will likely save our civilization and most people by the end of the century.

I have written a 4 part series on removing the CO2 from the air, but unfortunately the website it was published on changed their format, and it can no longer be linked to.

I would be glad to furnish these papers upon request. My email address is

Frankly, I wouldn’t be wasting my or your time on this if I didn’t think it was the only way to save billions of lives and trillions of dollars. After test marketing the GMO biosequestration idea, I found most people (even experts) don’t understand the imminent nature of catastrophic climate change due to elevated levels of CO2, or that engineering such a GMO is technically feasible.

This is all covered in those that four part series.

Finally, I am all too aware that it is almost a certainty (from your perspective) that I am a megalomanic, or crazy, or mistaken. Yet, I appeal to you, I have gone over this again and again, and GMO biosequestration is the only way to avoid catastrophic abrupt climate change and runaway global warming. I live a normal life, and have been published extensively on this subject nationally and internationally.

Even if there is only a small chance that I am spot on, this concept should be entertained. By the way, I predict that GMO biosequestration will eventually be used to remove the excess CO2 in the air, but it is an open question if it will be used before or after the bottleneck.

Most people don’t know about coding in base 4 (i.e. the genetic code), or the explosion in the life sciences called the Genomic Revolution. Or, do they know about the machine called a genetic sequencer that can produce strands of genes from scratch (DARPA used it to create a polio virus in vitro a couple of years ago).

Here is a small sample of what I am referring to:

“We now have evidence from the Earth’s history that a similar event happened fifty-five million years ago when a geological accident released into the air more than a terraton of gaseous carbon compounds. As a consequence the temperature in the arctic and temperate regions rose eight degree Celsius and in tropical regions about five degrees, and it took over one hundred thousand years before normality was restored. We have already put more than half this quantity of carbon gas into the air and now the Earth is weakened by the loss of land we took to feed and house ourselves. In addition, the sun is now warmer, and as a consequence the Earth is now returning to the hot state it was in before, millions of years ago, and as it warms, most living things will die.” (Revenge of Gaia)

It looks like the Venter Institute is already working on such strategies. Link. Look at the last two areas of research.

My God…you’re scared of global warming but are willing to monkey around with nature’s CO2 absorbtion?

IMO, this is insane! What if you succeed? Ice age at the least? Heck, if CO2 gets too low, the end of plant life?

We already do have oxygen emitting organisms in the ocean - phytoplankton, cyanobacteria…

I’m glad you agree that the unintended consequences are a serious problem - could you address the problem in addition to acknowledging it?

In what time scale do you think your GMO will be ready? Do you think it will be in time?
I hope you’ll forgive us if we’re a bit skeptical of claims that there’s only one way to reduce (or halt the increase of) carbon dioxide concentrations. It seems like a better policy to support multiple strategies of carbon dioxide reductions and as these strategies develop, to concentrate on the ones that show the best performance.

I certainly understand the immenent nature of catastrophic climate change, but I am far less convinced that a GMO to sequester carbon is technically feasible. It’s certainly worth investigating possibilities for improving biological carbon sequestration, but it’s not yet clear that any of them are feasible on a large scale.
It’s certainly not clear that we have the technology to engineer an organism that would be both more efficient at sequestration and competitive in the wild with the algae that have been evolving for millions of years. This is very tough, even with vastly more biological knowledge than we have now.

Yeah, it does. Well actually it reshuffles the oxygen molecules on the carbon, strips a couple off water and produces carbohydrate. It then oxidises that carbohydrate and deposits the carbon directly into the environment. Where did you think the carbon was being deposited?

So what form are you proposing to fix the carbon as? You seem to be proposing engineering organisms that produce non-biodegradable oganic compounds and then releasing them into the ocean. Tell me this is a joke?

Yes, no and no.

All organisms that currently exist have evolved to maximise their energy harvest under the condtions under which they live. You can’t just wave a magic wand, mutter vaguely about “genetic engineering” and somehow produce an organism that is more maximal than maximal.

You now have to explain how your organisms are going to be able to capture more sunlight than currently existing autotrophs. That alone would be an engineering miracle, and if you could do it then aplying it to global warming would be a minor consideration. Apply it to agriculture and we could feed the whoe world fom a single glasshouse.

And we aren’t just talking about a minor increase in NPP here. Not only will your organisms needs to be more efficient than existing organsisms just to be able to compete, they will need to be able to compete while watsing massive amounts of energy fixing material that is indigetsible even to themselves.

The whole idea is akin to proposing that a hamburger joint that also makes bicycles with square wheels will be able to outcompete McDonald’s.

You are proposing some magical genetic process that will increase NPP by several orders of magnitude. You might just as well propose a genetic solution process that oumps CO2 into space for us. It is about as plausible.

At this point I’m thankful that you lack the ability implement this idea. You seem to lack the most basic understanding of the ecology of the system you are proposing to meddle with.
Do a Google search for “eutrophication” and come back when you understand that oxygen emitting organisms with obscenely high rates of productivity are the primary cause of anoxic zones, not the solution to it.

Then they weren’t much chop as experts. I have raised three problems that seem totally insurmountable, yet they only came up with this single vague objetcion?

And I believe that we are all descended from space aliens and they will come and rescue us if we stuff up. That isn’t grounds for anyone taking me seriously. Your ideas have to stand in there own merit, not on the basis of some sort of hyperbole about the end of days.

If the experts don’t think it’s feasible then that should probably set off alarm bells.

But I’ll tell you what, I’ll hold off judgement until you tell me how you intend to increase the photosynthetic efficiency of your GMOs by orders of magnitude above any existing species.

If you can do that then I’ll believe it is feasible.

Of course I can’t see why, if you could do that, you aren’t the world’s wealthiest man. You would have single handedly increased global food production 1000 fold. Then you wouldn’t need to use internet message borards to get you message out, you would own CNN and Microsoft.

You certainly appear mistaken, but as I said I’ll withold judgement until you explain how you intend to increase photosynthetic efficient by orders of magnitude above what 4 billion years of evolution has achieved.

Published where? Why not give us some references so we can read what you have published?

I am entertianing it, but if you can’t clearly and specifically adress the serious issues I’ve raised that is all the entertaining I’m going to do.

Base 4? What are you talking about? DNA/RNA uses triplet codons, but even that can’t be described as coding in base 3. But where did you get base 4 from?

Most people don’t know about the genomic revolution?

Maybe if they had been living in a darkened cellar somewhere in Amish country with their hands over their ears for the last 15 years. Anyone who has watched TV or been to the movies or read a newspaper since 1993 would be as well aware of the genomic revolution as they are of the nuclear revolution.

My method of biosequestration is technically feasible, but I have no idea if it is economical or practical. It is simply (ha!) to plant, grow and harvest vast forests (in areas not now forested of course), turn them into charcoal (ie almost pure carbon), and require coal miners to place a tonne of charcoal down a mine for every tonne of coal taken out. As charcoal has more carbon per tonne than coal this results in carbon being removed from the environment, essentially permanently.

Yours, I fear, sounds so ill-formed and potentially dangerous that my answer to “is it technically feasible?” is " I really really really hope not!".