pulp and paper

Are plants the key to succeeding with carbon dioxide removal?

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies are used to capture CO2 emissions from industrial processes and store them safely and permanently underground, instead of releasing them into the atmosphere. However, plants capture and store CO2 naturally – and have done for millennia.

Trees, like many other plants, need CO2, water and sunlight in order to grow. This process is known as photosynthesis. The carbon from the absorbed CO2 stays in the trees, and any products made from trees, for their entire lifetime. When the wood finally decays or is burned, the CO2 is released back into the atmosphere – unless we capture and store it.

CCS on processes that use fossil resources can prevent additional CO2 emissions. But CCS on processes that use biomass – like trees – will actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere. This process of removing atmospheric CO2 is known as “negative emissions” or “Carbon Dioxide Removal” (CDR), when more CO2 is taken out of the atmosphere than is put into it.

One industry with significant potential for CDR is pulp and paper. Pulp mills use woody biomass, to produce a wide range of products, from cardboard and other packaging materials to napkins and nappy fluff. After most of the biomass has been used to create the product, the leftover biomass is used as fuel to generate heat and electricity for the production process in the mill. When this fuel is burned, the carbon contained in the biomass is released as CO2, which we can then capture and permanently store.

But this is just one piece of the puzzle. While biomass is a renewable resource, we must remember that its potential for CDR is limited. We will still need to drastically cut fossil CO2 emissions in order to meet climate goals. In addition, forests play a crucial role in maintaining the health of our planet and protecting biodiversity. Therefore, we must also protect and cultivate our forests through practices such as sustainable forest management, reforestation and afforestation.

These measures together can be part of a future that both contributes to CDR and supports the health of the Earth’s natural lungs.

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