Nature has always had ways for removing carbon from regular
circulation within the biosphere. First of a variety of natural
processes gather the carbon together to form carbohydrates such as
cellulose (C6H10O5), a wide range of frequently fatty materials such
as cholesterol (C27H46O), amino acids such as leucine (C6H13NO2),
nucleobases (the stuff of DNA) such as adenine (C5H5N5) and in
hardened products such as calcium carbonate (CCaO3 - the stuff of sea
(and egg) shells; chalk, limestone, concrete and such peripheral
things as a variety of cosmetics). Most forms of organic carbon will
then need anaerobic conditions (conditions without access to abundant
or renewable supplies of air) to then enable their fossilisation but
calcium carbonate will merely need a place where shelly materials
might settle within an appropriate setting free of high acidity. It
really doesn't take much.
Nature's way for the removal of carbon from regular circulation within
the biosphere has always been quite simple and yet now, in our day and
age, and at least from the human perspective, it may now be
interpreted that nature's way's in trouble.
How can carbon be kept down?
Carbon is an extreme substance. It can adopt the hardness of diamond,
the variety of life, the softness of graphite and the ethereal nature
of the air. It has a notable ability to bond with a minimal number of
other atoms so as to enter into small molecular arrangements and then
take to the skies. Carbon has no shortage in its own arial potential
and yet recent activities have given it a dramatic increase in upward
mobility in a way that's taking global temperatures with it.
The upwards movement of carbon is nothing new. In fact the upward
movement of most things that we know is nothing new. That's geology.
Continental materials are typically brought together through the
remarkable processes of distillation, injection and lateral
compression with the net result of continental land masses (which are
heavier than water) being able to push themselves above sea level and
into the sky. Sedimentary materials will typically add an outer layer
to the whole arrangement and, as these materials are typically
assembled in aquatic conditions, their appearance at the top of
mountains would seem to provide a clear indication of the strength of
the forces that have been involved.
Nature gives and nature takes away and, even while the land masses are
pushed up, they're also being worn down. Natural erosive processes and
the cracking up of land masses have always provided natural means by
which carbon may make its exit from the geosphere and into circulation
within the biosphere. Even in situations in which slow geologic
processes may have brought carbon deep into the earth through the slow
but relentless movements of oceanic plates, the carbon still has a
good chance to return to the surface through the intervention of
So what can we do?
It may seem that the most we can do is to find ways to keep sufficient
quantities of carbon down in the geosphere for sufficient periods of
time and, with this in mind, perhaps we might reconsider the wisdom of
both digging of carbon out of the ground and of drilling holes in the
ground to let the carbon gush up.
There are two clear routes by which the carbon crisis, like any
crisis, may be tackled - prevention and cure. Which is better? Perhaps
the answer will depend on the results all the results. Yes we want
to have good times now but, if we care about the children of this
planet and if we may feel a genuine desire to "give them the earth",
then we might want to consider the type of planet that we would like
to give them.
A prevention of the carbon crisis would simply entail a prevention of
the movement of carbon from the geosphere into the biosphere. The
extraction of the finite fossil fuel supplies possessed by our planet
would need to be curtailed in favour of better use being made of the
limitless potential of our planet's renewable energy resources: wind
(which cannot be over farmed); geothermal heat (which will long
continue to rise), solar energy (which will long continue to shine
in), waves (which will long continue to wave) and bio energy (which,
once burnt or otherwise consumed), given the chance, will always fight
to grow back. That's life.
(Life and the value of the free movement of certain creatures within
certain ecosystems provides the reason why I've not included hydraulic
and tidal sources of energy in the above list and yet, in a situation
in which the value of the energy may be considered to be greater than
the value of any potentially endangered forms of life, then these
sources of energy are also up for consideration).
A cure for the carbon crisis, on the other hand, would simply entail
the orchestration of a movement of carbon from the biosphere into the
geosphere at least that's the idea. If it works then all we might
need would be a large enough source of material capable of generating
sufficient quantities ofcarbon that might be stably settled within the
geosphere and we'd be sorted.
The good news is that society generates loads of rubbish. There's
sewage, food waste, animal waste, waste paper and forms of naturally
produced organic waste and also worth a mention are all forms of
plastic that may be found to possess a level of bio-neutrality
necessary for their suitably long term disposal.
It sounds simple but it's not. The problem is that, at this stage of
the carbon crisis, most forms of organic waste can't just be buried.
There's just one factor to complicate things - methane.
When non calcified forms of carbon based matter get buried then one of
the results, within the natural course of things, is the production of
methane. Once organic matter is brought into a closed environment, the
oxygen doesn't tend to last that long and, once it's gone,
methanogenic microbes can really get to work. These microbes are
remarkable. They have the ability to break up water molecules, breathe
in the hydrogen and oxygen, consume any carbon that may be readily
available and produce quantities of both carbon dioxide and methane.
They are amazing and, in comparison what they have to cope with, our
lives may not seem to be so complicated. They thrive in situations
without any need for air and, as such, change the rules.
Methane (with its purist composition of four atoms of hydrogen
surrounding a solitary carbon atom) likes to burn. It really likes to
burn. In fact it burns with more heat output efficiency in comparison
to volume of carbon dioxide gas produced than any other form of
hydrocarbon. Indeed it can even "burn" without burning. Atmospheric
methane only takes about seven years for half its carbon content to
get initiated into a more dauntingly resilient dioxide community and
this means that atmospheric methane present no especially significant
environmental problem within a long term perspective. It's just in the
short term that it has the potential to cause, and again this is
mainly from the human perspective, havoc. The main problem with
methane is that it is an extremely potent "greenhouse gas" that, over
the time period of 100 years, would have 25 times the impact on the
global temperature as an equivalent initial quantity of carbon
At least from a human perspective it would clearly be better for
methane to burn out than to fade away and, luckily for us, we have the
technology to make it happen. There are well established anaerobic
technologies that allow large quantities of water saturated organic
materials to be injected near the top of large sealed drums so as to
allow methanogenic microbes convert the water and some of the carbon
into carbon rich gas and still leave a proportion of the carbon in a
reasonably solid form of digestate material which gets squeezed out
The only problem with all this is the appearance within natural gas of
a noxious substance called hydrogen sulphide (H2S) It may simply be
regarded to be a smelly cousin of water and yet it harbours a
significant threat to the environment. Perhaps the worst thing about
the release of hydrogen sulphide into the environment is its capacity
to support the generation of sulphuric acid (H2SO4) which, in turn,
would have the capacity to break up molecules of calcium carbonate
(CCaO3) which then has the result of a further release of carbon
However, technologies for the removal of hydrogen sulphide from
natural gas are well established and, even if just for the reason that
the continued inclusion H2S within natural gas would cause a great
level of corrosion within power generation facilities, it may be
suggested that these technologies be used.
The bad thing about methanogenic microbes is that they are really good
at what they do and this has the effect that the solid product of the
anaerobic digestion process will only contain a modest 4.5%9% carbon
content. At a different extreme, crude oil typically boasts a carbon
content of something in the region of 95%. This means that anything up
to 21 units of digestate would need to be deposited into the geosphere
in order to counteract the carbon presence that may be contained
within a single unit of crude oil - but that's not so bad. Crude oil,
at one extreme, is considered to have a relatively high economic value
and is commonly transported across vast distances to enable is vast
worldwide consumption while, towards a very different extreme, the
materials from which digestate is formed frequently cost nothing so as
to produce a digestate product that is considered to be of little
economic value. Farmers may pay the cost required to both take
digestate away so that they can use it as fertiliser on their fields
but they will rarely pay much more than that. The main agricultural
value of the digestate is found in the remaining phosphorus (the
fifteenth most abundant element on earth) and the remaining potassium
(eighteenth in abundance).
According to conventional wisdom anaerobic digesters have always been
placed in the near vicinity of agricultural settings within which the
digestate might be used and yet this does mean that other digestion
facilitates might not be placed in proximity of various centres of
Many digesters would operate on a continual basis and yet another idea
might suggest that some digesters could operate seasonally. This could
work if large outdoor pools could be constructed and this would work
especially well if solar powered heat exchangers might be installed to
keep the pool contents warm. These pools, once cleaned, could provide
needed leisure facilities during the summer months but, following the
fall of autumn leaves, they could be filled up, covered over and used
for the purpose of the generation of energy in winter months in which
it would be most needed. Well that's just an idea.
The main thing is, if the geocycling concept is proved to work through
processes of digestion, that digestion facilities be set up perhaps
in a downhill direction of towns and perhaps in the near proximity
of navigable stretches of water. That would work. It would then be
relatively easy to guide suitably packaged quantities material
downstream and then out to the sea ready to regions where deposition
might be possible.
Another topic is plastic. All forms of plastic include a high carbon
content. A great abundance of plastic get formed and yet, and this is
the bit that beggars belief, little research has been conducted into
its various potential paths of decomposition. Research is urgently
required into the effects of the decomposition of plastic within all
environments especially the cool unpressurised environment of shallow
sediments and the geoheated and pressured environment that will
develop as sediments pile up. Needed research may indicate some forms
of plastic to have detrimental effects on the environment over time
and, in this case, the production of these forms of plastic should
stop. At the other extreme it may be found that certain forms of
plastic may have an acceptable level of suitability for permanent
deposition into sedimentary environments. These plastics may either be
deposited in their own regions or in amongst the digestate mix and
other forms of material may also be found to be suitable for
The current practice within anaerobic systems is that plastic
materials get raked out at the beginning. However, depending on the
potential environmental effects that may be generated by various forms
of plastic, it may prove to be possible for the plastics to get
chopped up instead. Small pieces of non foam plastic would have no
significant ability to take gas with them and yet would still take
along their personal content of carbon.
The next obvious question relates to where to deposit all the carbon.
Landfill presents a number of problems particularly related to the
shortage of areas of land that might be filled. There is also the
problem that the land may be filled to a depth that may allow methane
production to really get going but not to a sufficient depth to make
it stop. In short, landfill has a great efficiency in its production
of not only carbon dioxide but also of uncontrolled methane as well.
The alternative solution is for bioneutral waste materials to be taken
out to sea so as to be deposited into regions of significant
sedimentation. Quantities of material to be either taken out
individually or on mass.
Any boat with spare capacity when heading on out would have a
potential capability to contribute to the process of carbon deposition
and, amongst many options, there are plenty of fishing vessel and oil
tankers that might help out. The people operating these vessels may be
recognised for their bravery in their conduct of a typically lonely
form of work but, all the same, it may be time for them to give
something back. Fishermen may even have the potential to do even more.
Many millions of tonnes of plastic have already been indiscriminately
dumped into the sea. This plastic breaks up into small pieces that
cause all sorts of problems for fish and other sea creatures. However
there is still a chance that large pieces may be picked up by fishing
boats in which case, instead of being thrown straight back, facilities
might be provided for them to be rolled out, compacted or just
packaged and packed with ballast to help them on their downward
One idea would be for bags of waste materials to be, perhaps, floated
out and then brought together to form great rafts in locations above
regions of significant sedimentation. These rafts could then be
weighed down with a covering of substances such as builders waste.
Builders waste would be particularly appropriate due to the high
levels of calcium carbonate within all the concrete and yet any form
of dense material would do.
The use of river sediments might also be quite appropriate. The
cutting in riverbeds could provide significant quantities of ballast
for the deposition of waste out to sea and provide other benefits as
well. A reduction in carbon in the atmosphere would have its own
effect in relation to flood prevention. A cooler climate would have
less ability to bring water up into the sky and, as such, would have
less of the related ability to then drop it. A cooler climate would
also be able to keep large quantities of water stored away in ice with
the result that sea levels would not rise. Then we add the habit of
cutting into river beds so that, once the sediments had settled, there
would be a clearer channel along which the water could flow and a
further reduction in the risk of flooding.
Ballast materials may best be placed towards the centre of the raft as
this would mean that, when the raft is finally cut free from various
buoyancy aids, it might sink like an over sized bowl in an over sized
bath. This large sheet of material would be slowed in its final
descent with large quantities of water being squeezed out from
underneath. There would be a potential for quite a bit of turbulence
with a potential to dislodge a significant quantity of sea bed
sediment along with a number of its inhabitants. These sediments would
then be able to add a further covering to the payload of waste and
things would settle down quite quickly.
There's too much carbon entering the biosphere and, perhaps, the
concept of geocycling may prove to offer an appropriate out. If this
proves to be the case then the then we may be better enabled to
safeguard our future.
Mankind, as far as written history is concerned may have only been
around on our little planet for just about six thousand years. We may
not have been around that long but we don't want to drop out any time
soon. At present we may be likened to the proverbial frog that's
steadily getting boiled in its pan of gradually warming water. Our
options are limited. We certainly have an option to reduce the
increase in the heat and we may even have options to actually reduce
the temperature level but don't currently have the ability to jump. We
have a need to preserve our environment and, if it turns out that we
do have an ability to control the climate, then perhaps we should heed
the arguments to keep things cool.
Updates of this report will appear on the Attempts at Survival website