Climate change is a defining challenge of the 21st Century. To address it, we must deploy a diverse set of solutions to minimize or reverse global warming and adapt to its impacts. To complement existing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the University of Michigan Energy Institute is developing a new initiative called Beyond Carbon Neutral. This multidisciplinary research effort investigates technologies, processes and policies to increase the rate at which carbon is removed from the global carbon cycle.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from fossil fuel use is the largest source of anthropogenic GHG emissions that are warming the earth’s atmosphere, and a range of critical efforts are currently underway to reduce emissions from these sources. However, long-term climate stabilization goals such as those announced in 2015 in Paris will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with these solutions alone.
Enter Beyond Carbon Neutral, which supports research on carbon dioxide removal (CDR), approaches that increases the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere. This CO2 can then be converted into carbon-based materials that are either sequestered or substituted for fossil carbon. Sometimes called “negative emissions,” what distinguishes CDR is that its aim is not merely to achieve carbon neutrality, but rather to greatly increase the rate of negative emissions through mechanisms that go Beyond Carbon Neutral.
What is carbon dioxide removal?
A well-known example of CDR is reforestation, which can increase the rate of CO2 uptake for decades. Others include agricultural practices that increase soil carbon uptake and other forms of terrestrial carbon management. If productive lands are appropriately managed, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage is a possible CDR mechanism. A range of advanced technologies can also be developed to further expand CDR capability. Beyond Carbon Neutral supports research into each of these areas, examining ways to increase carbon uptake, as well as methods for storing and utilizing excess carbon.
Beyond Carbon Neutral at the University of Michigan
Beyond Carbon Neutral is designed to take the necessary steps to develop this crucial area and raise its profile for action at local and global levels.
The Energy Institute has worked with over 60 faculty to develop more than 45 inventive research proposals investigating different aspects of CDR. These research activities fall into three overlapping areas: the biosphere, technology, and human systems. Some Beyond Carbon Neutral research activities fall clearly into one research area, while others bridge the conceptual divides that too often limit the scope and ambition of academic research.