DAC + BAC – Using Tech and Nature to Combat Climate Change


Should Nature-based CO2 Removal Take Center Stage?

The United Nations’ IPCC recently released a synthesis report on climate change, highlighting the urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and affirming the need for carbon removal.

2022 was a big year for advancing awareness in atmospheric carbon capture, and with all the excitement around technology giants, it’s easy to overlook the tried and true. Enter the underdog: Timber Bamboo. While DAC will undoubtedly play a critical role in long-term carbon removal, BamCore argues in DAC + BAC: A Diversified  Approach to Carbon Removal that it is imperative that we also focus our attention and investment on the time-tested and immediately scalable solution given to us by nature, Biogenic (or Bamboo) Air Capture (BAC).

The 2020s will be a defining decade in the fight against global warming as we work to avoid crucial tipping points. Machine-based direct air capture (DAC) will not be our saving grace as it will take one to two decades to scale up and become cost-effective. DAC plants also require large amounts of concrete and steel to construct, the two highest carbon-emitting materials. This raises the question: will DAC emit more greenhouse gases during set-up and operations than it can capture and store in this critical decade?

DAC would have to be scaled up enormously to be useful. (Supplied: Carbon Engineering).                                                                                                              

In addition to the large price tag (in the trillions), the energy to power DAC at scale is massive.

According to a report by Shell, “Direct air capture is still in its infancy, and while it could one day be a crucial climate tool, it’s hugely energy-intensive. It’s effectively like running a giant air conditioner to cool the atmosphere. In a scenario where the world limits global warming in line with the Paris climate agreement, the final energy demand for direct air capture rises from about nothing today to almost 66 exajoules in 2100. That would be more than the energy needed to heat and power all the world’s homes by then.

We are racing against time and need solutions that can scale quickly.

While we plan for the future of atmospheric carbon removal, we must focus on faster solutions to meet the ticking 1.5°C clock. When comparing the two solutions, it becomes apparent that the many challenges associated with technology-based direct air capture (DAC) do not exist for nature-based biological air capture (BAC).

Of course, BAC is not without its criticisms.

The main challenges for Biogenic Air Capture (BAC) using timber bamboo at scale are land usage and biodiversity preservation concerns. It is important to consider both of these concerns, and research supports the idea that planting timber bamboo on degraded lands can help bring back biodiversity.

Estimates suggest that globally, between 350 million and 1.75 billion hectares of land have been deforested or disturbed. In the tropics and subtropics, where much timber bamboo is native, 500 million hectares of degraded land could be partially or fully remediated through replanting with timber bamboo at little cost.

Managed bamboo plantations have a significant advantage over managed wood plantations regarding biodiversity. Wood plantations are often clear-cut or nearly clear-cut during harvest, causing significant ecological damage and loss of biodiversity. This is necessary commercially because saplings do not grow well in the understory of existing forest canopies.

In contrast, timber bamboo is a regenerative resource that is not clear-cut. Only 20-25% of a clump is harvested every year, leaving the canopy and soil ecosystem intact. Additionally, annual harvesting encourages faster regrowth and stronger culms, ideal for load-bearing construction. This sustainable solution also helps mitigate the global housing crisis and poverty in the global south. To learn more about timber bamboo’s environmental and societal benefits, check out “DAC + BAC: A Diversified Approach to Carbon Removal” and “Carbon Farming with Timber Bamboo.”

Although there are no perfect solutions,

BAC can begin and scale sooner, has less technology deployment risk, is less expensive to establish and operate, has far smaller relative energy requirements, provides the co-benefits of greener buildings and other needed products, and likely has a better externality profile. Diversifying carbon removal approaches to include BAC may be our best bet in addressing climate change and building a sustainable future for all.

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