September 28, 2014

How My Neighbor Larry Captures and Sequesters Carbon Dioxide.

Keep plant waste from decaying to remove CO2 from the air.

by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News

He smokes.
He drives a big pickup truck.
He made his money doing something with trailer homes.
He's a typical "Good Ol' Boy." (And one of the nicest guys you ever want to meet.)

He's the last person you'd expect to be capturing and sequestering carbon.

But he does. (Although he doesn't know it, or recognize his efforts as such.) His carbon storage efforts start every time he turns the key of his zero-turn radius riding lawn mower.

You see, unlike most of us who let the lawn mower mulch the grass as it cuts, or just lets it fly on the lawn, Larry bags his grass clippings and puts it out with the trash, to be buried in the county landfill.

And what the heck does does Larry's bagged grass clippings have to with carbon sequestration?

It goes like this:

All plants, as they grow, take in carbon dioxide from the air and use it to build their structures, like a leaf, a tree branch, a flower, fruit or a blade of grass. Trees are best known for removing carbon from the air because trees are large and live for decades keeping tonnage of absorbed atmospheric carbon locked away for that time. Further, the wood from a tree is often used to build something - a house or a piece of furniture perhaps - keeping the carbon stored for many more years or as long as that old house or antique chair holds together.

Grass, like all other plants, also sucks up lots of carbon as it grows. Possibly more than trees. (Here in Florida you can almost watch the grass grow.) But as soon as grass gets cut, the clippings die and begin to decay, and that carbon slowly moves back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or even methane. Grass, like most plants that aren't trees, is carbon neutral.

Except for Larry's grass.

Since he's putting his clippings in tight plastic bags, and the bags are being hauled off to the dump, his dead, cut, sealed-in-a-bag grass, is not releasing its carbon back to the atmosphere. It's captured in his Hefty bags and soon buried underground covered air tight with dirt: carbon is captured and sequestered permanently.

So imagine this. What if everyone took the Larry approach and sent their cut lawn grass to the landfill as a way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere? It would probably help cut CO2 in the air. Maybe rather dramatically. However landfills would soon fill up. But there could be other approaches, other ways to keep the carbon stored. One, the grass could be used to make something, like bioplastics for instance, that could become carbon-storing durable products. Or two, the methane that decaying grass produces could be collected and used as source of energy displacing some natural gas thus reducing CO2 in the atmosphere that shouldn't be there.

There's only so many trees in the world, and it seems we're cutting down more than we're planting making the CO2 build-up on the planet worse. However, the world isn't a big parking lot (yet) either. It's still pretty green. Much of the world's land is used for agriculture, it's still open grasslands for grazing, and, of course, in suburbia there are lawns like Larry's. If we collected more of the world's plant waste and did something with it to keep it from decaying, we'd be reducing the amount of CO2 faster than what trees can do by themselves.

A whole new, wealth and job creating industry could be built around products and materials made with atmospheric carbon.

Right now lawns are carbon neutral, or perhaps carbon positive if you include the fuel burned to cut it. Grass collection could change that. And frankly we might have better lawns. Larry's always looks great.

Larry's a natural environmentalist. Loves his plants. Nobody has to tell him to be careful with nature. But I'll never speak the words "global warming" to him. However, he's a good friend and great neighbor. And whether he knows it or not he's helping the environment. He cuts his grass at least twice a week this time of year when the rains come nearly every day. He's taking a lot of carbon out of the air and locking it in a landfill. Are you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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