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Carbon Sequestration Focus Areas

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Enhancing the Natural Terrestrial Cycle: Research will identify ways to enhance carbon sequestration of the terrestrial biosphere through CO2 removal from the atmosphere by vegetation and storage in biomass and soils. This includes the development of effective approaches to enhance potential sequestration in part through advances in the fundamental understanding of biological and ecological processes and the formation of soil organic matter in unmanaged and managed terrestrial ecosystems, including wetlands. It also includes efforts to understand ecological consequences of carbon sequestration. The research strategy focuses on those properties and processes of ecosystems for which alteration can offer significant potential for enhancing the net sequestration of carbon.

Relevant technical areas of research include: (1) increasing the net fixation of atmospheric carbon dioxide by terrestrial vegetation with emphasis on physiology and rates of photosynthesis of vascular plants, (2) retaining carbon and enhancing the transformation of carbon to soil organic matter; (3) reducing the emission of CO2 from soils cause by heterotrophic oxidation of soil organic carbon; and (3) increasing the capacity of deserts and degraded lands to sequester carbon.

Carbon Sequestration in the Oceans: The ocean represents a large potential sink for sequestration of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Two strategies for enhancing carbon sequestration are 1) the enhancement of the net oceanic uptake from the atmosphere by fertilization of phytoplankton with micro- or macronutrients, and 2) the direct injection of a relatively pure CO2 stream to ocean depths greater than 1000 meters. Sources of CO2 for direct injection might include power plants, industries or other sources. The long term effectiveness and potential environmental consequences of ocean sequestration by either sequestration strategy are unknown.

Research areas relevant to DOE's mission in carbon management include: 1) environmental consequences of long term ocean fertilization; 2) effectiveness of ocean fertilization on a large scale; 3) environmental consequences of direct injection of CO2 into the ocean in midwater or deep sea habitats; and 4) effectiveness of direct injection of CO2 for carbon sequestration.

Sequencing Genomes of Micro-organism for Carbon Management: The BER human genome program has made significant investments in the technology that enables genome sequencing at rates previously unattainable. Capitalizing on these investments, the genomes of microbes that either produce fuels such as methane and hydrogen or that aid in carbon sequestration will be sequenced. This will enable the identification of the key genetic components of the organisms that regulate the production or capture of these gases. New research is being initiated to characterize key reaction pathways or regulatory networks in these microbes following the determination of their DNA sequence. Understanding more fully how the enzymes and organisms operate, we will be able to evaluate their potential use to produce, for example, methane or hydrogen from either fossil fuels or other carbonaceous sources, including biomass or even some waste products. Recently discovered "extremophile" organisms could be used to engineer biological entities that could ingest a feedstock such as methane, sequester the carbon dioxide, and give off hydrogen. Much of the living material responsible for natural carbon dioxide absorption, both on land and at sea, is microbial. Understanding how carbon dioxide "sinks" perform so we can enhance the ongoing natural processes may add powerful new measures to carbon management options.

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