Cover the U.S. in 89 Percent Trees—Or Go Solar

Michigan Tech ‘Latest News’

How many fields of switchgrass and forests of trees would be needed to offset the
energy produced by burning coal? A lot, it turns out.

While demand for energy isn’t dropping, alarms raised by burning fossil fuels in order
to get that energy are getting louder. Solutions to cancel the effects of carbon dumped
into our atmosphere include carbon capture and storage or bio-sequestration. This
zero-emission energy uses technical means as well as plants to take in and store carbon
emissions. Another route is to use solar photovoltaics to convert sunlight directly
into electricity and only sequester the carbon emissions from the production of solar
cells.

The Giving Tree Won’t Give Enough for Carbon Neutral Coal

Zero-emission energy has been offered as a way to offset the carbon dioxide production
while still maintaining coal’s electricity generation. That’s done through carbon
capture and storage in saline aquifers, or by using both enhanced oil recovery and bio-sequestration
through planting trees and other plants to suck up and store carbon.

In a new study published in Scientific Reports (DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-31505-3), a Nature publication, Michigan Technological University researchers analyzed how much land
would be required to offset greenhouse gases created by traditional coal-fired plants
or coal-fired plants with carbon sequestration and then neutralizing the remaining
carbon pollution with bio-sequestration. Then they compared these routes to how much
bio-sequestration would be required to offset greenhouse gases produced when making
solar panels.

For the first time, researchers have shown that there is no comparison. It’s not even
close.

In fact, coal-fired power plants require 13 times more land to be carbon neutral than
the manufacturing of solar panels. We’d have to use a minimum of 62 percent of U.S.
land covered by optimal crops or cover 89 percent of the U.S. with average forests
to do it.

“We …

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