Carbon Sequestration

Carbon sequestration is a hot environmental topic that can be translated into a science fair project topic. Scientists are looking for methods to reduce the effects of carbon dioxide on the environment by the “greenhouse effect” by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This process will allow the student to learn about what carbon sequestration is, how the process can effect the environment, and how a carbon sequestration process can be optimized. 

What is Carbon Sequestration?

Carbon sequestration is the process of storing carbon in natural or man-made storage systems.  Naturally, carbon dioxide is captured by trees and stored as other carbon structures within the tree throughout its life.  The formation of fossil fuels over millions of years is another natural carbon sequestration process.

Carbon sequestration can also be performed as part of a manufacturing process. Short term storage of carbon can be achieved through the uptake of carbon dioxide by biomass, such as trees, algae, phytoplankton, or other organisms. For longer term storage, carbon dioxide that is created as a by-product during processes such as petroleum refining can be captured and stored in a variety of ways, including injection into underground aquifers or ocean water.

Carbon Sequestration as a Science Fair Topic

Several approaches can be taken by the student to demonstrate carbon sequestration techniques, or the effects of carbon sequestration, including:

– The effects of iron on the growth of photoplankton to naturally sequester carbon.  Photoplankton naturally absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows and reproduces, and iron can accelerate the growth process.

– Determine which type of algae removes the most amount of carbon dioxide from the air.  These microorganisms absorb carbon dioxide and store it as they grow and reproduce.

– Remove carbon dioxide (considered an acid) from air using a strong base material, using the principles of an acid-base reaction.

– The effects of insect infestations in forests on the premature release of carbon dioxide.  Trees normally lock up carbon for long periods of time, but dead and rotting trees release carbon back into the atmosphere.

Carbon sequestration is already being performed by companies that are capturing carbon dioxide created during manufacturing processes.  This can include carbon dioxide from fuel combustion emissions at coal power plants, or removing carbon dioxide from natural gas using a chemical process.  The carbon dioxide is being pumped into natural or man-made underground reservoirs.