Carbon removal includes the natural and technological processes that remove excess carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it permanently underground, in plants and soils, or in durable products, reducing net emissions into the atmosphere.
(For instance, natural, ecological processes such as photosynthesis enable CO2 storage in trees, native grasslands, and soils. On the other hand, when forests are degraded and lands are poorly managed, net global carbon emissions increase.) Since 2005, the amount of natural carbon removed in the U.S. has remained relatively constant: enough to offset about 12 percent of the country’s CO2 emissions.
In addition to natural processes, technological strategies for carbon removal and storage do exist—though they have not been deployed at scale. Direct air capture (DAC) uses machines to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it safely underground. Bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS) involves using carbon removal technologies to capture and store CO2 from biomass use or combustion.
Along with deep decarbonization across all sectors of the economy, carbon removal is essential to getting to net-zero emissions by mid-century. This will require both natural and technological means of removal, such as enhanced carbon uptake from forests, adjusted agricultural practices, and large-scale deployment of DAC with sequestration.
Carbon Removal Focus Areas
Natural ecosystems like forests, mangroves, peatlands, and tidal marshes have an exceptional capacity to remove carbon from the atmosphere and oceans. Plants and soils absorb carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis and store it in biomass and sediment.
There are also commercial technologies that can remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, offsetting current or past greenhouse gas emissions. For example, direct air capture (DAC) pulls excess carbon dioxide directly from the ambient air.