CSIRO assesses Australia’s carbon sequestration potential

Cover image of the CSIRO Australia's carbon sequestration potential report, which features a male hand holding a rock

Australia’s national science agency CSIRO has published an assessment of 12 carbon sequestration technologies and the role they could play in helping Australia reach net zero emissions.

The report, prepared for the Climate Change Authority with co-funding from the Clean Energy Regulator, looks at a range of carbon sequestration options for supporting Australia’s national emissions reduction goals.

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In this report, carbon sequestration describes the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere; and the management of existing carbon stocks, using natural or engineered solutions.

Co-lead author of the report, CSIRO Towards Net Zero Mission lead Michael Battaglia, said the report brought together scientists with expertise across a range of nature-based and engineered sequestration technologies, to look at their sequestration potential, barriers to uptake, and co-benefits. 

The technologies reviewed were permanent plantings, plantation and farm forestry, natural regeneration of native forest, avoided land clearing, savanna burning, soil carbon, blue carbon, pyrolysis biochar, geological storage (carbon capture and storage), bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), direct air capture (DAC), and mineral carbonation.

“We found that nature-based technologies such as permanent plantings, plantation and farm forestry, and soil carbon currently provide significant potential; as does Australia’s vast geological storage capacity,” Dr Battaglia said.

“Biochar, mineral carbonation and DAC also have significant sequestration potential but are associated with higher costs. Further research and development of these technologies is needed to bring down costs and increase national sequestration potential,” he said.

While the report considers the potential for each technology, it does not analyse the impact of competition for land, resources, or energy between different technologies.

These will be important considerations when it comes to implementation, as it will mean realisable sequestration is likely considerably lower than technical and economic potential sequestration estimates provided in the report.

CSIRO’s CarbonLock Future Science Platform lead Andrew Lenton said to help Australia reach its emissions reduction targets, we will need to remove significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“No single technology will get us there. An integrated and optimised portfolio of technologies will be required,” Dr Lenton said.

A comprehensive integrated assessment modelling approach will need to quantify potential and feasible sequestration opportunities and to guide development at the national and regional scales.

The report will inform an Insights Paper on carbon sequestration being published by the Climate Change Authority, which will help inform the advice to government on Australia’s 2035 emissions reduction target.

Climate Change Authority CEO Brad Archer said understanding Australia’s carbon sequestration potential will help us build greater ambition into our climate targets.

Related article: CSIRO launches Towards Net Zero Mission

“This first ever stocktake of Australia’s carbon sequestration potential provides a valuable synthesis of the current level of understanding. It also identifies ways to improve the evidence base to inform Australia’s options for pathways to net zero and beyond,” Archer said.

“Carbon sequestration could bring many opportunities to Australia’s regions and rural and remote areas, including new income streams, jobs, and valuing and protecting the knowledge and practices of First Nations Australians,” he said. 

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