Visualizing Carbon Storage in Earth's Ecosystems
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Visualizing Carbon Storage in Earth’s Ecosystems

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The following content is sponsored by the Carbon Streaming Corporation.

Visualizing Carbon Storage in Earth’s Ecosystems

Each year, the world’s forests absorb roughly 15.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).

To put it in perspective, that’s around three times the annual CO2 emissions of the U.S. or about 40% of global CO2 emissions. For this reason, forests serve as a vital tool in regulating the global temperature and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

In this graphic sponsored by Carbon Streaming Corporation, we look at the Earth’s natural carbon sinks, and break down their carbon storage.

Carbon Storage by Ecosystem

Forests contain several carbon sinks, from living biomass such as roots and leaves to soil. In fact, soil contains nearly twice as much carbon than the atmosphere, plant, and animal life combined.

  • Soil: 2,500 gigatonnes (Gt)
  • Atmosphere: 800 Gt
  • Plant & animal life: 560 Gt

The soil type, vegetation, and climate all affect how carbon is stored. For example, colder and wetter climates promote the most effective carbon storage in soil.

Global Carbon Storage* (Tonnes of carbon per hectare)Vegetation Soil
Wetlands43643
Boreal forests64344
Temperate grasslands7236
Tundra6127
Tropical forests120123
Tropical savannas29117
Temperate forests5796
Croplands280
Deserts and semideserts
242

*Average stored carbon in tonnes per hectare at a ground depth of one meter
Source: IPCC

Wetlands are substantial reservoirs of carbon. Despite occupying only 5-8% of the Earth’s land surface, they hold between 20 to 30% of all estimated organic soil carbon.

Risks to Natural Carbon Sinks

Around 8.1 billion tonnes of CO2 leaks back into the atmosphere each year.

Over the last 20 years, the world has lost about 10% of its tree cover, or 411 million hectares (Mha). The main causes behind this are forestry (119 Mha), commodity-driven deforestation (103 Mha), and wildfires (89 Mha). What’s more, research suggests that Amazon rainforests emit more carbon than they absorb due to record levels of fires, many of which are deliberately set to clear for commodity production.

With the increasing frequency of wildfires and deforestation, the world’s forests are at risk of releasing carbon. Protecting and preserving these biomes is critical to the Earth’s carbon balance and mitigating climate change.

Carbon Credits Provide a Solution

Given the risk of losing critical carbon sinks, carbon credits play an important role in preserving these ecosystems.

Carbon credits can help finance projects that reduce or remove GHG emissions from the atmosphere. From improved forest management to reforestation, there are a number of different types of carbon projects across wetlands, grasslands, and various forests:

  • Reforestation and Afforestation
  • Avoided Deforestation
  • Natural forest management
  • Wetland restoration

For instance, a carbon credit project may preserve endangered tropical lowland peat swamp forests spanning thousands of hectares, such as the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve Project in Indonesia, one of the projects that Carbon Streaming has a carbon credit stream.

Through this project, forests are prevented from being converted into palm oil plantations to reduce and avoid 130 million tonnes of GHG emissions during the 30 years of the project.

Another example would be the Cerrado Biome Project in Brazil, another carbon offset project where Carbon Streaming has a stream agreement. This project is protecting and preserving native forests and grasslands from being converted to commercial agriculture.

Importantly, these projects would not be economically viable without the sale of carbon credits.

Protecting Stored Carbon

To prevent further loss of stored carbon, government policies, NGO-led initiatives, and the financing of carbon offset projects are gaining momentum. Taken together, they offer the critical intervention needed to preserve the earth’s carbon vaults.

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Ranked: Emissions per Capita of the Top 30 U.S. Investor-Owned Utilities

Roughly 25% of all GHG emissions come from electricity production. See how the top 30 IOUs rank by emissions per capita.

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Emissions per Capita of the Top 30 U.S. Investor-Owned Utilities

Approximately 25% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) come from electricity generation.

Subsequently, this means investor-owned utilities (IOUs) will have a crucial role to play around carbon reduction initiatives. This is particularly true for the top 30 IOUs, where almost 75% of utility customers get their electricity from.

This infographic from the National Public Utilities Council ranks the largest IOUs by emissions per capita. By accounting for the varying customer bases they serve, we get a more accurate look at their green energy practices. Here’s how they line up.

Per Capita Rankings

The emissions per capita rankings for the top 30 investor-owned utilities have large disparities from one another.

Totals range from a high of 25.8 tons of CO2 per customer annually to a low of 0.5 tons.

UtilityEmissions Per Capita (CO2 tons per year)Total Emissions (M)
TransAlta25.816.3
Vistra22.497.0
OGE Energy21.518.2
AES Corporation19.849.9
Southern Company18.077.8
Evergy14.623.6
Alliant Energy14.414.1
DTE Energy14.229.0
Berkshire Hathaway Energy14.057.2
Entergy13.840.5
WEC Energy13.522.2
Ameren12.831.6
Duke Energy12.096.6
Xcel Energy11.943.3
Dominion Energy11.037.8
Emera11.016.6
PNM Resources10.55.6
PPL Corporation10.428.7
American Electric Power9.250.9
Consumers Energy8.716.1
NRG Energy8.229.8
Florida Power and Light8.041.0
Portland General Electric7.66.9
Fortis Inc.6.112.6
Avangrid5.111.6
PSEG3.99.0
Exelon3.834.0
Consolidated Edison1.66.3
Pacific Gas and Electric0.52.6
Next Era Energy Resources01.1

PNM Resources data is from 2019, all other data is as of 2020

Let’s start by looking at the higher scoring IOUs.

TransAlta

TransAlta emits 25.8 tons of CO2 emissions per customer, the largest of any utility on a per capita basis. Altogether, the company’s 630,000 customers emit 16.3 million metric tons. On a recent earnings call, its management discussed clear intent to phase out coal and grow their renewables mix by doubling their renewables fleet. And so far it appears they’ve been making good on their promise, having shut down the Canadian Highvale coal mine recently.

Vistra

Vistra had the highest total emissions at 97 million tons of CO2 per year and is almost exclusively a coal and gas generator. However, the company announced plans for 60% reductions in CO2 emissions by 2030 and is striving to be carbon neutral by 2050. As the highest total emitter, this transition would make a noticeable impact on total utility emissions if successful.

Currently, based on their 4.3 million customers, Vistra sees per capita emissions of 22.4 tons a year. The utility is a key electricity provider for Texas, ad here’s how their electricity mix compares to that of the state as a whole:

Energy SourceVistraState of Texas
Gas63%52%
Coal29%15%
Nuclear6%9%
Renewables1%24%
Oil1%0%

Despite their ambitious green energy pledges, for now only 1% of Vistra’s electricity comes from renewables compared to 24% for Texas, where wind energy is prospering.

Based on those scores, the average customer from some of the highest emitting utility groups emit about the same as a customer from each of the bottom seven, who clearly have greener energy practices. Let’s take a closer look at emissions for some of the bottom scoring entities.

Utilities With The Greenest Energy Practices

Groups with the lowest carbon emission scores are in many ways leaders on the path towards a greener future.

Exelon

Exelon emits only 3.8 tons of CO2 emissions per capita annually and is one of the top clean power generators across the Americas. In the last decade they’ve reduced their GHG emissions by 18 million metric tons, and have recently teamed up with the state of Illinois through the Clean Energy Jobs Act. Through this, Exelon will receive $700 million in subsidies as it phases out coal and gas plants to meet 2030 and 2045 targets.

Consolidated Edison

Consolidated Edison serves nearly 4 million customers with a large chunk coming from New York state. Altogether, they emit 1.6 tons of CO2 emissions per capita from their electricity generation.

The utility group is making notable strides towards a sustainable future by expanding its renewable projects and testing higher capacity limits. In addition, they are often praised for their financial management and carry the title of dividend aristocrat, having increased their dividend for 47 years and counting. In fact, this is the longest out of any utility company in the S&P 500.

A Sustainable Tomorrow

Altogether, utilities will have a pivotal role to play in decarbonization efforts. This is particularly true for the top 30 U.S. IOUs, who collectively serve 60 million Americans, or one-fifth of the U.S. population.

Ultimately, this means a unique moment for utilities is emerging. As the transition toward cleaner energy continues and various groups push to achieve their goals, all eyes will be on utilities to deliver.

The National Public Utilities Council is the go-to resource to learn how utilities can lead in the path towards decarbonization.

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The Road to Decarbonization: How Asphalt is Affecting the Planet

The U.S. alone generates ∼12 million tons of asphalt shingles tear-off waste and installation scrap every year and more than 90% of it is dumped into landfills.

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Road to Decarbonization - How Asphalt is Affecting the Planet

The Road to Decarbonization: How Asphalt is Affecting the Planet

Asphalt, also known as bitumen, has various applications in the modern economy, with annual demand reaching 110 million tons globally.

Until the 20th century, natural asphalt made from decomposed plants accounted for the majority of asphalt production. Today, most asphalt is refined from crude oil.

This graphic, sponsored by Northstar Clean Technologies, shows how new technologies to reuse and recycle asphalt can help protect the environment.

The Impact of Climate Change

Pollution from vehicles is expected to decline as electric vehicles replace internal combustion engines.

But pollution from asphalt could actually increase in the next decades because of rising temperatures in some parts of the Earth. When subjected to extreme temperatures, asphalt releases harmful greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere.

Emissions from Road Construction (Source) CO2 equivalent (%)
Asphalt 28%
Concrete18%
Excavators and Haulers16%
Trucks13%
Crushing Plant 10%
Galvanized Steel 6%
Reinforced Steel6%
Plastic Piping 2%
Geotextile1%

Asphalt paved surfaces and roofs make up approximately 45% and 20% of surfaces in U.S. cities, respectively. Furthermore, 75% of single-family detached homes in Canada and the U.S. have asphalt shingles on their roofs.

Reducing the Environmental Impact of Asphalt

Similar to roads, asphalt shingles have oil as the primary component, which is especially harmful to the environment.

Shingles do not decompose or biodegrade. The U.S. alone generates ∼12 million tons of asphalt shingles tear-off waste and installation scrap every year and more than 90% of it is dumped into landfills, the equivalent of 20 million barrels of oil.

But most of it can be reused, rather than taking up valuable landfill space.

Using technology, the primary components in shingles can be repurposed into liquid asphalt, aggregate, and fiber, for use in road construction, embankments, and new shingles.

Providing the construction industry with clean, sustainable processing solutions is also a big business opportunity. Canada alone is a $1.3 billion market for recovering and reprocessing shingles.

Northstar Clean Technologies is the only public company that repurposes 99% of asphalt shingles components that otherwise go to landfills.

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