West Virginia’s history is carbon-based. Its’ future could be too, according to a recently published policy guidebook. “Carbon Dioxide Removal and West Virginia: A Science & Technology Perspective” analyzes the coming carbon removal industry, and provides suggestions for policymakers to aid in bringing that development to the state. The guidebook was created by West Virginia University’s Bridge Initiative for Science & Technology Policy, Leadership, and Communication, and utilizes qualitative data, such as stakeholder views and knowledge derived from roundtable conversations, coupled with quantitative data to provide information and tools to West Virginia’s policymakers. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) involves taking “legacy” carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the atmosphere through different means. CO2 is emitted from burning fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, for power generation and industrial use, as well as in other everyday functions. Coupled with emissions reduction and mitigation efforts from the sources of CO2 emissions, the two approaches are planned to be used in tandem to combat overall climate change, and meet the emission reduction targets of the Paris Accord. The guidebook ultimately argues that West Virginia is faced with an opportunity to be a leader in CDR by laying groundwork today that will aid in future development, and is uniquely suited with the natural resources needed for CDR implementation. The resources noted in the guidebook include WV’s forestlands, soils, agriculture, wetlands, and underground geological formations for storage; all of which, the guidebook states, present opportunities for a variety of CDR techniques to be deployed. Specifically, three CDR technologies have been recommended for potential use in West Virginia: natural carbon removal, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and direct air capture (DAC). These methods are very different, but have application in West Virginia due to its existing resources. For example, natural carbon removal is the process by which carbon dioxide is removed naturally from the atmosphere and sequestered in the ground through plant respiration. WV’s vast forests, soil composition, and wetlands all aid in the sequestration potential through natural CDR. DAC refers to, as the name suggests, the process in which carbon dioxide is extracted directly from the atmosphere. In this process, air is pulled through a machine full of carbon dioxide-trapping materials that collect the greenhouse gas to later be stored. BECCS shares the same end process as DAC, storing or sequestering the collected CO2. However, the CO2 collected in BECCS is created from the burning of biomass, often agricultural and municipal waste, which creates biofuels and other products. The CO2 generated in this process is collected at the combustion site. The guidebook states that there are real opportunities for significant CO2 removal in WV. According to their analysis, CDR development could negate between 3.8 and 30.0 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2050. However, there are challenges to CDR development in West Virginia and nationally. As it is an emerging industry, there are many unknowns about its true potential, both environmentally and economically, for CDR implementation. A key challenge is the coordination of development, as the economic feasibility of CDR increases if DAC and BECCS sites are located near the additional infrastructure needed such as CO2 sequestration sites, and bioenergy markets. To this end, the guidebook lists a series of 10 recommendations that policymakers can begin to consider now to further facilitate CDR development in the state. The overarching theme of each recommendation is the need for additional research, and the funding that makes such research possible, into the multitude of factors that play key roles in CDR development. The full guidebook and ancillary materials can be found here.
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