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The Shell Center for Sustainability's mission is to foster an interdisciplinary program of research, outreach, and education to address actions that can be taken to ensure the sustainable development of communities' living standards, interpreted broadly, to encompass all factors affecting the overall quality of life.


A Low-Risk Method To Increase Agricultural Productivity And Water Quality


Carrie Masiello, Ph.D., Department of Earth Science, Rice University
William Hockaday, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Earth Science, Rice University
Kyriacos Zygourakis, Ph.D., Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Rice University

 Carrie Masiello 
Dr. Carrie Masiello
 Kyriakos Zygourakis 
Dr. Kyriacos Zygourakis
 William Hockaday
Dr. William Hockaday

Project Background

A growing concern among scientists and others is that higher concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) will result in unpredictable and potentially dangerous changes in the Earth's climate. This project will create a study team at Rice University that will explore various environmentally favorable and economically sound ways to control and reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases. The long term goal of this study team is to create an integrated set of Houston-area demonstration projects for carbon capture and sequestration.

A series of workshops and meetings with industry will contribute to forming a research agenda, public outreach on the various technologies available to contribute to carbon management, a website on carbon management technologies, and long term demonstration project strategy for Texas. Because of the concentration of industrial and academic talent in the energy sector, Houston has the potential to become a global leader in developing, demonstrating and carrying out technologically, environmentally and financially sound methods for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

The Rice carbon management study group is a first step toward developing carbon reduction and demonstration projects, including the possible creation of terrestrial sequestration sites and a FutureGen power generation pilot plant that can establish Houston at the forefront of such development. Shell Center and Baker Institute funds will enable the research team to organize and convene the workshop at Rice University to discuss the parameters for building a private/public partnership to implement a pilot project in Houston.

Research Background

The most important driver of human-caused greenhouse effect is CO2 released through burning of fossil fuels. To ensure a sustainable energy future, our economy must move away from our current carbon-based energy sources. Climate models suggest that we must immediately begin mitigating atmospheric CO2

Successful mitigation of atmospheric CO2 pollution will require not one, but many solutions implemented in concert.  As part of this mitigation effort, a number of carbon sequestration strategies have been proposed, ranging from large-scale afforestation and reforestation in terrestrial ecosystems; post-combustion capture of CO2 at coal-fired power generation plants; and pumping of the compressed gas into deep ocean and geological formations.

These approaches are stop-gap measures because carbon sequestered by growing trees will return to the atmosphere within a human lifetime. Doubts also exist about the feasibility of carbon sequestration in oceans, oil or natural gas wells or deep aquifers.  There aren’t enough deep oil and natural gas wells in the US to hold all the CO2 we produce in the next 10-15 years.

It is clear that effective carbon sequestration must be based on sustainable processes that provide safe, stable carbon sinks with enough capacity to sequester a substantial fraction of human -caused CO2 emissions.

This research addresses a novel terrestrial carbon sequestration technique, bio-char soil amendment. This sequestration approach is low-risk; has the potential to sequester large amounts of carbon each year into long-term reservoirs; increases agricultural productivity; and improves water quality.

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Outreach Activities

Climate Change & Carbon Management 
September 14, 2004 Seminar

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