The alarming increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is a primary focus in discussions about the current climate crisis. Yet an even more potent greenhouse gas is threatening Earth’s environment: methane.
Now, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, or NAS, has formed a consortium of world experts to explore methods for removing methane from the atmosphere.
Atmospheric methane removal represents one category of negative emissions technologies, designed to help achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and address the growing threats and current issues associated with climate change.
Hinsby Cadillo-Quiroz, a researcher with the Biodesign Institute's Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at Arizona State University, has been appointed to the prestigious committee. Cadillo-Quiroz’s extensive knowledge of the microbial physiology of methanogens and methanotrophs, ecosystem studies of methane emissions and collaborations on landscape-level assessments of atmospheric methane will be an invaluable contribution as the working group.
"It is an incredible honor to contribute my interdisciplinary background to the efforts of NAS in assessing alternatives for removal of atmospheric methane,” Cadillo-Quiroz said. “The biology of methane formation and removal is biochemically exquisite, ecologically complex and technologically widespread, with large space for growth. ASU's collaborative atmosphere plus my technical background has prepared me well for this contribution."
Cadillo-Quiroz is also an associate faculty member with the Biodesign Institute's Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics and associate professor with the School of Life Sciences.
“Professor Cadillo-Quiroz is an expert in methane-producing microbial bioprocesses as they occur all over the world, from peatlands in the Amazon to landfills, lakes and forests in North America,” said Wim Vermaas, Foundation Professor and associate director of research and training initiatives at the School of Life Sciences.
Methane emissions arise from various sources, including agriculture, waste management, fossil fuel production and natural processes. Atmospheric methane removal refers to the process of capturing and removing methane from the atmosphere to mitigate its contribution to climate change.
Methane (CH4) is a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential approximately 28 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period. Various approaches and technologies have been proposed for atmospheric methane removal, which include:
- Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, a process that involves growing biomass to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, then converting the biomass into bioenergy while capturing and storing the emitted CO2 and methane.
- Enhanced methane oxidation, which makes use of methane-oxidizing bacteria or other means to facilitate the conversion of methane into less harmful substances.
- Direct air capture technologies, which attempt to capture methane directly from the atmosphere using adsorbents or membranes, then converting the methane into another form, storing it securely or lysing it as safely done by sun irradiation.
"Although several early approaches to limit or remove atmospheric CH4 are in development, the scale needed, the economics and social costs, and the urgency for action require examining the potential for diverse strategies, cohesive efforts and socially responsible goals to maximize the impact of natural and engineered solutions,” Cadillo-Quiroz said.
The NAS will investigate the necessity for atmospheric methane removal, evaluate potential risks and benefits of proposed technological solutions, and suggest research that could further understanding of the issues involved.
The panel will address topics including the specific circumstances that may require atmospheric methane removal; viable alternatives for atmospheric methane removal; amounts of methane each option could remove from the atmosphere; and the costs of deployment, technological effectiveness, scalability, potential risks, and major uncertainties and challenges.
Bruce Rittmann, director of the Swette Center, notes that establishing the NAS committee underscores that “methane in the atmosphere is going to become a dominant factor in global climate change. Dr. Cadillo-Quiroz is uniquely knowledgeable about the factors that add and subtract methane from the atmosphere. He will be a critically important committee member.”
The group will also explore the potential tradeoffs, co-benefits and unintended consequences of atmospheric methane removal technologies, as well as social barriers that may exist.
“Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, and understanding the reasons behind rising atmospheric methane levels is just as important as trying to curb atmospheric CO2 levels,” Vermaas said. “With Professor Cadillo-Quiroz’ background and interest in biological methane production and transformation, he is in an excellent position to be a key contributor to the National Academy of Sciences Committee that is tasked with developing a research agenda toward atmospheric methane removal.”
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