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UC research curbing our carbon conundrum

11 June 2024

Crushing rocks, injecting CO₂ underground, and burning trees; UC researchers are finding solutions to Aotearoa New Zealand’s 100 million tonne carbon problem.


Photo caption: UC Researcher Professor David Dempsey is finding solutions to help with New Zealand’s 100 million tonne carbon problem.

Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) Associate Professor David Dempsey wants to understand how we can close the loop on current carbon storage solutions, how we store released carbon to be used by industry and perhaps how we might use the excess for an environmentally friendly craft beer or two.

The goal is to remove one million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere each year. “Right now, New Zealand is on course to overshoot its 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) by 100 million tonnes. Engineered carbon removal processes can take a big bite out of this,” Associate Professor Dempsey says.

This research, via the University’s Civil and Natural Resource Engineering Department, will look at different engineered carbon removal processes, identify the best regions for durable carbon storage and develop robust environmental monitoring and carbon accounting frameworks.

For pine forests the process would be a bit like crop farming, whereby you grow the crop (pine trees), cut them down and burn them. The burning process is where the CO₂ and some useful heat is released. Associate Professor Dempsey hopes to capture this and store it underground as negative emissions.

“We’re aiming to providing a solution for New Zealand that could rapidly cut its emissions, offset resources that require carbon in their creation process such as steel, and begin reversing CO₂  levels.”

“Trees have spent hundreds of millions of years fine tuning removing carbon from the air. They are good for offsetting carbon emissions providing you never cut them down, guarantee them against fire and storms, and never run out of land for more forest.”

Associate Professor Dempsey’s research, which would focus on forestry, geothermal, agricultural and mining sectors, would evaluate a range of methods for carbon removal.

One option is injecting captured CO₂ in underground rocks that, when exposed to CO₂, trigger absorption. Another approach is to crush up certain volcanic rocks and spread this on pasture, triggering a CO₂ removal when it rains. This weathering happens naturally but the researchers would look at how much manual intervention could speed the process up.

While there is some research happening in this space overseas, it’s critical New Zealand has its own research, unique to our geographical requirements. 

sdg13 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 - Climate Action.

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