Ornery.org
  Front Page   |   About Ornery.org   |   World Watch   |   Guest Essays   |   Contact Us

The Ornery American Forum Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» The Ornery American Forum » General Comments » Genetic engineering to form better carbon sinks?

 - UBBFriend: Email this page to someone!    
Author Topic: Genetic engineering to form better carbon sinks?
Pete at Home
Member
Member # 429

 - posted      Profile for Pete at Home   Email Pete at Home   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
On another thread

quote:
Incidentally (and to continue to be nitpicky just because I can!), expressing some kind of cellulase would lead to our being able to derive much more nutrition from plant matter, but it wouldn't allow us to digest bark. While lots of bacteria can eat cellulose, the hard part of tree bark is actually something different called lignin, and nobody except fungi can degrade that (and plants figured out how to make lignin long before fungi figured out how to eat it - hence the carboniferous period, sequestration of lots of carbon in beds of non-decaying bark, subsequent relative increase of oxygen in the atmosphere and, according to wikipedia, resulting gigantism of insects and amphibians, since their size was no longer constrained so much by their respiratory capabilities! whew).
Wouldn't removal of so much CO2 from the admonsphere have had a global cooling effect? I guess that was counteracted by the sulfur from the volcanoes. Interesting.

Could we engineer fast-growing redwoods with super-lignin that fungi could not dissolve, as a carbon sink to counteract global warming?

Posts: 44193 | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
TomDavidson
Member
Member # 99

 - posted      Profile for TomDavidson   Email TomDavidson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Could we engineer fast-growing redwoods with super-lignin that fungi could not dissolve, as a carbon sink to counteract global warming?
We could try, but that's harder than it sounds.

For what it's worth, my wife is actually deeply involved in a lignin study -- specifically, trying to find biotechnological ways to break it down more easily in order to facilitate biofuel production.

Posts: 22935 | Registered: Nov 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Pete at Home
Member
Member # 429

 - posted      Profile for Pete at Home   Email Pete at Home   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
What about bioengineering a flame-retardant wood, stronger, faster-growing and more enduring for construction purposes. 1 ton of wood takes out 1.8 tons of C02. If you can prevent it from burning or decaying, that seems like a practical and economical carbon sink.

If fast-growing hardwood is impractical, then what about softwood to make paper that doesn't ever decay. Ugly landfills, but quite a carbon sink, neh?

Posts: 44193 | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Greg Davidson
Member
Member # 3377

 - posted      Profile for Greg Davidson   Email Greg Davidson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Really dumb but sincere question:

We have done a lot over the years to make sure we don't produce plastics that take 500 years to degrade. But wouldn't we all benefit from plastics that take centuries to degrade? Isn't plastic mostly carbon, and thus we would be sequestering carbon in solid form at the bottom of our landfills?

Posts: 4178 | Registered: Dec 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
kenmeer livermaile
Member
Member # 2243

 - posted      Profile for kenmeer livermaile   Email kenmeer livermaile       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Synergistic solutions work best.
Posts: 23297 | Registered: Jan 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
TomDavidson
Member
Member # 99

 - posted      Profile for TomDavidson   Email TomDavidson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
What about bioengineering a flame-retardant wood, stronger, faster-growing and more enduring for construction purposes. 1 ton of wood takes out 1.8 tons of C02. If you can prevent it from burning or decaying, that seems like a practical and economical carbon sink.
The problem here is the financial incentive. Who's going to plant this long-lasting wood? You'd have to charge an arm and a leg for it until it becomes "standard." And it's still going to be burnt or chipped or whatever at some point down the line, so you're still just delaying the release -- for something that's a fraction of our CO2 budget, anyway. The whole "paint your roofs white" bit would, I suspect, actually do more good, more quickly, for less money.

quote:
We have done a lot over the years to make sure we don't produce plastics that take 500 years to degrade. But wouldn't we all benefit from plastics that take centuries to degrade?
Yes. The problem here is that landfill space is still at a premium, new plastics require oil (which will soon be at a premium), and even plastics which biodegrade slowly still leech toxins into the soil wherever they're buried.
Posts: 22935 | Registered: Nov 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
kenmeer livermaile
Member
Member # 2243

 - posted      Profile for kenmeer livermaile   Email kenmeer livermaile       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I wouldn't be surprised if 200 years from now we're on a crash course to dump CO2 back into the environment.
Posts: 23297 | Registered: Jan 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Pete at Home
Member
Member # 429

 - posted      Profile for Pete at Home   Email Pete at Home   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
quote:
What about bioengineering a flame-retardant wood, stronger, faster-growing and more enduring for construction purposes. 1 ton of wood takes out 1.8 tons of C02. If you can prevent it from burning or decaying, that seems like a practical and economical carbon sink.
...
The whole "paint your roofs white" bit would, I suspect, actually do more good, more quickly, for less money.

More quickly, perhaps. More good? Depends how many trees were planted. But it's not an issue of one option or another -- to put a dent in this problem we'd need to be moving on a lot of fronts.

quote:
The problem here is the financial incentive. Who's going to plant this long-lasting wood?
Hell, prison labor, if we have to. Planting trees sounds nicer than stamping plates. But a private enterprise soltion may be feasible, even at first.

quote:
You'd have to charge an arm and a leg for it until it becomes "standard."
Why? There's a market for lumber.

quote:
And it's still going to be burnt or chipped or whatever at some point down the line, so you're still just delaying the release -- for something that's a fraction of our CO2 budget, anyway.
Delay is good. Meanwhile, more trees are growing, more new structures being built to replace the stuff. And natural forests can be protected once you have fast-growing wood going up in tree farms.
Posts: 44193 | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
TomDavidson
Member
Member # 99

 - posted      Profile for TomDavidson   Email TomDavidson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Why? There's a market for lumber.
But this lumber would be both rarer and more expensive than regular lumber, and will not offer many benefits over pressure-treated lumber from the consumer standpoint. (Consider, say, the market for bamboo, which has not developed in America as rapidly as you might expect despite the fact that it is in many ways far superior for certain types of construction.)
Posts: 22935 | Registered: Nov 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Pete at Home
Member
Member # 429

 - posted      Profile for Pete at Home   Email Pete at Home   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
But this lumber would be both rarer and more expensive than regular lumber,
More expensive because of the overhead for the genetic engineering? Or because it's cheaper to cut down a natural forest than to own land and grow trees on it?
Posts: 44193 | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Pete at Home
Member
Member # 429

 - posted      Profile for Pete at Home   Email Pete at Home   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Consider, say, the market for bamboo, which has not developed in America as rapidly as you might expect despite the fact that it is in many ways far superior for certain types of construction
What kinds of construction?

Seems that using bamboo would require considerable retraining of the construction workforce, whereas what I'm describing would not.

I imagine that treated bioengineered lumber would be superior to treated other stuff, otherwise there would probably be little point.

Posts: 44193 | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
TomDavidson
Member
Member # 99

 - posted      Profile for TomDavidson   Email TomDavidson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
More expensive because of the overhead for the genetic engineering? Or because it's cheaper to cut down a natural forest than to own land and grow trees on it?
Both. The genetic engineering isn't cheap, and the company that produced the trees would certainly patent them at a cost that would substantially increase the price per seedling. (Most modern bioengineered crops are deliberately sterilized to maximize profits (and, some insist, reduce ecological impact), too, meaning that we're looking at a consistent outlay for any timber company looking to replant.) Moreover, you're also talking about a decade to grow the first few stands to maturity; this is a substantial up-front investment and a major financial risk for any timber company who'd want to make the switchover.
Posts: 22935 | Registered: Nov 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
kenmeer livermaile
Member
Member # 2243

 - posted      Profile for kenmeer livermaile   Email kenmeer livermaile       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Such long-lasting wood could be planted not as stands per se but as part of housing developments and urban forestry. The funding for this would probably have to come from government or private philanthropy like the Gates Foundation.

Not that I think that absorbing carbon is nearly as important as finding adequate clean energy replacements for all this carbon-emitting stuff we burn now.

Adequate energy is the prime funding for any human endeavour, including mitigating greenhouse gases and their unwanted effects.

[ February 01, 2010, 12:08 PM: Message edited by: kenmeer livermaile ]

Posts: 23297 | Registered: Jan 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
tonylovern
Member
Member # 2580

 - posted      Profile for tonylovern   Email tonylovern   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
doing a search for bioengineered algae to filter emissions comes up with a lot of hits, but not the one i was looking for.

i remember reading about algae used to filter industrial emissions years ago. apparently there are several new fronts. from processing wastewater that gets dumped in the oceans, to creating green fuels, progress is being made all over the place.

considering growth cycles and all around usefulness, algae looks to be more promising than wood.

Posts: 1045 | Registered: Sep 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
TomDavidson
Member
Member # 99

 - posted      Profile for TomDavidson   Email TomDavidson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
*nod* Algae farms may indeed be the wave of the future, especially in places with ample land and a need to remediate their water. They're all fragile monocultures right now, though, and the startup costs have proven to be higher than expected -- much like all the TDP attempts so far, too. But I'm confident that they'll all find their place.
Posts: 22935 | Registered: Nov 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
kenmeer livermaile
Member
Member # 2243

 - posted      Profile for kenmeer livermaile   Email kenmeer livermaile       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
TomD: I read a book called Biomimicry about 12 years ago. I'm guessing your wife would know titles that follow up on its theme. If so, might she recommend some for me?
Posts: 23297 | Registered: Jan 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
kenmeer livermaile
Member
Member # 2243

 - posted      Profile for kenmeer livermaile   Email kenmeer livermaile       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
TDP?
Posts: 23297 | Registered: Jan 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
kenmeer livermaile
Member
Member # 2243

 - posted      Profile for kenmeer livermaile   Email kenmeer livermaile       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Ah: TDP
Posts: 23297 | Registered: Jan 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Mariner
Member
Member # 1618

 - posted      Profile for Mariner   Email Mariner       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Nature has its own ways of providing carbon sinks, so worrying about trying to improve that is a bit irrelevent. In fact, this is yet another reason that the IPCC was overstating the possibility of global warming. They predicted that Mother Nature would be unable to keep up with the accelerating release of CO2, but recent analysis suggests that she has so far.

Besides, you're basically substituting one problem for another by creating very large, very unsightly piles of carbon. As a first approximation, if we were to magically sequester 100% of the CO2 produced from burning coal for electricity in the US and turn it into lignin, we would be creating a pile 1000 ft high and covering 1 square mile... every single year. Not in my backyard! And while you suggested other end uses like construction, this pile (ok, so obviously it'll need to be something else than just lignin) is equivalent to far more wood than we use per year.

Of course, there's a better use for it. If we have a giant pile of lignin sitting around, why not burn that instead of coal for electricity? Then we can magically sequester the carbon again, and burn it again, and then it becomes part of a carbon cycle rather than just a steady stream into the atmosphere. Sure, you're not making any net reductions, but hey, you aren't making any net reductions as long as you're using the coal in the first place.

Or, to put it succinctly, energy use trumps EVERYTHING in the US. If you're going to try to pump more carbon into plant life, then your first thought is going to be to use it for fuel. It's generally the cheapest and easiest route, and you know you will definitely have a market for it.

Hey Tom, can you be more specific about what your wife is working on? Is she working on genetic engineering of the plants themselves, providing better ligninases, or something else? Our lab's got a collaboration with a group working on modifying the lignin within the plants, but I'm not convinced that's the best way to go.

Posts: 538 | Registered: Mar 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
TomDavidson
Member
Member # 99

 - posted      Profile for TomDavidson   Email TomDavidson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
I'm guessing your wife would know titles that follow up on its theme. If so, might she recommend some for me?
I'll ask her. [Smile]

quote:
Hey Tom, can you be more specific about what your wife is working on? Is she working on genetic engineering of the plants themselves, providing better ligninases, or something else?
While the overall focus of the research is indeed bioengineering, she's actually working on developing better test procedures -- mainly because her boss got sick of the ones that were being used. I tease her about her role in this one by accusing her of doing metascience. [Smile] She's got a few irons in the fire right now, luckily, so it's not all that boring. *grin*
Posts: 22935 | Registered: Nov 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
kenmeer livermaile
Member
Member # 2243

 - posted      Profile for kenmeer livermaile   Email kenmeer livermaile       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
"As a first approximation, if we were to magically sequester 100% of the CO2 produced from burning coal for electricity in the US and turn it into lignin, we would be creating a pile 1000 ft high and covering 1 square mile."

They might like that in places like Bangladesh and Pacific Islands currently losing shoreline to rising sea level. Especially if it came from something that also produced the fuel needed to move it there and distribute it to counter-level the seashore.

Posts: 23297 | Registered: Jan 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Ornery.org Front Page

Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.1