• What Is Biogenic Carbon Measurement?

Environmental Laboratory

What Is Biogenic Carbon Measurement?

Sep 15 2021

The term biogenic carbon refers to carbon which is sequestered or emitted by organic matter, such as trees, plants and soil. The absorption of carbon dioxide is a natural part of photosynthesis, while it can also be emitted into the atmosphere after the lifespan of the organism in question has expired. Alternatively, it can be emitted more rapidly if the organic matter is combusted.

This type of carbon storage is useful from a human perspective, since it provides a natural avenue of mitigating the concentration of carbon in the air. Biogenic carbon measurement concerns itself with quantifying the benefits that biogenic carbon sequestration brings in numeric terms. This article will discuss in further detail what biogenic carbon is, how it’s measured and how it can be used to combat climate change in the future.

What are the benefits of biogenic carbon?

Carbon emissions produced by biomass differ from those generated by fossil fuel combustion because they are part of a natural process which is constantly replenishing and rebalancing itself. Since all biomass absorbs carbon as an innate function of its being, the amount that is emitted during combustion is technically carbon neutral, since it will be absorbed once more after the biomass is regenerated.

At present, around 86% of above-ground biogenic carbon and 73% of soil-based biogenic carbon is found in forested land. This underlines why our forests are often termed “the lungs of the Earth” and highlights why decimation of key areas such as the Amazon are so detrimental to the environment. As such, we must curb deforestation and kick-start reforestation drives as quickly and as widely as possible.

In the UK, it may surprise you to discover that Scotland is head and shoulders above the other nations in terms of its forestation efforts. In 2018, 84% of new trees were planted north of the border, while the country regularly smashes its targets of planting 10,000 hectares of forests per annum. For more information on the good work being done in Holyrood, check out the informative talk Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 – Towards a Better Place for Everyone.

How is biogenic carbon measured?

Since biogenic carbon differs from fossil fuel-produced carbon in the length of time that it absorbs and stores the carbon, it is only logical that measurements are made using carbon dating. This tried and tested technique produces highly reliable results and allows researchers to ascertain what percentage of emissions are biogenic in nature.

As for the benefits of biogenic carbon, these are also measured in terms of time according to the European Commission’s International Reference Lifecycle Data (IRLD) handbook. Specifically, this relates to the amount of time that the carbon is removed from the atmosphere and is defined in terms of a non-variable of 100 years. For example, 1kg of carbon that was removed from the atmosphere for 50 years would have a benefit of 0.5kg.

Of course, that benefit would be rendered negligible if the carbon was released during deforestation efforts which removed the biomass from existence. This is because the carbon that was emitted would not then be reabsorbed by new trees in place of the felled ones. As such, the benefits of biogenic carbon only exist when biomass sources are replenished.


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