Sensors help monitor CO 2 capture

Sheila Zabeu -

December 22, 2021

The European Union recently announced that in 2022 it will create a system to certify carbon sequestration with the aim of establishing a regulated market in this segment and offering a financial incentive to store carbon dioxide (CO2) for the long term in order to offset emissions from sectors such as agriculture and heavy industry.

The European Union’s target is to capture five million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year by 2030. This is only a small fraction of the EU’s total emissions, but with this initiative, the bloc also aims to boost the development of more technologies that help carbon sequestration efforts.

“The development and scaled-up deployment of carbon sequestration solutions is indispensable for climate neutrality and requires significant targeted support over the next decade,” said the European Commission’s letter of intent. 

The removal of carbon from the atmosphere can be carried out through natural processes, such as reforestation, but also through technological solutions which must follow certain principles in order to perform the task correctly. Carbon dioxide must be removed from the atmosphere and stored permanently and safely. In addition, all greenhouse gas emissions associated with the removal process must be accurately calculated and accounted for in the overall balance to ensure, of course, that the volume of CO2 sequestered and permanently stored is greater than the total emitted during the sequestration process. Finally, storage sites should be independently monitored.

Hands on 

Who is already moving to find technological solutions is the Carbon Drawdown Initiative. The institution was founded in January 2020 and is focused on promoting research and investment in startups in the field of what it calls “negative emissions”.

One of the ongoing initiatives is the Carbdown project, implemented by a network of technology companies in the metropolitan area of Nuremberg (Germany) and accompanied by renowned scientists from university centers such as the Alfred Wegener Institute and the universities of Hamburg and Wageningen.  

Source: PRTG Monitoring Software (Paessler)

The focus of the collaboration is accelerated weathering (compared to natural weathering, which would take thousands of years) on arable land, a method of generating negative emissions that adds rocks such as basalt to the soil that will react with CO2. The project aims to develop a measurement method that records the volume of CO2 sequestered per hectare of arable land.

“Monitoring will help us understand which parameters influence the chemical reactions of basalt with CO2. The monitoring data is an important basis for future analyses and comparisons with other values, such as laboratory measurements,” explains Dirk Paessler, founder, and CEO of the Carbon Drawdown Initiative. And with an accurate measurement, farmers will be able to apply to participate in the carbon sequestration market term.

In the European spring of 2021, the project spread basalt and olivine over four fields in different European countries, a total of 40 tonnes per hectare. Hundreds of sensors were buried in the soil to record the chemical reaction. The collected data is sent via middleware to the PRTG Hosted Monitor solution every twenty minutes for analysis.  

In addition to chemical data, such as soil pH value or conductivity, the PRTG Hosted Monitor also collects meteorological data, such as soil and air temperature, precipitation volume, and solar radiation. This data is combined and evaluated with information from other measuring systems and laboratory analyses. According to the project, this is one of the advantages of the solution – being cloud-based, it makes integration with other systems particularly easy. 

Carbdown’s goal is to replicate the project on hundreds or even thousands of crops in the coming years using networked electronic sensors. Besides monitoring and measuring the volume of CO2 captured per hectare, sensors can also be applied to implement automatic solutions for irrigation, fertilization, crop growth monitoring, effort estimation, or protection measures. For example, alarms can be triggered if the soil is too dry or in case of insect infestation. They can also help and optimize resources such as water, fertilizers, and pesticides based on actual needs, with economic and ecological benefits.