Passive CO2 removal in urban soils: Evidence from brownfield sites

M. Ehsan Jorat, Mark Goddard, Peter Manning, Hiu Kwan Lau, Samuel Ngeow, Saran Sohi, David Manning

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Management of urban brownfield land can contribute to significant removal of atmospheric CO2 through the development of soil carbonate minerals. However, the potential magnitude and stability of this carbon sink is poorly quantified as previous studies address a limited range of conditions and short durations. Furthermore, the suitability of carbonate-sequestering soils for construction has not been investigated. To address these issues we measured total inorganic carbon, permeability and ground strength in the top 20 cm of soil at 20 brownfield sites in northern England, between 2015 and 2017. Across all sites accumulation occurred at a rate of 1–16 t C ha−1 yr−1, as calcite (CaCO3), corresponding to removal of approximately 4–59 t CO2 ha−1 yr−1, with the highest rate in the first 15 years after demolition. C and O stable isotope analysis of calcite confirms the atmospheric origin of the measured inorganic carbon. Statistical modelling found that pH and the content of fine materials (combined silt and clay content) were the best predictors of the total inorganic carbon content of the samples. Measurement of permeability shows that sites with carbonated soils possess a similar risk of run-off or flooding to sandy soils. Soil strength, measured as in-situ bearing capacity, increased with carbonation. These results demonstrate that the management of urban brownfield land to retain fine material derived from concrete crushing on site following demolition will promote calcite precipitation in soils, and so offers an additional CO2 removal mechanism, with no detrimental effect on drainage and possible improvements in strength. Given the large area of brownfield land that is available for development, the contribution of this process to CO2 removal by urban soils needs to be recognised in CO2 mitigation policies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number135573
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date18 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2020


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