Enhancing Carbon Sequestration and Reclamation of Degraded Lands with Fossil-Fuel Combustion Byproducts


Funding for this project is from the DOE Office of Fossil Energy through the National Energy Technology Laboratory


The DOE Center for Research on Enhancing Carbon Sequestration in Terrestrial Ecosystems (CSiTE*) currently emphasizes research on forest, prairie, and croplands. This project leverages these activities by expanding CSiTE's research to include lands that have been disturbed by mining, highway construction, or poor management practices. Our approach focuses on amendments with solid byproducts from fossil-fuel combustion, paper production, and biological waste-treatment facilities. The primary goal is to identify and quantify the key factors leading to successful C sequestration and reclamation of degraded lands. The results will be summarized in a set of guidelines containing practical information about matching amendment combinations to land types and optimum site-management practices. A scientific evaluation of existing field sites where such amendments have been applied, and a series of technology transfer workshops with industry partners, will provide the basis for the guidelines. Results from the available literature will be combined with additional new measurements of soil and ecological properties at these sites including (1) the extent and nature of the sequestered C, (2) microbial communities and their influence on greenhouse-gas (CO2, CH4, N2O, NOx) emissions (Figure 1), and (3) redox, alkalinity, toxic metals, and key soil physical properties. Long-term field studies will then be designed and site(s) recommended for the demonstration and further optimization of this approach.

*To better understand options for C sequestration, CSiTE was established in 1999 by DOE Office of Science to be a focus for research on C sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems. CSiTE is distributed among ORNL, PNNL, and ANL. It is focusing its research activities on C sequestration in (1) cropland restored to prairie (at Fermilab, IL), (2) cropland experiencing long-term changes in crop and soil management (at Rodale Institute, PA, and the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory, AL), and (3) long-term forest fertilization/ management field trials in Douglas-fir stands (several northwestern sites) and loblolly pine stands (several southeastern sites). The overriding goal is to provide a scientific basis that will allow enhancement of C sequestration in plants and soils, while at the same time reducing environmental drawbacks of land use. CSiTE has no field research directed at C sequestration on degraded lands, nor do any of the component studies include fossil fuel combustion by-products as tools for C sequestration.

Figure 1. Potential interactions of additions of combustion by-products and organic by- products on greenhouse-gas emissions.

Project Team

Figure 2. Sites in need of reclamation (a. above and b. below). Photos courtesy of Tristram West.

This project is a team effort with investigators from:

  • ORNL - A.V. Palumbo,  J. Zhou, P. J. Mulholland
  • PNNL - J. E. Amonette
  • VPI - W. L. Daniels 

Primary responsibility for microbial measurements and C characterization rests with ORNL. Primary responsibility for geochemical characterization and technology transfer rests with PNNL. Primary site-coordination activities and sampling will rest with OSU and VPI. The entire team will be involved in developing the final guidelines and protocols.

Workshop Information

A workshop was help to plan the scope of technology transfer activities for the coming years. Invited representatives from the fossil energy industry and DOE met with CSiTE scientists to identify (1) sites of opportunity for future field research, and (2) issues related to use of fly ash for reclamation..

Carbon Sequestration and Coal Combustion By-product Links

Project Publications:

  • Pfiffner, S. M., L. S. Fisher, J. Tarver, J. Cantu and C. C. Brandt,  A. V. Palumbo. In press. Relationships among carbon accumulation, soil characteristics, and microbial community structure revealed by PLFA in reclaimed mine soils. Soil Biology and Biochemistry.
  • Palumbo, A. V., J. R. Tarver, L. Fagan, R. Ruther, and J. E. Amonette. 2005. Potential for metal leaching and toxicity from fly ash applied for increasing carbon sequestration in soil. Proceedings of the World of Coal Ash 2005 meeting.  April 11-15, 2005. Conference. Lexington, KY.
  • Palumbo, A. V., S. Fisher, M. Martin, Z. Yang, J. Tarver, S. D. Wullschleger. 2004. Application of emerging tools and techniques for measuring carbon and microbial communities in reclaimed mine soils. Environmental Management. Vol 33, Supplement 1, pp S518
  • Martin, M. Z., S. D. Wullschleger, C. T. Garten, A. V. Palumbo, and J. G. Smith. 2004. Elemental analysis of environmental and biological samples using laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy and pulsed Raman spectroscopy.  Journal of Dispersion Science and Technology 25:687-694.
  • Palumbo, A. V., W. Lee Daniels, J. A. Burger, J. F. McCarthy, Stan Wullschleger, J. E. Amonette, L. S. Fisher. 2004. Prospects for enhancing carbon sequestration and reclamation of degraded lands with fossil-fuel combustion byproducts. Adv. Envir. Res. 8:425-438.
  • Martin, M. Z., S. D. Wullschleger, C. T. Garten , and A. V. Palumbo. 2003. Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy for the environmental determination of total carbon and nitrogen in soils. Appl. Optics. 42:2072-2077.
  • Palumbo, A. V., L.S. Fisher, J.R. Tarver, W.L. Daniels, Z. Yang, S.M. Tiquia, L. Wu, J. Zhou, J. Amonette. 2003. Microbial communities, carbon and nitrogen in mine soils reclaimed with fly ash and biosolids amendments (Issues with the Use of Fly Ash for Carbon Sequestration). In: Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Conference on Carbon Sequestration. May 5-8, 2003. Alexandria, Va.
  • Amonette, J. E., J. Kim, C. K. Russell, A. V. Palumbo, W. L. Daniels. 2003. Fly ash amendments catalyze soil carbon sequestration. In: Proceedings of the Second Annual Conference on Carbon Sequestration. May 5-8, 2003. Alexandria, Va.


For more information, contact:
Anthony V. Palumbo (palumboav@ornl.gov, 865-576-8002)