Carbon Fixing

Carbon fixing is the process in which atmospheric carbon in the form of Carbon Dioxide is converted into organic compounds by plants.

Carbon fixing has been going on for millions and millions of years. The plants have perfected the process. Almost in every part of earth barring where there is sub zero temperature or extreme heat, plants are found and they keep on fixing carbon every day of the year with no breaks.

The balance of carbon that was stored as coal and petroleum has been disturbed in the world as they are being consumed and carbon that was in solid form and liquid form has been changed to gas and into the atmosphere. This causes global warming which can cause the average temperatures to increase by a few degrees. 

Trees are natural sources of fixing  carbon and they are very cheap. Once planted and taken care of for a few years, they become self-sufficient and start to fix carbon without any intervention. This makes it a choice to fix carbon. With that comes other benefits like 

  1. Giving fruits 
  2. Giving flowers 
  3. Place for animals and birds to live.
  4. Stopping soil erosion. 

Due to so many advantages, fixing carbon by planting trees and green vegetation is liked by all. There can be even grass which is fixing carbon and large trees which are fixing carbon. In grass it might not be as visible that they are fixing carbon. But they are as effective. They grow fast, provide nutrition to animals and birds, take part in the carbon cycle, food chain, energy cycle and need zero maintenance. They just sprout with water and keep spreading everywhere. They are really good. 

The carbon fixing can be viewed as a by-product of photosynthesis by the plants. They release water and oxygen and create glucose in this process. Which is fixed in the form of wood. Trees fix carbon in trunk, branches, leaves, roots, fruits, flowers. Carbon is everywhere. They are the primary source of fixing carbon and then it goes from one cycle to another. 

In order to find the mass of carbon  in a tree / grass / shrub etc, approximations are done. As the wood density varies from tree to tree and plant to plant, the content of carbon also varies.

Some approximations have been done based on the tree age and height. But due to the irregular shapes of the trees and branches, the final outcome can always change. Trees cannot be considered as cylinders or cones and volume is calculated. They have root systems, irregular branches, sub branches and leaves. It’s always difficult to use one single equation. 

As can be seen from the chart, the biomass stored in a tree varies with the diameter which varies with the age of the tree. The older the tree the bigger the diameter and more is the biomass. These charts differ from plant to plant and tree to tree. Therefore calculating the same and then finding the actual amount of carbon in a tree is always an exercise. 

Statue of Jan Baptist Van Helmont

From Where Do Plants Get Their Food ?

Do you know the pioneer scientist who did the first ever recorded experiment to try and find out from where the plants and trees got their mass was Jan Baptist Van Helmont. He is considered as a avant-gardist in chemistry and well known for his ‘willow tree experiment’. He even gave the word “gas” to all.

The willow tree experiment.

Jan Baptist conducted a very vigilant and measured experiment on a willow tree. He took 200 pounds of soil and carefully measured it. Then he planted a small willow tree in the soil and covered it entirely so that only the tree can grow and no extra matter can fall into the soil. He precisely measured the amount of water that he was putting in the soil and continued to do this for the next five years. After five years of close speculation, he carefully took out the plant and removed all the soil. Then he measured the soil and the plant separately. He was astonished to find that the soil was less by only 54 grams and the tree had grown by 74 kgs. As he had not allowed anything else to be put in the soil for 5 years except for water, he concluded that the entire mass that the tree gained was from water. This however was not true but this experiment gave a lot to think about for the people to come. Plants get their mass from the air as they break down CO2 to glucose and then wood.