Atmospheric Methane Removal Approaches

Soil Amendments

Rising temperatures are increasing the risk of natural systems releasing methane, which would drive further warming. Existing efforts towards reducing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and removing atmospheric carbon dioxide are crucial, but may be insufficient to maximally decrease the chance of, and then possible impact of, these risks. Atmospheric methane removal approaches are being researched to determine how to remove methane from the atmosphere faster than natural systems alone, in order to help lower peak temperatures and counteract some of the impacts of large-scale natural systems methane releases.

Atmospheric methane removal, should any approaches prove highly scalable, effective, and safe, could help address some of the current 0.5°C—and rising—of methane-driven warming. All proposed atmospheric methane removal approaches are at a very early stage today: some ideas have been proposed, some are being researched in laboratories, but none are yet ready for deployment. Spark believes that accelerating research to develop and assess which, if any, of these approaches might be possible and desirable is an important additional risk mitigation strategy.

A number of atmospheric methane removal approach ideas have been raised—including
soil amendments
, which is currently
, with major breakthrough innovations required to change this
This approach, based on early analysis, will likely require multiple breakthroughs in order to feasibly address atmospheric methane levels. It may hold the most promise if it also delivers separate benefits (e.g. for climate or pollution), as part of systems deployed for other primary reasons, or to address low-concentration methane sources.

Soil Amendments


Soil amendments involve modifying the composition of soils to increase methanotrophy (the consumption of methane by bacteria and archaea). This method mimics a natural sink of methane through soil uptake by methanotrophs.

Various soil amendments are known to increase methanotrophy in some conditions, including silicate dust which may contribute copper and trace inorganic minerals such as lanthanum and cerium, and organic materials such as biochar, cover crop residues, compost, and sewage. While experiments have shown measurable effects on methane fluxes in plot studies and laboratory incubations, none have yet been tested at scale. Other soil amendments may be discovered as well. As soil amendments may affect soil nitrous oxide emissions and soil carbon dynamics depending on the environmental conditions, assessment of their net climate impacts must include assessment of these factors. 

These approaches may warrant additional exploration in natural systems and/or agricultural settings. This overview focuses on the subset of soil amendments that have potential for a net uptake of atmospheric methane. Applying any of these approaches for atmospheric methane removal is at the early stage of conceptualization.  Little is yet known about the potential effectiveness and side effects. 


Learn more about how we evaluate cost plausibility and climate impacts

There is insufficient peer-reviewed literature on soil amendments for methane removal to assess feasibility.

Little is also known about the cost per unit of methane uptake using soil amendments. Cost will depend on the methane uptake rate and capacity and may vary over time or with varying environmental conditions. Raw materials, transport, application, and ongoing monitoring are also factors in the cost.


Learn more about how we evaluate scalability

There is insufficient literature on soil amendments for methane removal to assess scalability. The potential scale may depend on the suitability of the land for methane uptake enhancement and raw material availability.

As a benchmark, a net annual uptake of 10 million metric tons of methane (830 Mt CO2e using GWP20) would require enhancing the current global methane soil sink by 20% to 100%. This requirement might be somewhat less if methanogenesis suppression co-benefits are factored in. 

The scale of soil amendment deployment may be limited by the availability of suitable land and availability of materials, like compost, biochar, silicate dust, or basaltic rock, though these limitations cannot be assessed before the impact of each soil amendment on net methane flux is assessed.

Health & Environmental Considerations

Interventions in natural or agricultural systems must be approached very carefully.  Whatever is added to an agricultural or natural ecosystems must have socially-acceptable impacts on waters from runoff, human health, the productivity of agricultural lands, and the environment. Measuring and testing of possible impacts, first at laboratory scale and then in small-scale field experiments, is a crucial prerequisite for deployment. 

Soil amendments may also have positive impacts, such as improving agricultural productivity, sequestering carbon, reducing nitrous oxide emissions, or decreasing chlorinated hydrocarbon pollutants. These impacts may help incentivize adoption and make solutions more scalable.

Over 40% of ice-free land has been modified by humans, primarily for agriculture. Agricultural soils generally have lower rates of methane uptake (by as much as a factor of 7) relative to native soils, which may present an opportunity to enhance methane uptake on agricultural land without directly affecting natural ecosystems.

Learn More

State of Research
References and Resources
Thank you to
for their contributions to, and review of, this content.
This is live and evolving content, we are always open to well-referenced updates and suggestions, which can be shared here.

Explore Other Potential Approaches

Approaches Overview

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