Could part of the answer to saving the Earth from global warming lie in the earth beneath our feet?
A team from Newcastle University aims to design soils that can remove carbon from the atmosphere, permanently and cost-effectively. This has never previously been attempted anywhere in the world. The research is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
The concept underlying the initiative exploits the fact that plants, crops and trees naturally absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) during photosynthesis and then pump surplus carbon through their roots into the earth around them. In most soils, much of this carbon can escape back to the atmosphere or enters groundwater.
But in soils containing calcium-bearing silicates (natural or man-made), the team believe the carbon that oozes out of a plants roots may react with the calcium to form the harmless mineral calcium carbonate. The carbon then stays securely locked in the calcium carbonate, which simply remains in the soil, close to the plants roots, in the form of a coating on pebbles or as grains.
The scientists are investigating whether this process occurs as it may encourage the growing of more plants, crops etc in places where calcium-rich soils already exist. It would also open up the prospect that bespoke soils can be designed (i.e. with added calcium silicates, or specific plants) which optimise the carbon-capture process. Such soils could play a valuable role in carbon abatement all over the globe.
The team will first try to detect calcium carbonate in natural soils that have developed on top of calcium-rich rocks or been exposed to concrete dust (which contains man-made calcium silicates). They will then study artificial soils made at the University from a mixture of compost and calcium-rich rock. Finally, they will grow plants in purpose-made soils containing a high level of calcium silicates and monitor accumulati
|Contact: Natasha Richardson|
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council