Researchers at the University of Aberdeen are supporting three of five interdisciplinary projects funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
UKRI is investing £30 million in the five Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) demonstrator projects which will be crucial to the UK’s bid to reach NetZero by 2050.
Professor Pete Smith, Professor of Soils & Global Change, and Dr Astley Hastings, Reader in Environmental Science, will investigate if enhanced rock weathering, large-scale tree planting (or afforestation) and rapid scale-up of bioenergy crops are effective methods of removing harmful greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere.
Professor Smith is part of the ‘GHG removal with UK agriculture via enhanced rock weathering’ project team which will explore whether crushed silicate rocks absorb enough CO2 to improve the health and yields of crops.
He said: “Silicate rocks, such as basalt, naturally absorb CO2 when they are exposed to air, and they can be crushed so that they have a larger surface area. As part of this project, we will be spreading rock dust over farmland sites to determine how effective adding crushed rocks to soil is for removing CO2 from the atmosphere. The project will also assess if this process can improve crop health, increase yields and enhance food and soil security in the UK.”
Dr Hastings is part of the ‘NetZero Plus’ project team which will help to implement the planting of 750,000 hectares of trees over 25 years and aims to investigate how to plant “the right tree in the right place”. The team includes the National Trust, Forest Research and more than 20 project partners. He is also involved in the ‘Perennial biomass crops for GHG removal’ project which will address the technical and social barriers to the rapid scale-up of perennial bioenergy crops and will support the implementation of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage in the UK.
Dr Hastings said: “Planting trees is an effective way of absorbing CO2 and producing oxygen, but it can also be counterproductive if trees are planted in areas such as peatlands, which would actually increase emissions. The NetZero Plus project will explore the diverse aspects of forestry to assess the consequences of different tree-planting options and determine the best species and locations for afforestation.
“I will also be supporting the biomass crops project that aims to better understand the carbon capture potential of crops that generate bioenergy. By using the carbon capture process to store CO2 emitted in flue gas underground, instead of releasing it, perennial bioenergy crops can provide a renewable source of biomass fuel whilst maximising CO2 removal. The project will identify methods to speed up the establishment of short rotation coppice willow and Miscanthus energy grass by experimenting with different planting methods and times and using seed propagated varieties of Miscanthus which have been newly developed.”
Dr Tavis Potts, Director of the University’s Centre for Energy Transition, said: “These projects are a key part of the University’s commitment to advancing a low carbon and just energy transition and this is a fantastic opportunity for us to harness our expertise and use innovative technologies to help tackle climate change in the UK.”