Putting Bioenergy on the Map
Pinpointing where to 'lock' carbon into the soil with special crops.
The potential carbon-cutting benefits of bioenergy crops are well known. But considerable uncertainty exists regarding the crops’ impact on soil processes and on soil’s long-term potential to sequester carbon. The Carbo-BioCrop project – part of the Natural Environment Research Council’s LWEC-accredited Land-Based Renewables programme – is tackling this knowledge gap. Its ultimate aim is to produce detailed maps of the UK showing exactly where bioenergy plantations can be located to maximise carbon capture, aiding government policy-making and helping bioenergy companies decide where to site their crops.
“Almost nothing is known about how bioenergy crops affect soil processes that contribute to the carbon budget of bioenergy systems”, says Professor Gail Taylor, who is leading the initiative. “Starting this summer, field tests will generate data on key questions such as the amount of carbon that biocrops lock into different soils, how long it resides there and how this impacts crop productivity. This will make it possible to pinpoint where soils are most conducive to optimising carbon lock-in.”
Data from a parallel project recently announced by the Energy Technologies Institute will supplement results produced by Carbo-BioCrop. The potential to feed ‘biochar' – a carbon-rich waste product from bio-oil manufacture – into the soil at bioenergy plantations in order to boost crop yields and to lock-in this carbon will also be assessed.
Professor Taylor is clear about the impact Carbo-BioCrop could have:
“We could change preconceptions about where it’s best to grow bioenergy crops, which will have a pivotal role to play if the UK is to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets.”