A major £30m project will test trees, peat, rock chips, and charcoal as ways of removing climate-heating carbon dioxide emissions
The planting of trees in order to offset carbon dioxide near Carlisle, Cumbria. Large-scale tree planting will be one of the many methods that are used as part of the project.
The climate-heating gas that is carbon dioxide will be removed from the air using trees, peat, rock chips, and charcoal as part of major new trials throughout the United Kingdom.
Scientists said that the past failure to rapidly cut emissions means that some CO2 will need to be removed from the Earth’s atmosphere to reach net zero by the year of 2050 and halt the climate crisis. The £30m government-funded project will be testing ways to do this effectively and affordably on over 100 hectares (247 acres) of nation’s land, making it one of the biggest trials within the entire world.
This comes after the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said that no new fossil fuel boilers should be sold from 2025 onwards, to achieve net-zero emissions. It’s one of the 400 steps on the road towards net-zero proposed by the agency within a special report.
Degraded peatlands will be re-wetted and replanted within the Pennines, as well as in west Wales, while rock chips that absorb the Carbon Dioxide as they break down in soil will be tested on farms in Hertfordshire, Devon and mid-Wales. Special charcoal called biochar will be buried within a sewage disposal site, on former mine sites, as well as railway embankments.
The best large-scale ways to use trees as a to capture carbon will also be examined throughout the UK, including on Ministry of Defence and National Trust land. The last trial will be measuring the carbon removal potential of energy crops such as willow and miscanthus grass for the first time in a commercial scale. These crops would be burned for their energy, with the CO2 emissions being trapped and stored underground.
“This is seriously exciting and pretty much world leading,” said Prof Cameron Hepburn, from the University of Oxford and who is currently leading the coordination of these trials.
“Nobody really wants to be in the situation of having to suck so much CO2 from the atmosphere. But that’s where we are – we’ve delayed [climate action] for too long.”
He emphasised that the cutting of emissions from fossil fuel burning as fast as possible remains paramount to tackling the global heating: “There’s no suggestion that [CO2 removal] is a substitute for reducing our emissions.”
Scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have concluded that there is no way of keeping the rise in the global temperature to the internationally agreed upon target of 1.5C without cutting emissions, as well as removing billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by the year 2050.
This comes after just 20 companies are the source of over half of all of the single-use plastic items that are thrown away globally. That’s the conclusion of a set of analysis of the corporate network that is behind the world’s single-use plastic production.
The UK’s official climate advisers have estimated that the country is likely to need to remove around 100m tonnes of CO2 a year by 2050 in order to reach net zero emissions.
Carbon removal is also deemed as being essential as it will be difficult to halt all emissions from sectors such as air-travel, farming and cement by the year 2050. The new trials are part of a £110m government programme that will also include trials of using technology to scrub carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere.
The coordination hub for these new trials will consider the social, ethical, and legal issues related to removing the carbon. For example, said Hepburn: “If you’re grinding up rocks and putting it on land to grow food, then you want to make sure that what’s going into the food system is completely safe – I’m sure it will be.”