Managing UK agriculture with rock dust could absorb up to 45% of atmospheric carbon dioxide needed for net zero
Adding rock dust to UK agricultural soils could absorb up to 45% of the atmospheric carbon dioxide needed to reach net zero, according to a major new study by scientists at the University of Sheffield.
The study, led by Dr Euripides Kantzas, Senior Associate Researcher at the Leverhulme Center for Climate Change Mitigation at the University, provides the first detailed analysis of the potential and costs of removing greenhouse gases by improved weathering in the UK over the next 50 years. .
The authors show that this technique could make a major and overlooked contribution to the UK’s greenhouse gas removal requirement in the coming decades with the potential to remove 6-30 million tonnes. of carbon dioxide per year by 2050. This represents up to 45% of the atmosphere the carbon removal required nationwide to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions alongside reductions in emissions.
Deployment could be simple as the approach uses existing infrastructure and has lower carbon removal costs than other carbon dioxide removal (CDR) strategies, such as direct air capture with carbon storage and bioenergy crops with carbon capture and storage.
A clear benefit of this CDR approach is the potential for major gains for agriculture in terms of reduced nitrous oxide emissions, reversal of yield-limiting soil acidification, and reduced fertilizer demands. imported.
The benefits of reducing reliance on imported food and fertilizers were highlighted by the war in Ukraine which caused food and fertilizer prices to soar around the world, with exports of both halted.
The authors of the study point out that societal acceptance is needed from national policy down to local community and farm level. While mining operations to produce basalt rock dust will generate additional jobs and could contribute to the UK government’s upgrading programme; however, this should be done in a way that is both fair and respectful of the concerns of the local community.
This new study provides much-needed detail on what enhancing rock weathering as a carbon dioxide removal strategy could deliver for the UK’s net zero commitment by 2050. The Committee on Climate Change, which provides independent advice to government on climate change and carbon budgets, overlooked enhanced weathering in their recent net zero report because it needed further research. The new study now indicates that enhanced weathering is comparable to other options on the table and has significant benefits for UK food production and soil health.
Professor David Beerling, director of the Leverhulme Center for Climate Change Mitigation at the University of Sheffield and lead author of the study, said: “Our analysis highlights the potential for UK agriculture to significantly reduce carbon by shifting to managing arable farms with rock dust, with added benefits for soil health and food security.”
Lead author Dr Euripides Kantzas from the Leverhulme Center for Climate Change Mitigation, University of Sheffield, said: “By quantifying the carbon removal potential and co-benefits of amending crops with crushed rock in the UK, we provide a blueprint for rolling out enhanced rock weathering nationwide, adding to the toolbox of solutions for carbon neutral economies.”
Professor Nick Pidgeon, study partner and head of Cardiff University’s Understanding Risk group, said: “Reaching our net zero targets will require widespread changes in the way farming and land in the UK are managed. For this transformation to succeed, we will need to fully engage rural communities and farmers in this important journey. »