£8.6 million research programme looks to counter impact of global warming

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A new research programme with cross-research council and Government support will look at new ways to counteract global warming by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

The £8.6 million programme will involve around 100 researchers from 40 UK universities and partner organisations, and will investigate how a variety of different methods can be utilised to remove greenhouse gas.

The UK is committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Alongside significant emission reductions, large-scale removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere could considerably increase the likelihood of achieving this goal.

Researchers supported by the programme will look to answer major questions about the feasibility of potential approaches to large-scale removal by evaluating a variety of options.

These will include:

  • investigating the potential for using waste materials from mining as a greenhouse gas removal technique
  • increasing carbon storage in agricultural soil and forests
  • using bioenergy crops in power stations in combination with carbon capture and storage methods.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are jointly funding the initiative, while the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the Met Office are providing in-kind support.

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s Chief Executive and the former Chair of Research Councils UK, said: “Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the planet. Through multidisciplinary projects such as these, the UK’s research community will play a crucial role in exploring new ways to counter the impact of global warming.

“This joint endeavour by the research councils and Government underlines the UK’s commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement, and will look to provide valuable insights to inform future decision-making.”

Four interdisciplinary, multi-institute consortium and seven topic-specific projects have been awarded funding.

Summaries of the four multiple-institute consortium projects funded:

Soil research to deliver greenhouse gas removals and abatement technologies.

Led by: Professor Peter Smith, University of Aberdeen

This study will analyse the global potential for soil-based greenhouse gas removal, and how this varies by practice and region. This will include investigating the social, cultural and ecological impacts, current policies that prevent implementation and future policies that may enable wider adoption, managing risks, and integration with other greenhouse gas removal approaches.

Feasibility of afforestation and biomass energy with carbon capture storage for greenhouse gas removal

Led by Dr Naomi Vaughan, University of East Anglia

This study will investigate whether increased biological removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (with either natural or managed carbon storage) could deliver significant climatic benefits, and evaluate the environmental, technical, economic, policy and societal implications of such approaches.

Releasing divalent cations to sequester carbon on land and sea

Led by: Professor Gideon Henderson, University of Oxford

This study will assess the practicability of using enhanced weathering of waste materials from mining as a greenhouse gas removal technique. It will investigate the availability of suitable materials, the rates of their breakdown, mechanisms for accelerating carbon dioxide uptake, implications for the ocean, and societal implications.

Comparative assessment and region-specific optimisation of greenhouse gas removal

Led by: Dr Niall Mac Dowell, Imperial College London

This study will focus on the conditions for meeting the Paris Agreement targets, regional variation in the options for greenhouse gas removal, the scope for inter-region cooperation to reduce climate policy costs and how greenhouse gas removal technologies will interact with low carbon energy systems.

Summaries of the seven topic-specific projects funded:

Greenhouse gas removal in the land sector – addressing the gaps

Led by: Dr Joanna House, University of Bristol

The project will identify the emissions reduction gap in the land sector at a country level, using this to identify options and incentivise greenhouse gas removal activities based on improved carbon accounting.

Greenhouse gas removal in the iron and steel industry

Led by: Dr Phil Renforth, Cardiff University

The project will investigate the techno-economic impact and environmental feasibility of using iron and steel slag deposits to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, based on fieldwork at Consett and Port Talbot. Systems will then be designed to scale up to climate-relevant greenhouse gas removal.

Co-delivery of food and climate regulation by temperate agroforestry

Led by: Dr Martin Lukac, University of Reading

This model-based project will examine the potential for agroforestry (combining trees with agriculture) as a greenhouse gas removal technique in temperate regions, estimating carbon storage in trees and soil. Policy and socio-economic barriers will also be investigated.

New methodologies for removal of methane from the atmosphere

Led by: Professor Euan Nisbet, Royal Holloway, University of London

The project will carry out proof-of-concept methane sampling to identify major ‘intractable’ agricultural and industrial sources; it will also design and test novel biological and chemical methane-removal systems that are economically viable.

Metrics for emission removal limits for nature

Led by: Professor Simon Tett, University of Edinburgh

This project focuses on the reversibility of climate change, to determine how its adverse impacts might be affected by the timing of the deployment of greenhouse gas removal.

Harmonising and upgrading greenhouse gas removal consequential life cycle assessment

Led by: Dr Pietro Goglio, Cranfield University

This project will develop methods for comparing all the implications (indirect costs and benefits) of using different greenhouse gas removal techniques, using the approach of consequential life cycle assessment.

Assessing the mitigation deterrence effects of greenhouse gas removal

Led by: Dr Nils Markusson, Lancaster University

This project will investigate how greenhouse gas removal can interact with, and so complement, reinforce or deter, existing and anticipated conventional mitigation through emission reductions.

Reference: PN 30-17