UK-based Carbon Technology Research Foundation (CTRF) will provide a multimillion-pound funding boost to three projects that focus on biotechnology carbon removal. The projects were selected for a first round of support this year after a robust peer-reviewed process. According to a press release, each project was chosen on the basis of the depth of experience of the core research team, the innovative scientific approach, and the scalability potential of the technology.
The primary objective of the first project is to amplify the efficiency of methane absorption, inspired by nature’s methods. This will be achieved by modifying methanotrophic bacteria to exhibit a consumption rate that is at least ten times higher when exposed to methane concentrations close to ambient levels.
The project is led by Mary Lidstrom, Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering and Professor Emeritus of Microbiology at the University of Washington, Seattle. According to her, methane is 34 times more effective in its warming effects compared to carbon over a 100-year timeframe, and 86 times more potent over a 20-year span.
Certain bacteria naturally remove methane but this is a slow process, Lidstrom said, explaining that the project aims to utilize these natural processes to offer globally scalable solutions.
The second project is led by a team of international scientists in the UK and the U.S. and builds upon 13 years of collaborative research. This research has concentrated on understanding how algae remove carbon so efficiently from ambient air and engineering the same efficiency into plants.
The technology has the potential to provide a platform for large-scale deployment across various agricultural methods involving crops and other vegetation. It could facilitate carbon removal on a gigaton scale without imposing additional strain on land resources.
“Most plants rely on CO2 moving passively into the plant, whereas algae are like a hoover going out and sucking it up,” said Luke Mackinder, Professor of Plant Biology at the University of York. “We are taking the mechanism used in algae to create a universal molecular chain that can be engineered into most plants, including trees and crops, adapting them to act like CO2 super hoovers.”
The third project receiving support focuses on the development of crops engineered to capture a greater amount of carbon dioxide and securely store it in the soil for longer periods. It’s estimated that the combined potential of both above and below-ground biomass could reach 6.8 gigatons of carbon equivalent for the four primary global crops: maize, soy, wheat, and rice. To put this in perspective, the total emissions in the United States in 2021 exceeded 5 gigatons.
Approximately half of the carbon extracted from the atmosphere by cultivated crops stays within and on the soil following the harvest. This includes components like crop roots and cereal straws. However, the majority of this carbon ultimately re-enters the atmosphere as these residues undergo decomposition, said Professor Stephen Long, Ikenberry University Chair of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences, University of Illinois. The team behind the third project is researching novel targets to modify by DNA editing to allow plants to capture a greater amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and place it into plant residues engineered to be more resilient to decomposition in the soil, he explained.