Net-Zero Emission Agriculture

To research the development and evaluation of pathways to net-zero emission agriculture and cropping systems

Sponsor: Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Principle Investigators: Laura Lindsey (Ohio State University), Klaus Lorenz (Ohio State University), Scott Demyan (Ohio State University), Pierre-Andre Jacinthe (Indiana University, Purdue University), Wei Ren (University of Kentucky), Marinder Singh (Michigan State University)
Researcher with the Lal Carbon Center: Sandhya Karki

From the sponsor's website

Given the need to substantially reduce the stock of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, there is increasing interest in a host of new developments associated with “net zero” and “negative emissions” technologies. Net zero technologies are generally considered to be those that do not add carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, such as carbon capture and storage systems. Negative emissions technologies are usually characterized as efforts that remove greenhouse gases that already exist in the atmosphere, pulling existing carbon from the air and findings ways to store or reuse it. Developing these new technologies, however, is risky, and pioneering research is needed that advances the frontier of novel science in this domain and makes progress in accelerating these emerging energy technologies.    

Mission

From the sponsor's website:

Agriculture presents many appealing opportunities to contribute in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, both in the United States and around the world. Soils themselves can be a sink for atmospheric carbon, with plants pulling carbon from the atmosphere and storing it safely in the ground. What is not yet known, however, is how powerful these tools can be, and thus how useful they are as a potential avenue for atmospheric carbon reduction. Innovation in the agricultural sector is needed to determine which actions, both on their own and taken in concert with one another, could be adopted and are most effective in solving these challenges. 

A multi-disciplinary team lead by Laura Lindsey at The Ohio State University is working to do just that and advance our understanding of how changes in agricultural practices could impact atmospheric carbon levels. The team plans to examine three potential reforms, which alone or in combination could help turn agricultural fields into sites of carbon reduction.  The first is the use of biochar, a charcoal-like substance that acts as a magnifier of carbon sequestration, helping certain arable soils store carbon and improve soil health. The second is the planting of various cover crops, which are plant species that help the soils in which they are planted to better store carbon. The third is reforming nitrogen-management practices in agriculture, which would reduce the amount of nitrous-oxide—a potent, if short-lived, greenhouse gas—that is released in the air during fertilization. 

In a series of five field studies, Lindsey and her team will rigorously examine how the three reforms perform in real world farming plots, advancing our understanding of their potential use as a tool to lower atmospheric carbon. If successful, this team’s research will help reduce uncertainties and provide critical information necessary to illuminate how these practices might be scaled and implemented in the future.