A simple illustration of the energy crop carbon cycle: As the crop grows, photosynthesis draws in CO2 and splits it into oxygen and carbon – the oxygen is released into the atmosphere and the carbon is stored in the plant and the ground. A proportion of the carbon is released as CO2 when the crops are burned for energy.
There’s barely a news program these days that doesn’t mention greenhouse gasses and CO2 in particular. Biomass Energy with Carbon, Capture and Storage (BECCS) proposals are currently being discussed in detail by the Climate Change Committee whose purpose is to advise the UK and devolved governments on emissions targets and to report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for and adapting to the impacts of climate change. We all know that the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is increasing and that average global temperatures are rising as a direct result. The science is not up for debate – but the solutions are. Farmers and growers already know that they have a unique responsibility to our countryside and as such, have proven their dedication to help the UK meet its climate change targets. However, this is a very complex subject, which Energy Crops Consultancy can offer you lots of guidance in. Here we will discuss the concepts of Carbon Capture, Carbon Sequestration, Carbon Mitigation and Carbon Trading.
So what can farmers do to fight global warming and still remain profitable? Energy Crops Consultancy exists for this very question – we’re here to help farmers and landowners develop their own carbon sequestration policies and methods, through the planting of energy crops whilst maintaining and even increasing their farm’s profitability. So what makes these plants and trees so effective at reducing a farm’s carbon footprint?
In general, trees have an amazing capacity to absorb and store carbon. You can read more about that here. Ultimately, they’re the best long term solution. If you’ve got trees on your land, keeping them there is a good plan. Planting more will only help. But the process is slow – is there a quicker way to reduce carbon emissions from your land? Step forward SRC Willow, SRC Poplar, Short Rotation Forestry (SRF) woodland and Miscanthus. As these fast growing crops develop, their photosynthesis process absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and breaks it down into its component elements of carbon and oxygen. The oxygen is released into the air where it’s metabolised by other life forms (like us!). But where does that captured carbon go?
The resulting carbon is stored in the stems and roots. As the crop is used, some carbon will be released back into the atmosphere (carbon cycling) but the key point here is that it’s carbon that was already there, as opposed to fossil fuels, which release carbon stored millions of years ago. A huge amount is stored in the ground amongst the root systems. As the life of the crop progresses, more and more carbon is stored directly in the soil as the normal processes of leaf dropping and composting occur. Energy Crops excel here – they’re harvested without requiring replanting, so the soil is left alone, year after year.
This phrase refers to the effect that carbon sequestration has on the atmosphere. By sequestering excess carbon, we can mitigate the effects of excess carbon release on the atmosphere and global temperatures.
So planting energy crops can have a real effect on excess CO2. But this solution isn’t perfect – carbon stored in the stems of both SRC wood and Miscanthus is released when they’re burned. Further developments in carbon capture and storage in power production are required so that that carbon isn’t lost to the atmosphere. These developments will come – biomass technology will become as close to carbon neutral as it’s possible for a renewable energy source to be.
This new environmental business concept has been on the news a lot over the last decade or so. It is a method by which Company A (this could be power stations, airlines, industrial factories etc) can reduce their carbon footprint by paying Company B to reduce theirs more, thereby offsetting Company A’s carbon footprint. It’s simple, but has to be validated by a third party and meet the correct standards, for example, land that is being planted for a previous biodiversity offset, couldn’t also be used for a carbon-trading scheme.
So in a nutshell, farmers can receive extra income beyond the end market income from energy crops such as SRC Willow, SRF forestry and woodland planting. Planting new woodland is one of the very few methods that have been proven to reduce greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. It’s a win-win for landowners in the UK’s progress towards net-zero carbon.
The UK government has shown its commitment to carbon trading with a £50m injection into a new Woodland Carbon Guarantee fund. Energy Crops Consultancy can help you access this funding – contact us now for more information on this exciting income growth opportunity.