Farming for the Future Now
We have recently discovered that a process which occurs naturally in plants could play an important role in countering CO2 emissions and global warming. This process is termed plantstone carbon - also referred to as phytolith occluded carbon.
Plantstone carbon is estimated to currently extract 300 million tones of CO2 p.a. from the atmosphere and to store this carbon securely in the soil for thousands of years. We believe the rate of this natural process could be readily accelerated many times by the adoption of simple agricultural practices.The current potential for this process with existing species and cultivers of those species is 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalants annually (Parr et al 2010). Planstone Pty Ltd. holds IP on procedures for plant breeding, carbon quantification and for the practical application of this process as well as both granted AUS Patent 2005279679, US Patent 7927884B2 and pending international patent applications on the use of these procedures for the purpose of carbon sequestration and carbon trading.
Plantstones form as microscopic grains of silica in the leaves and stems of some plants. They are prolific in grass-based pastures and crops such as sugar cane and wheat. Plantstones are present in all agricultural, lawn and native grasses as well as some herbs, shrubs and trees. During plant growth a small proportion of organic carbon becomes encapsulated within these silica grains. Regardless of whether the plant dies, burns or is harvested, the carbon entrapped in the plantstone is highly resistant to decomposition. Therefore, unlike most plant matter which readily decomposes in soil returning CO2 to the atmosphere, the carbon in plantstones effectively removes CO2 from the atmosphere for millenia.
It seems clear that this process, if incorporated into agricultural crops and crop choice decisions on land under active vegetation management, could make a major contribution to lessening atmospheric CO2 concentrations. We have developed and hold IP on proceedures for quantification and for the practical application of this process as well as both a granted and pending international patent applications on the use of these proceedures for the purpose of carbon sequestration (Parr and Sullivan, 2004).
Our research into crop plantstone interactions has shown that different plant types produce greatly varying amounts of plantstone carbon. Some crops have been shown to produce over 100 times more plantstone carbon than others. Moreover, varieties within a single crop type such as sugar cane, have been found to produce widely differing quantities of plantstone carbon. This indicates that the farmer’s choice of crop type and variety can have a considerable impact on the amount of CO2 extracted from the atmosphere and securely stored in the soil within planstones.
If Australia adopts an appropriate carbon trading system it will provide a real incentive to Australian farmers to adopt high plantstone yielding crops. This would generate additional farm income without incurring either additional costs or crop yield penalties, or detracting from existing farm income streams.
One of the major advantages of this new technology over previous technologies proposed for use in agriculture is that the quantification of the plantstone carbon produced by a crop is inexpensive. This advantage overcomes a major limitation of previous methods for agriculture where the cost of providing accurate quantification of the amounts of additional carbon stored in the soil arising from land management improvements greatly outweighed the value of those additional quantities of soil carbon.
Governments all round the world are presently investigating and encouraging practices that reduce CO2 emissions in industry and the community. These need to recognize innovative and cost-effective ways of capturing CO2 that can be readily incorporated into farming systems.
As an indication of the importance of this research, the Australian Research Council Discovery Grant Program has funded further development during 2007-2009. We firmly expect that as a result of this work, plantstone carbon research will reach industries such as forestry, horticulture, mining and the rehabilitation of salt affected land, as well as crops such as wheat, barley, sugarcane and maize, as well as pastures.
Plantstone carbon research is emerging as one of the most promising and exciting new tools for countering global CO2 emissions. It provides land managers with the opportunity to play an even greater role in the fight against global warming and climate change and to earn extra income for so doing. It can be adopted as easily as switching crop type or variety to be grown.
Furthermore, it is likely that given appropriate incentives such as those provided by carbon trading systems, future crops would be bred for their carbon-retention qualities as well as the normal attributes which farmers seek, such as yield, disease and drought resistance, quality and so on.
This is an Australian discovery and it offers this country chance to get on the front foot, globally, in the climate change issue.
Plantstones currently store around 300 million tones of CO2 p.a. worldwide, and there is the clear potential to increase that carbon storage rate many times by careful plant selection and crop management. For example, improvements in plant breeding and agronomy have increased the original grain yield of cultivated wheat in Europe by over 30 times and it is expected that the current plantstone carbon yields of crops might be multiplied by the adoption of similar practices. Plantstone technology offers Australia, potentially, an important new export industry worth many millions of dollars not only in the seeds and genetics of such crops, but also in the knowledge of how to grow them in order to maximize their carbon retention under different growing conditions.
Furthermore it would enable those marketing Australian commodities such as wheat, rice, sugar and meat on global markets to claim them as the produce of a truly climate-friendly agriculture a huge marketing advantage in a world of consumers becoming acutely conscious of the impacts of climate change.
We urge Australian governments federal and state to do everything possible to accelerate both the R&D and the uptake by industry of this promising new technology, and to make Australians the world’s first carbon farmers.