Is there a ”quick fix’ for increasing carbon emissions? Apparently yes, according to German scientists. Their research published in the latest issue of the journal Earth System Dynamics suggests that a short term solution to climate change is to plant Jatropha curcas trees in the desert.
Prof. Klaus Becker and his team from University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart explored the potential of Jatropha trees as an alternative to the popular carbon capture and storage (CCS) technique. Their hypothesis was based on the fact that one hectare of the plant can absorb as much as 25 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.
The plant is known to be highly adaptable to harsh conditions. Taking this into account, the scientists used trial plots in Egypt and Negev deserts, where they were able to demonstrate the tree’s carbon extraction abilities. Becker and colleagues claim that if an area of the size of the Arabian desert is planted with the Jatropha, the trees would extract the equivalent of 20 years of carbon emissions from vehicles in Germany.
What is more, the seeds from the trees can be used for production of biofuels, as they are rich in essential oils, bringing an economic revenue.
The technique would cost between 42 and 63 euros per tonne, and the only limitation would be the availability of brackish water from desalination facilities, restricting any future large scale plantations to coastal zones. This is also the reason why the team is now exploring large areas in Oman and Qatar for the upscaling of their findings.
The idea, however, might sound too good to be true, especially when previous research showed that Jatropha trees grow only in scrubland or marginal land, and they do not do too well in extremely dry conditions. But even if they did, opponents of the idea also point out that Jatropha trees are highly toxic and could pollute the areas where they are grown.
In any case, it seems the scientists have much more to prove in order to convince the decision makers in the feasibility of the technique. It is clear that any quick solution to the pressing problem of increased carbon emissions is always welcome, but as pointed out by Lucy Hurn, the biofuels campaign manager for the charity, Actionaid, we should first ask ourselves whether it is fair to grow massive plantations of the tree in other people’s land, only to “deal with a problem these people didn’t actually cause?”