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Miscanthus: The Biofuel Crop Than Can Sequester Carbon… Naturally

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An analysis performed by Christer Jansson from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and his colleagues from Oak Ridge National Laboratory revealed that a grass called miscanthus could constitute the perfect solution for capturing carbon dioxide and sequestering it into the soil.

“We want to encourage discussion and research on this topic,” says Jansson, a senior staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division and lead author of the analysis. “We need to explore the extent to which plants, and specifically genetically engineered plants, can reduce levels of atmospheric carbon.”

The researchers’ idea for the study came from the fact that there are two methods biofuel crops can fight carbon emissions: either turning them into biofuels or letting them absorb carbon dioxide by natural means and sequestering the captured carbon through their roots into the soil, for thousands of years.

Actually, all plants do sink carbon dioxide through the second method, but miscanthus proved itself more efficient at that task. Currently, plants are able to capture only three gigatons (million tons) of carbon out of the nine gigatons of carbon dioxide emitted during a year, worldwide.

The researchers propose designing a crop that can resist to drought and use brine or seawater, as well as wastewater, to avoid using freshwater that is scarce anyway. Of course, these kinds of plants can be modified to feature these traits through genetic engineering, which is not something I am personally fond of.

Jannson says “bionergy crops are likely to be engineered anyway. It makes sense to also consider enhancing their ability to withstand stress and sequester carbon. This analysis will hopefully guide research and prompt people to think in new ways about bioenergy crops.” If everybody is going to modify nature, a habit which has proven itself destructive in the long run, why shouldn’t we do that, after all? We only got one planet…

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