£8.6 million UK research programme on greenhouse gas removal

20 April 2017

New research will investigate ways to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to counteract global warming.

The UK is committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1·5°C above pre-industrial levels. Alongside significant emission reductions, large-scale removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere could considerably increase the likelihood of achieving this goal. Researchers know there are ways to approach this challenge but they have yet to be demonstrated on scales that are climatically-significant. Major questions remain around their feasibility, as well as impacts on society and public attitudes.

To help answer these questions, the £8·6 million Greenhouse Gas Removal Research Programme will evaluate the potential and wider implications of a variety of options. For example, researchers will investigate the potential for increasing carbon storage in agricultural soil and forests, and new ways to remove methane gas from the air on a local scale. Other researchers will look into using waste materials from mining as a greenhouse gas removal technique, and explore how bioenergy crops could be used in power stations in combination with carbon capture and storage methods. Recognising that the UK alone cannot solve these problems, the research will address the political, socio-economic, technological and environmental issues concerning the potential for greenhouse gas removal on a global scale.

The programme is jointly funded by NERC, the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The Met Office and the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) are providing in-kind support.

Professor Tim Wheeler, Director for Science & Innovation at NERC, said:

"The UK research community is addressing the challenges of climate change by providing world-leading, independent research to inform decision-making that will ensure future wellbeing and prosperity for the UK and internationally. This new Greenhouse Gas Removal programme will shed light on how new approaches could be used to prevent the effects of climate change, alongside reducing emissions, aligning with the UK's commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement. This multi-disciplinary research embodies the research councils' shared commitment to working together to provide vital answers to society's most pressing questions."

Four interdisciplinary, multi-institute consortium and seven topic-specific projects have been awarded funding. Around 100 researchers from 40 UK universities and partner organisations will be involved, and seven research studentships providing PhD training will also be supported.

Summaries of the projects can be found in the notes below. Full abstracts can be read on Grants on the Web - external link.


Further information

Mary Goodchild
NERC News & Media Officer
01793 411939


Notes

1. The four multi-institute consortium projects funded are:

  • Soils research to deliver greenhouse gas removals and abatement technologies. Led by Professor Peter Smith at the University of Aberdeen, this study will analyse the global potential for soil-based greenhouse gas removal, and how this varies by practice and region. This will include investigating the social, cultural and ecological impacts, current policies that prevent implementation and future policies that may enable wider adoption, managing risks, and integration with other greenhouse gas removal approaches.

  • Feasibility of afforestation and biomass energy with carbon capture storage for greenhouse gas removal. Led by Dr Naomi Vaughan of the University of East Anglia, this study will investigate whether increased biological removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (with either natural or managed carbon storage) could deliver significant climatic benefits, and evaluate the environmental, technical, economic, policy and societal implications of such approaches.

  • Releasing divalent cations to sequester carbon on land and sea. Led by Gideon Henderson of the University of Oxford, this study will assess the practicability of using enhanced weathering of waste materials from mining as a greenhouse gas removal technique. It will investigate the availability of suitable materials, the rates of their breakdown, mechanisms for accelerating carbon dioxide uptake, implications for the ocean, and societal implications.

  • Comparative assessment and region-specific optimisation of greenhouse gas removal. Led by Niall Mac Dowell, Imperial College London, this study will focus on the conditions for meeting the Paris Agreement targets, regional variation in the options for greenhouse gas removal, the scope for inter-region cooperation to reduce climate policy costs and how greenhouse gas removal technologies will interact with low carbon energy systems.

2. The seven topic-specific projects funded are:

  • Greenhouse gas removal in the land sector - addressing the gaps, led by Joanna House, University of Bristol. The project will identify the emissions reduction gap in the land sector at a country level, using this to identify options and incentivise greenhouse gas removal activities based on improved carbon accounting.

  • Greenhouse gas removal in the iron and steel industry, led by Phil Renforth, Cardiff University. The project will investigate the techno-economic impact and environmental feasibility of using iron and steel slag deposits to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, based on fieldwork at Consett and Port Talbot. Systems will then be designed to scale up to climate-relevant greenhouse gas removal.

  • Co-delivery of food and climate regulation by temperate agroforestry, led by Martin Lukac, University of Reading. This model-based project will examine the potential for agroforestry (combining trees with agriculture) as a greenhouse gas removal technique in temperate regions, estimating carbon storage in trees and soil. Policy and socio-economic barriers will also be investigated.

  • New methodologies for removal of methane from the atmosphere, led by Euan Nisbet, Royal Holloway, University of London. The project will carry out proof-of-concept methane sampling to identify major 'intractable' agricultural and industrial sources; it will also design and test novel biological and chemical methane-removal systems that are economically viable.

  • Metrics for emission removal limits for nature, led by Simon Tett, University of Edinburgh. This project focuses on the reversibility of climate change, to determine how its adverse impacts might be affected by the timing of the deployment of greenhouse gas removal.

  • Harmonising and upgrading greenhouse gas removal consequential life cycle assessment, led by Pietro Goglio, Cranfield University. This project will develop methods for comparing all the implications (indirect costs and benefits) of using different greenhouse gas removal techniques, using the approach of consequential life cycle assessment.

  • Assessing the mitigation deterrence effects of greenhouse gas removal, led by Nils Markusson, Lancaster University. This project will investigate how greenhouse gas removal can interact with, and so complement, reinforce or deter, existing and anticipated conventional mitigation through emission reductions.

3. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is a non-departmental public body. We receive around £330 million of annual funding from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

4. The Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC): As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, their vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to research, discover and innovate. By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, EPSRC are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Their portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research they fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC work collectively with partners and other research councils on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

5. The Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK's future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the government. In 2015 it celebrated its 50th anniversary.

6. The Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security. The council has a broad science portfolio including supporting UK work in space and ground-based astronomy technologies and research.

7. Large-scale greenhouse gas removal is included (as 'negative emissions') in the integrated assessment models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its 5th Assessment Report (2013-2015) - external link. The potential impacts, both positive and negative, of greenhouse gas removal techniques have been considered by the Convention on Biological Diversity with CBD Decision XIII/14 in CBD Technical Series No. 84 (PDF) - external link identifying the need for additional research on such topics.

8. The national policy context for greenhouse gas removal research is provided by the Committee on Climate Change report on the UK response to the Paris Agreement - external link and POSTnote 549 - external link, published by the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology.