UK invests over £30m in large-scale greenhouse gas removal

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Research teams across the UK will investigate the viability of five innovative methods of large-scale greenhouse gas (GHG) removal from the atmosphere.

The aim is to help the UK reach its legislated net-zero climate target by 2050.

The methods all have the potential to remove GHGs from the atmosphere – but their effectiveness, cost, and limitations need to be better understood and proven at scale.

Interdisciplinary research

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will invest £30 million in five interdisciplinary projects and a central hub located at the University of Oxford, to conduct the research over 4.5 years.

An additional £1.5 million will be invested in further studies in year three of the research.

The results will be used to shape longer-term government decision-making on the most effective technologies to help the UK tackle climate change and reduce CO2 emissions.

Research areas

These GHG removal (GGR) demonstrator projects will investigate:

  • management of peatlands to maximise their GHG removal potential in farmland near Doncaster, and at upland sites in the South Pennines and in Pwllpeiran, west Wales
  • enhanced rock weathering – crushing silicate rocks and spreading the particles at field trial sites on farmland in mid-Wales, Devon and Hertfordshire
  • use of biochar, a charcoal-like substance, as a viable method of carbon sequestration. Testing will take place at arable and grassland sites in the Midlands and Wales, a sewage disposal site in Nottinghamshire, former mine sites and railway embankments
  • large-scale tree planting, or afforestation, to assess the most effective species and locations for carbon sequestration at sites across the UK. It includes land owned by the Ministry of Defence, the National Trust and Network Rail
  • rapid scale-up of perennial bioenergy crops such as grasses (Miscanthus) and short rotation coppice willow at locations in Lincolnshire and Lancashire.

Removing CO2 from the atmosphere

GGR describes a group of methods that directly remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

It is designed to complement efforts in emission reductions targeting those sectors which are difficult to decarbonise completely such as:

  • heavy industry
  • agriculture
  • aviation.

The £31.5 million programme is part of the second wave of the government’s Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF), which invests in high quality multi and interdisciplinary research.

Using innovative technologies

Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of UKRI, said:

Reducing GHG emissions is a priority for the UK, but it’s clear that alone that will not be enough to reduce CO2 and meet the UK’s net-zero climate target by 2050.

These projects will investigate how we can actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere using innovative technologies at the scale required to protect our planet.

This investment by UKRI is especially significant as the UK prepares to host COP26 in Glasgow later this year.

Directorate hub

The GGR demonstrators programme will be supported by a central directorate hub.

The hub will provide an overarching coordination role, with specific focus on issues such as:

  • environmental
  • economic
  • social
  • cultural
  • ethical
  • legal
  • governance.

Professor Cameron Hepburn, from the University of Oxford, is leading the Directorate Hub. He said:

GHG removal is essential to achieve net-zero carbon emissions and stabilise the climate. Alongside the need for much faster emissions reductions now, we also need to start pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere.

GHG removal is not only essential, it also has the potential to become big business. As we rebuild societies and economies following COVID-19, we have an opportunity to orient ourselves towards the green jobs and industries of the future.

I’m delighted that UKRI is supporting such a strategic programme.

Tackling climate change

This work adds to UKRI’s long tradition of investing in cutting-edge research and innovation to understand, tackle and mitigate the effects of climate change.

This year the UK hosts the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) summit in November.

UKRI will use its role as a steward of the research and innovation system to bring our communities together.

The Government says it aims to create sustainable and resilient solutions and encourage new behaviours and new ways of living that enable the UK to reach net-zero by 2050.


Source: UK Research and Innovation.

Launched in April 2018, UKRI is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). They bring together the seven disciplinary research councils, Research England, which is responsible for supporting research and knowledge exchange at higher education institutions in England, and the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. For more details go to: https://www.ukri.org/

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