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UK Trials Innovative Ways to Draw Carbon Dioxide from the Atmosphere

The UK is moving forward with trials of mechanisms to draw carbon dioxide from the air as part of a drive to meet 2050’s net-zero emission target.

UK Trials Innovative Ways to Draw Carbon Dioxide from the Atmosphere

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As part of a global scheme to mitigate the effects of climate change, a number of governments have pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Whilst the goal is admirable, and the investment in clean energy that it requires is a positive step in the energy sector, scientists are still predicting that this action will not be enough to slow the quickening progress of global warming.

This is coupled with the fact that achieving net-zero in the next three decades may not be possible due to failure in the past to limit the emission of carbon dioxide. 

The United Kingdom has a plan to account for these past mistakes, however. Britain will soon trial measures to draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using natural materials such as peat, rock chips, charcoal, and of course, trees.

The initiative is part of a £30 million investment by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and will involve several UK universities, including the University of Oxford, The University of Manchester and Imperial College London. This initial investment will be followed by a further £1.5 million designated for follow-on studies. 

Reducing greenhouse gas 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.

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

“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.”

The projects will be tested over an area of around 250 acres, with different tests conducted in different regions of the UK, making this one of the largest operations of this nature in the world.

Regional Tests of Carbon Reducing Measures

The UKRI outlines which research projects will take place in which regions of the UK. 

Across several sites, large-scale tree planting — or afforestation — will occur, mainly on land owned by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), the National Trust and the rail operator Network Rail. The aim of this test will be to discover which species of trees are most effective at drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The testing will also assess which areas prove most viable for carbon sequestration — the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Along similar lines to these afforestation projects, in Lincolnshire and Lancashire, perennial bioenergy crops — such as grasses (Miscanthus) and short rotation coppice willow — will be rapidly scaled up. As well as drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, these plants can be processed to replace corn ethanol, further reducing emissions by as much as 85%. 

At sites located across the South Pennines and West Wales, peatlands will be managed to increase greenhouse gas removal. Peatlands are capable of absorbing and storing large amounts of carbon dioxide, making them the ideal carbon sinks and a key factor in the climate change battle. The project will seek to improve this natural capability.

Another excellent source of carbon sequestration of biochar — charcoal that is produced by the burning biomass in the absence of oxygen. Biochar’s use will be tested in the Midlands and across Wales at arable and grassland locations.

It will also be trialed at less conventional sites like a sewage disposal site in Nottinghamshire and decommissioned mines and railway embankments across the UK.

The final trial in this series of demonstrator projects will be the crushing of silicate rocks and their dispersal at farmland sites in Wales, Devon and Hertfordshire.

This is a way of accelerating the weathering of rocks, a natural process that removes carbonic acid from the environment triggering a reaction that replaces it and therefore draws carbon out of the atmosphere.

The projects listed above culminate to put the UK at the forefront of innovation to combat climate change. 

Leading the Way in the Climate Change Fight

The UK’s drive to develop innovative ways to tackle greenhouse gas emission and climate change comes ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) summit, which will be held in Glasgow at the beginning of November 2021.

The aim of COP26 will be to bring governments together to accelerate action needed to meet the goals of both the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The results of this series of trials discussed above should shape long-term decision-making on technologies to tackle carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions that can be scaled up and employed successfully across the planet.

Greenhouse gas removal is essential to achieve net-zero carbon emissions and stabilize the climate. Alongside the need for much faster emissions reductions now, we also need to start pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere. Greenhouse gas removal is not only essential, it also has the potential to become big business.

Professor Cameron Hepburn, Directorate Hub, University of Oxford

“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.”


Greenhouse Gases Removal Demonstrator (GGR-D) projects, UKRI, [2021], []

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Robert Lea

Written by

Robert Lea

Robert is a Freelance Science Journalist with a STEM BSc. He specializes in Physics, Space, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Quantum Physics, and SciComm. Robert is an ABSW member, and aWCSJ 2019 and IOP Fellow.


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