By 2050, an estimated 10 billion metric tonnes of CO2 per year need to be removed from the atmosphere to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. This number is expected to double by the end of the century.
The gap between the amount of carbon we need to remove and the amount that carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technology can currently remove represents a monumental challenge. We have no scalable solutions in play and are removing virtually nothing. The scalable solutions we need to develop should each be aiming to remove one billion tonnes of CO2 a year, which is about twice the mass of all the people in the world.
We commissioned a report on where opportunities might lie to fund novel carbon removal research. Our focus is on natural carbon removal pathways that could be enhanced or scaled up through the application of biotechnology. We explore biosequestration opportunities using bacteria, archaea, algae, fungi and higher plants. Other areas include biotech enhanced weathering and ocean carbon removal. methane emissions in ruminants, enhanced weathering and artificial ocean alkalinisation.
Read on to discover 5 novel, nature driven CDR research areas that show promise.
1. Bacteria and microalgae carbon sequestration
Bacteria and microalgae are an exciting area of research for carbon removal. They have photosynthetic efficiency and can grow in high-density cell cultures and hostile environments. Researchers have used synthetic biology and genetic transformation to improve their carbon sequestration benefits.
For bacteria, scientists have experimented with genetically transforming enzymes involved in the Calvin Cycle, which is the second phase of photosynthesis. Cultivating bacteria is currently laborious, which hampers scaling and commercialisation.
For microalgae, studies have identified over 300 candidate photosynthesis genes that can potentially be targeted through genetic engineering. To advance this research, scientists need to improve genetic engineering methods by establishing systems that ensure efficient delivery of the CRISPR-Cas system into algal cells.
2. Fungi and carbon sequestration
Some species of fungus store 26 times more carbon than bacteria. Mycorrhizal fungi, which form symbiotic relationships with the roots of most plants, sequester carbon by stabilising organic matter in soils.
There are opportunities for fungi biosequestration but they remain underexplored. We lack understanding of the full carbon sequestration potential of mycorrhizal fungi and the mechanisms by which they sequester carbon. It’s an interesting and underexplored area for research.
3. Archaea and carbon sequestration
Archaea are a group of extremophiles that are similar to, but evolutionarily distinct from, bacteria. Several species of archaea play key roles in the global carbon cycle.
Archaeal biosequestration represents an intriguing and underexplored area of research. But we lack knowledge of the biology of archaea and genome editing systems remain time-consuming and challenging. To advance this research area, we need to do fundamental research and discovery before we can expect any returns on investment.
4. Macroalgae and carbon sequestration
There’s a growing interest in using macroalgae (seaweed) as a sustainable bioenergy feedstock and in ocean afforestation to sequester carbon. But macroalgae’s carbon sequestration benefits are under debate. To date, there’s limited research into the opportunities of using genetic transformation to improve macroalgae’s carbon sequestration benefits. It has a complex morphology and sexual reproduction, which makes it a tricky candidate for genetic transformation.
5. Plants and carbon sequestration
While bacteria and microalgae offer greater carbon sequestration potential, the existing research into plants is better established. Scientists have already developed genetic transformation systems for several plant species. In the report, we identify eight main areas for biosequestration in plants including improving the Calvin cycle and bypassing photorespiration.
While plant-based systems show promise in the lab, there are technical, social and regulatory hurdles to overcome before we can scale and commercialise these solutions.
CTRF funds novel carbon dioxide removal research
We’re using the findings from this report to choose which research to fund. We fund research that targets enhanced biological sequestration by microorganisms through to plant-based systems. Download the full report to learn more.
Interested in joining us to fund cutting-edge research?