Article | 07/03/2019 05:17:20

Resp, Reserarch, Biof. Carinata farms absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere

Climate change is mitigated by emission cuts and by binding atmospheric carbon dioxide to plants and soil. UPM is doing research to evaluate the size of the carbon sink generated by its brassica carinata plantations – a new feedstock for biofuel production – in Uruguay.

Carbon sequestration or capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in plants and soil, is an efficient way to mitigate climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasises in its 2018 report how important carbon sinks in forests and soil are in alleviating the impact of climate change.

“Cultivating carinata in Uruguay benefits not only the environment, but local farmers and UPM´s businesses as well,” confirms Liisa Ranta, Sustainability Manager, UPM Biofuels Development. “The plant provides an excellent feedstock for our biofuels production. And because the carinata farms absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the carbon footprint of our renewable fuels is diminished further. As important, local farmers will have extra income from cultivating carinata as a second crop.”

Brassica carinata is an oilseed crop especially suited to the sustainable production of biofuels. The rest of the plant can be used for animal feed while the residual biomass increase carbon concentration in soil.

Restoring carbon in soils

France proposed at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris that countries increase their soil carbon stocks by 0.4% annually, which equals CO2 concentration in the atmosphere related to human activities.

Across the world, several initiatives are ongoing to develop new methods to improve carbon sequestration through agricultural land management and by increasing soil biomass. Crop rotation, which dates back to Roman times, has been found to improve carbon storage in soil. UPM is undertaking a multi-year study at its carinata farms in Uruguay.

“Together with our research partners, we are creating mathematical models to calculate the impact of these carbon sinks. We measure, for example, the concentration of carbon and biomass in soil. We have found that even a slight increase in soil storage improves carbon sequestration,” Ranta explains.

Thanks to its ability to support frost, carinata is an excellent option for winter crop seeding in South America. The plant produces remarkable biomass and its strong roots improve fertility while preventing soil erosion.

“Previously, farmers cultivated mainly grass weeds to prevent erosion but carinata is becoming an important option for crop rotation. Cultivating carinata gives farmers an extra source of income as well,” Ranta says.

Sustainable feedstock for renewable fuels

“We have received the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) certification that shows we have fulfilled all the fundamental sustainability requirements under national and international legislation,” confirms Ranta. RSB is one of the European Commission's voluntary accreditation programmes which can be used to show compliance with the EU Renewable Energy Directive's sustainability criteria.

“The sustainability criteria of the certification guarantee that we have reduced greenhouse gas emissions, as well as upheld biodiversity, human rights and environmental and social responsibility throughout the value chain. Thanks to this certification we can also import carinata to Europe as feedstock for biofuels,” she adds.

Last year, brassica carinata were planted on some 10,000 hectares of farm land in Uruguay. The aim is to increase the commercial acreage annually in collaboration with local farmers.

 

Text: Saara Töyssy
Photo: Andrés Bartet; Courtesy of the interviewees