The government has unveiled a research programme to investigate the viability of five innovative methods of large-scale greenhouse gas (GHG) removal from the atmosphere. The work could help the UK reach its legislated net-zero climate target by 2050.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will invest £30 million in five interdisciplinary projects plus a central Directorate Hub at the University of Oxford, over a 4.5 year time frame.

The greenhouse gas removal GGR) projects aim to directly remove CO2 from the atmosphere, complementing efforts to reduce emissions in sectors of the economy which are difficult to decarbonise – particularly agriculture, heavy industry and aviation.

The five GGR demonstrator projects will investigate:

• Enhanced rock weathering – the crushing of crushed calcium and magnesium rich silicate rocks and spreading the particles at field trial sites on farmland in mid-Wales, Devon and Hertfordshire. Led by the University of Sheffield with Rothamsted Research and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in the consortium.

• A rapid scaling-up of perennial bioenergy crops such as grasses (eg miscanthus) and short rotation coppice willow at locations in Lincolnshire and Lancashire. Led by IBERS at Aberystwyth University with Bishop Burton College, Lincolnshire and Myerscough College, Lancashire involved.

• The use of biochar – a charcoal-like substance – as a viable method of carbon sequestration on arable and grassland sites in the Midlands and Wales; a sewage disposal site in Nottinghamshire; plus former mine sites and railway embankments.

• large-scale tree planting (afforestation) to assess the most effective species and locations for carbon sequestration at sites across the UK. This will include land owned by the Ministry of Defence, the National Trust and Network Rail.

• The management of peatlands to maximise the GHG removal potential of farmland near Doncaster, and at upland sites in the South Pennines and at Pwllpeiran in West Wales.

Professor Cameron Hepburn of the University of Oxford, who will lead the Directorate Hub, says: “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, but 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.”

More information from UKRI on the projects can be found here.