Carbo-BioCrop project concludes

May 8, 2015

During the past five years, the Carbo-BioCrop project researched the effects of land use change on carbon in the environment resulting in some fascinating outcomes. While this was an essential topic that needed to be addressed, especially with recent changes in UK policy, the project also included research on a wider context on the effects on ecosystem services. In order to understand about optimising soil carbon storage and sequestration there were various questions we needed to answer such as which crops would produce the best yields, which soil types were best for second generation bioenergy crop growth, how microbes interact with the soils and crops and which management strategies were most efficient. To improve the soil carbon we needed to understand the potential of energy crop systems in detail so we took a three-prong approach. This involved improving our process based models to describe yield and the movement of carbon into soils; developing new process understanding and soil C pools and fluxes; and finally investigating the use of biochar to improve soil carbon storage.

The University of Southampton led the Carbo-BioCrop project but the consortium was also comprised of Aberystwyth University, The University of Warwick, Rothamsted Research, North Wyke research, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) Lancaster and Wallingford, University of East Anglia and the University of Edinburgh. The team were interested in bioenergy crops as fossil fuel substitutions but also in their benefits of improving soil health and carbon storage. Meta-analyses highlighted that in the whole life cycle carbon analysis, soil processes were a big knowledge gap.

Most of the partners were involved in trials collecting data that were utilised by the models. The project teamed up with the Energy Technologies Institute and the bioenergy direct land-use change project ELUM to carry out field based trials in Wales, Sussex and Lincolnshire. In these three sites the GHG emissions were monitored and carbon movement was measured both in the atmosphere and the soils in order to supply data on the soil processes. In Scotland and Southampton there was research on the ability of biochar to mitigate the short-term loss of soil carbon in transitions and the effects on the crops of adding biochar. Finally we also looked at the importance of root fungi for the growth of the bioenergy crops and their role in carbon sequestration.

Supported by this data, the University of Southampton, Rothamsted Research and University of East Anglia further improved their modelling capability to predict the potential yields of the various second-generation bioenergy crops. This helped answer questions on which crops were best suited to which regions of the UK, including which crop types are suited to which soil types. We were also able to model the effects of future climate change scenarios on the potential yields of the crops. The models also predicted the effects of growing Miscanthus on sequestration of carbon in soils and the interaction of genotype specific roots.

Overall the Carbo-BioCrop project filled many gaps in the research and has kick-started a project called MAGLUE (Measurement and Analysis of bioenergy greenhouse gases: Integrating GHGs into LCAs and the UK Biomass Value Chain Modelling Environment). We developed excellent tools to test the impact of bioenergy planting within the UK and found the impacts of bioenergy crop planting on carbon fluxes. However the below-ground processing is still a limitation in our knowledge and models in general need better parameterisation and validation in order for their full potential to be achieved. Our achievements will aid policy development as we have demonstrated land use transitions cause an initial loss of carbon but carbon in the long term the planting of perennial crops rapidly cause this carbon to be returned to soils and soon cause an accumulation of carbon. We have also demonstrated the effects of planting on low carbon soils to be the most beneficial.

We hope you have enjoyed following our project through its journey and hope you will keep an eye out for our future publications and follow our new project Maglue.




By Dr Suzanne Milner