Energy crisis lifeline: UK handed boost as ‘rock dust’ to slash costs and carbon emissions

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A new study has found that pulverised basalt rocks could cut the UK’s carbon emissions by millions of tonnes, helping it reach net zero much faster and at a lower cost. Scientists believe that adding this “rock dust” to the country’s agricultural soils could absorb 45 percent of the CO2 needed to reach net zero by 2050. 

This could help the UK potentially save millions of pounds on high-tech carbon capture solutions, which tend to be more expensive.

Another benefit is that the mining operations needed to produce the basalt rocks would result in the creation of jobs, along with contributing to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s levelling up agenda.

Scientists have previously warned that the world needs to reduce global CO2 levels by 45 percent by the end of the decade in order to prevent some of the worst effects of climate change.

In a new study, scientists at the University of Sheffield have found that crumbled rocks could play a crucial role in helping the UK achieve its goals.

Senior author Professor David Beerling at the University of Sheffield said: “Our analysis highlights the potential of UK agriculture to deliver substantial carbon drawdown by transitioning to managing arable farms with rock dust, with added benefits for soil health and food security.”

The technique, known as enhanced rock weathering, is relatively “straightforward” to implement because it does not require any additional infrastructure.

Researchers found that adding this rock dust to the soil could remove between six and 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere every year by 2050.

It would also do so at a much cheaper rate than other available carbon culling solutions like direct air capture or bioenergy crops, costing around £200 per tonne of CO2.

Lead author Dr Euripides Kantzas said: “By quantifying the carbon removal potential and co-benefits of amending crops with crushed rock in the UK, we provide a blueprint for deploying enhanced rock weathering on a national level, adding to the toolbox of solutions for carbon-neutral economies.”

Adding pulverised basalt to the soil would also provide a boost to the farmer’s efforts to slash the emissions of gases like nitrous oxide, which are one of the biggest threats to the ozone layer.

It also has the added benefit of reducing the soil’s level of acidity, boosting crop yields and cutting demand for imported fertilisers.

Reducing reliance on imported foods and fertilisers would help shield the UK market from external shocks.

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The risks of importing have been made clear by the conflict in Ukraine, which has caused global food and fertiliser prices to spike.

The implementation will have to take into account the concerns of local communities and farmers, the researchers point out.

Co-author Professor Nick Pidgeon said: “Meeting our net zero targets will need widespread changes to the way UK agriculture and land is managed.

“For this transformation to succeed we will need to fully engage rural communities and farmers in this important journey.”

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