Grasses such as wheat and sorghum can store large amounts of carbon in microscopic balls of silica, called phytoliths. Phytoliths, also known as plantstones or plant opals, are formed in and around the cell wall of many plant species replicating the cell wall shape and encapsulating the inner organic content. These silica bodies are deposited into the soil when a plant dies and are highly resistant to decomposition.
Southern Cross University researchers recently completed field trials that reveal cane can retain three-quarters of a tonne of carbon dioxide equivalents per hectare in the soil each year, and will continue to do so for thousands of years. Cane farmers may therefore be able to cash in on carbon credits because of their crop’s new-found ability to lock away large amounts of carbon.
“This could be worth millions to the sugar industry and all grass-growing industries,” said researcher Jeff Parr of Southern Cross University.
Draft rules for a national emissions trading scheme are being discussed with a view to being implemented by 2010, but the rules regarding global emissions trading don’t yet fully factor in agriculture, or any role it may have in carbon sequestration.
Thanks to Gavin for his note about plantstones.