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Our Research

Carbon Storage in Marginal Lands

The Problem

There is a vast amount of “marginal land” in the world, used at most for grazing and often not used at all.  This includes land not suitable for crops, forestry or high density cattle grazing.  These lands usually have one or more of the following conditions:  poor soil, not enough water or rainfall, steep slopes or pollution, including saline soils.  In the US alone, there are roughly 800 million acres of range land.  The sub-Saharan Sahel and neighboring savannas contain over one billion acres of range land of varying quality.  Australia, Southern Africa, South America and central Asia all have significant areas of marginal land.  These marginal lands could be used to sequester vast amounts of carbon, but the economic incentive is not there.


Marginal Land


Marginal Land in Sahel, Africa


Our Solution

Terraffirm is investigating the feasibility of using existing or genetically modified plant communities to store carbon in the soil in these marginal lands and keep it there for up to 100 years.  Large amounts of carbon are found in specific components of certain plants.  Lignin is a complex polymer that gives structural strength to plants and trees.  Suberin is a macromolecule found in specialized plant cell walls, wherever insulation or protection from the surroundings is needed.  Both lignin and suberin are resistant to decomposition.   


Plant genetic engineerig


Scientist testing effect of modifications

The Impact

Carbon credits of from  $10 to $20 per ton of carbon dioxide could provide incentive to landowners to cover large areas of marginal lands with these carbon sequestering plants.  If annual storage of carbon in the range of 2 to 5 tons per acre could be achieved, this would result in annual revenues of $75 to $350/acre/year (given that one ton of carbon corresponds 3.67 tons of carbon dioxide).  If one billion acres could be planted, from 7 to 18 gigatons of carbon dioxide could be removed from the atmosphere.  By comparison, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing by about 19 gigatons per year.


Root system before and after genetic engineering

Research on Plants Suitable for Marginal Lands

As part of its mission, Terraffirm conducts its own research, either directly or through consultants, into methods and technologies to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and disseminates that information into the public domain.  The reports shown to the left were produced by Tara Ursell, a PhD candidate at the University of California at Davis.

Examples of Dry Land Plants

Ecosystem Management

Planting Strategies

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