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Independent.ie

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Ploughing grass for biomass crops 'can cut emissions'

Conversion found to improve carbon balance

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Grassland ploughed for biomass crops can help reduce Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions, according to the latest research from Teagasc.

The finding follows a debate about the actual benefit of growing energy crops to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While supporters of the biomass sector highlighted its ability to displace fossil fuel imports, sceptics pointed to the surge in carbon emissions if long-term pasture is ploughed to allow biomass crops to be planted.

Teagasc has just completed a number of research projects to quantify the greenhouse gas emissions associated with these crops.

One of the surprising findings of the research was that the conversion of grassland to biomass, which was previously thought to lead to large soil carbon losses, in fact maintained or improved the carbon balance through higher annual carbon sequestration rates and lower than expected carbon losses from ploughing.

solution

"This research proves that perennial biomass, such as miscanthus and short rotation willow coppice, can form part of a sustainable solution to Ireland's future energy requirement," said Teagasc's Dr Gary Lanigan.

Dr Lanigan, who works with the environment, soil and land use department at Johnstown Castle, said that these types of biomass crops could offset part of the greenhouse gas emissions within the agricultural sector.

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However, challenges remain, according to Dr Lanigan.

"The Government's target is to supply 12pc of national heat demand through co-firing with renewable resources by 2020.

"But, it takes years for energy crops to mature and to reach maximum sequestration potential.

"Therefore, urgent policies are required to encourage large-scale adoption of these systems," he added.

"To incentivise the growing of energy crops, financial mechanisms would need to be put in place to allow agriculture to benefit from the greenhouse gas reductions associated with fossil fuel displacement.

"Perennial biomass crops are ideally placed to be incentivised through an initial Domestic Offsetting scheme," concluded Dr Lanigan.

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