A recent report published in the Bioscience journal suggests that genetically engineered crops and plants could be used to trap greenhouse gases and increase bioenergy production. The study, led by Christer Jansson of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, says that while we presently add around 9 gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere annually, by 2050, we may be able to offset around 5-8 gigatons of the carbon emitted by growing bio-engineered plants that can remove a lot of carbon from the atmosphere and store it underground, a process known as carbon sequestration, which would increase our bioenergy producing capacity.
Scientific American reports:
Bioenergy crops represent an opportunity to mitigate atmospheric carbon dioxide in two separate ways, says lead author Christer Jansson, a senior staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Earth Sciences Division. First, they are a carbon-neutral energy source that could offset the burning of fossil fuels. Second, “if they are the right kind of plants, they have a chance to transfer a lot of carbon underground for long-term sequestration,” he says.
Plants take up CO2 and store carbon in their biomasses. Carbon can stay for decades or centuries in leaves, stems, branches, seeds and flowers aboveground, whereas carbon allocated to underground root systems is more apt to be transferred into the soil, where it can stay sequestered for millennia. Therefore, an ideal bioenergy plant would produce lots of aboveground biomass for fuel as well as have an extensive root system. Preliminary research indicates that genetic engineering approaches could be employed to enhance both these traits.