Enhanced Silicate Rock Weathering Carbon Sequestration

Enhanced silicate rock weathering carbon sequestration can increase crop yields and reduce climate change impacts.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Enhanced silicate rock weathering carbon sequestration can increase crop yields and reduce climate change impacts. Image: Unsplash

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Enhanced silicate rock weathering carbon sequestration can increase crop yields and reduce climate change impacts.

As we try to minimize our impact on the planet, many gardeners are moving away from synthetic or chemical fertilizers on their lawns and in their flower beds. They are switching to organic fertilizers derived from natural sources and providing essential nutrients to plants while improving soil health. Some of these organic fertilizers include compost (made out of kitchen scraps or yard waste), animal manure, fish emulsion, worm castings, and much more. Another organic fertilizer that is starting to make the list is silicate rocks, which turn out to be not only good for your soil but also help capture carbon.  

Enhanced silicate rock weathering can come from basalt and granite, which make up much of the Earth’s crust and are the most abundant minerals in the rigid outer layer of the Earth. Granite is formed from the slow cooling and solidification of molten magma that is deep within the Earth’s crust. Basalt is formed from molten magma and erupted from volcanoes as lava cools rapidly on the Earth’s surface.  

Silicate rocks can be used on farmland as a soil amendment. These rocks contain essential minerals and trace elements that can enhance soil fertility and improve crop growth. When these rocks are ground down into a dust-like substance, they slowly release their nutrients, providing a natural and long-lasting source of essential plant elements. Silicate rocks can enhance soil structure by increasing aggregation and reducing compaction, improving water infiltration, root penetration, and soil aeration.  

See also: Harnessing Carbon Mineralization: A Powerful Tool to Combat Climate Change

From an environmental perspective, enhanced silicate rock weathering can reduce climate change impacts by contributing to carbon sequestration in the soil. This occurs when the silicate rocks come into contact with rainwater. This interaction starts the chemical process of weathering, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converts it into products that are transported and then stored in the ocean. This process can be accelerated by grinding silicate rocks into super fine particles and then applying them to the soil. This will increase the surface area and help absorb more carbon. 

A promising new study from Texas A&M University illuminates the potential for enhanced silicate rock weathering to help address climate change. Researchers found that applying basalt dust to agricultural soils could significantly accelerate natural carbon sequestration processes. By spreading just 10 tons of finely ground basalt per hectare across nearly 1,000 farm sites worldwide, an estimated 64 gigatons of carbon dioxide could be removed from the atmosphere over 75 years.

Expanding the application of enhanced silicate rock weathering to all global croplands could increase the total carbon dioxide sequestered to over 215 gigatons in the same timeframe. These findings demonstrate that enhanced silicate rock weathering may provide a practical and scalable method of reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide through natural means. With further research and investment, this approach could make a meaningful contribution to global efforts to mitigate climate change.

The researchers believe that enhanced silicate rock weathering can reduce the carbon footprint associated with fertilizer protection, mitigate nitrous oxide emissions from the soil, improve pH levels and nutrient absorption, and increase crop yields. Handling finely ground basalt must be done carefully as the application can result in airborne particulate emissions and pose a risk to the local air quality. The rocks must also be finely ground to maximize its effectiveness. Coarse and bigger particles might take longer to release their nutrients and may not provide carbon-sequestering benefits.  

Using enhanced silicate rock weathering on farmland to improve soil structure while removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is a unique way to sustainably utilize the earth’s resources.  If it proves to be successful in our efforts to reduce the effects of climate change, we may be seeing volcanic fertilizers for sale in our garden centres.  

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