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Sempra, Salk Institute Announce Project to Advance Plant-Based Carbon Capture Research

Nov. 11, 2020
Research to develop solutions that remove excess carbon from the atmosphere.

Sempra Energy and the Salk Institute recently announced a new project to advance plant-based carbon capture and sequestration research, education, and implementation to help address the climate crisis. Sempra Energy is donating US$2 million to the Salk Institute to help fund the five-year project.

Sempra Energy will be the lead sponsor of the Salk Institute's Sequestering Carbon Through Climate Adapted Sorghum project, part of the institute's Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI). The HPI is a scalable approach to fight climate change by optimizing a plant's natural ability to capture and store carbon and adapt to diverse climate conditions. Salk researchers aim to develop these Salk Ideal Plants to mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change by drawing down significant amounts of the excess carbon in the atmosphere while also providing more food, fuel, and fiber for a growing population.

With Sempra Energy's funding, over the next five years, Salk scientists will work to develop a drought-tolerant, carbon-sequestering grass (sorghum) variety designed to grow on land in Southern California and store carbon in the soil for use with grain production, grazing, or bio-energy feed stocks.

"There is incredible urgency to address our changing climate," said Salk Professor Wolfgang Busch, co-director of the HPI. "As the world's population increases to 10 billion or more, global warming is going to put incredible pressure on our ability to meet humanity's needs for food, fuel, and fiber. Sempra's investment in research to develop solutions that remove excess carbon from the atmosphere is an investment in our shared future."

"At Sempra Energy, we support partnerships designed to produce sustainable and responsible change, and we believe the Salk Institute is an ideal partner to make true progress in the fight against climate change," said Kevin Sagara, group president of Sempra Energy and advisory committee member of the HPI. "This project has the potential to help remove significant amounts of carbon from entering our atmosphere and aligns with Sempra Energy's portfolio to advance the global energy transition to lower-carbon energy sources."

The HPI aims to develop crop plants that have significant global acreages to store long-lasting carbon in the soil. Crop plants that are engineered to store more carbon in the soil for longer can lead to a potentially enormous reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). The six crops that the HPI is developing (including sorghum) can have a global impact on carbon levels.

The HPI estimates that if, worldwide, 70% of the target crops are converted into carbon-sequestration-enhanced crop plants, 1.5 to 6 gigatons of CO2 can be sequestered per year, the equivalent of up to as much as one-third of human-caused CO2 emissions that accumulate in the atmosphere each year.

Salk Professor Joanne Chory, co-director of the HPI, said: "Our plant-based approach to climate change offers a win-win-win for improving soil health, feeding the world's burgeoning population, and sequestering carbon affordably with the potential for global scale. Salk's plant scientists are very excited at how much Sempra Energy's generosity will help move our critical research forward."

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