San Diego-based Sempra donated $2 million to the Salk Institute to help fund the five-year project.
“There is incredible urgency to address our changing climate,” said Wolfgang Busch, co-director of the Salk Institute’s Harnessing Plants Initiative. “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.”
The Sequestering Carbon Through Climate Adapted Sorghum project is part of the institute’s Harnessing Plants Initiative. HPI is an approach to fight climate change by optimizing plants’ 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 our 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 intend to 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 feedstocks.
“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 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,” he said.
HPI aims to develop crop plants with significant global acreages to store long-lasting carbon in the soil. Crop plants engineered to store more carbon in the soil for longer can lead to a potentially enormous reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide, researchers said.
The goal is for the six crops that HPI is developing — including sorghum — to have a global impact on carbon levels. Initiative scientists estimate if 70% of the target crops worldwide are converted into the enhanced crop plants, 1.5 to 6 gigatons of carbon dioxide 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.
“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,” said Joanne Chory, co-director of HPI and Salk Institute professor.
Sempra Energy is the parent company of San Diego Gas & Electric. The Salk Institute is an independent nonprofit science organization based in La Jolla with focuses on neuroscience, genetics, immunology, plant biology, and other fields.
–City News Service