With climate change concerns mounting, any means to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are gladly welcomed. Just last year, the CO2 levels were reported to be at the highest they've been in over 800,000 years; A startling reality for the future of our planet's health. But recent research shows that farming with rocks may be a simple, natural method to soak up some of our excess CO2.
Looking at our environmental records, we are living in conditions that no human has ever experienced before. For 800,000 years, we saw the average CO2 fluctuation between 170 ppm and 280 ppm. Ppm refers to parts per million, meaning the concentration of CO2 within the earth's atmosphere. As of right now, we're experiencing an increase of 2 ppm per year. If we don't change things around quickly, we might be looking at 500 ppm within the next 45 years.
Many different methods are being used to try and combat climate change. Solar-powered energy, consuming local produce, and investing in electric vehicles are all popular ways to reduce the average carbon footprint. But now, thanks to new farming research, we may have a natural and effective CO2 level reduction plan on our hands; Farming with rocks.
Farming with Rock Matter
For years now, farmers have been harnessing the fertility of volcanic lands for growing crops. The soil health and irrigation levels from volcanic rocks are ideal stimuli for crops, without any adverse effects on human health. We didn't know (until now) that the rocks in these locations are doing more than just growing healthy crops - They're absorbing a significant amount of CO2 from the air.
Basalt, a fine-grained volcanic rock, has earned its label as "carbon's best friend." With a high concentration of calcium, magnesium and iron, basalt physically attracts CO2. Once the CO2 is drawn into the rock, the calcium, magnesium and iron bind together with the CO2 to solidify into a mineral. Essentially, the CO2 is transformed from a gaseous state into a physical one, thus reducing the carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere.
The minerals within basalt rocks attract and capture CO2 from the atmosphere
But how do we move towards raising crops using rock matter? It turns out that the solution is a pretty simple one. All that farmers would need to do is sprinkle some crushed basalt or similar rocks into the crops' soil. In its whole form, the CO2 mineralization process can only occur within the inner layers of the rock. By crushing the basalt, more of its surface area is exposed, which increases its potential to attract and mineralize CO2 from the air.
The actual process is made possible by carbonic acid. Each day, carbon dioxide in the air mixes with rainwater, creating carbonic acid. This acid then breaks down rocks and creates something called bicarbonate. The bicarbonate then washes out of the farming system, finding its way back into the ocean's depths. This process is certainly beneficial for the atmosphere's health, but it only absorbs about 3% of global emissions from fossil fuels.
It's this natural phenomenon that scientists and farmers are aiming to speed up, if not dictate. When done properly and on a large scale, this method of sprinkling crushed volcanic rock could have an enormous impact on the CO2 levels across the planet.
Farms: The Perfect Place to Start
Farms make up about 37% of the planet's land area. With so much land space comes a lot of potential to make a change; Farming with rocks included. By incorporating this new method, the amount of CO2 extraction could make a significant dent in the CO2 levels that are causing extreme damage to the planet.
Plus, incorporating the method of farming with rocks will not be a difficult transition, if it starts taking hold in the farming communities. In fact, most farmers are already in the practice of pouring crushed limestone on crops for various reasons. Reversing the acidification of farming soil and keeping pests away are common uses for limestone on crops, but crushed basalt could do the same, plus lower the CO2 levels in the air at the same time.
Replacing limestone with basalt will fulfill the farming needs of crops while simultaneously lowering CO2 levels
Although crushed basalt and other silicate rocks can be applied to any type of farming soil, the best choice for implementation would be in arable farms. Arable farms are used to grow crops such as corn, soy beans, vegetables, and so on. These crops are plowed and managed closely with the existing infrastructure to start using crushed basalt in the soil. Roadways and the machinery used for managing the existing crops will make adopting this method a smooth and virtually cost-free option.
Because limestone is already being used on arable farms, the suggestion is to switch the material being used. Rather than pouring crushed limestone on the crops, Professor Steven Long at the University of Illinois proposes that crushed basalt be used in its place to fulfill all of the crops' needs, all while absorbing CO2 at the same time.
This new discovery of basalt's relationship with CO2 is not the answer to our climate change problem. However, it does have the potential to change the future of our planet's atmospheric health to a certain degree. If put into use, it is estimated that one cubic meter of basalt-rich soil has the potential to convert over 100 pounds of CO2 into mineral. With the extensive use of the Earth's land used for farming, farming with rocks is certainly moving us towards a cleaner, hopeful future.