Changes in farming practices could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2036

Team used Argonne’s GREET model to simulate changes, predict outcomes

ST. LOUIS, MO – June 21, 2021 – Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory participated in a study that shows innovation in technologies and agricultural practices could reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from grain production by up to 70% within the next 15 years.

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, the study identifies a combination of readily adoptable technological innovations that can significantly reduce emissions and fit within current production systems and established grain markets.

The study, “Novel technologies for emission reduction complement conservation agriculture to achieve negative emissions from row crop production,” maintains that reductions in GHG emissions could be attained through digital agriculture, crop and microbial genetics and electrification. The new technologies, when implemented, promise to drive the decarbonization of agriculture while supporting farm resilience and maintaining profitability and productivity. 

Technologies were grouped across three phases: optimize, replace and redesign. The team used Argonne’s GREET® model to simulate adoption of the new technologies for holistic greenhouse gas emission reductions of grain production. Argonne developed GREET (the Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Technologies Model), a one-of-a-kind lifecycle analytical tool now used worldwide by government, industry and the science community.

The study offers insights for the development of possible new approaches for agriculture decarbonization and suggests entry points for public and private investment based on a timeline of expected returns on investments in new technologies.

“Our study emphasizes the importance of a two-pronged approach — reducing farming emissions and maximizing soil carbon storage — to addressing the climate crisis through agriculture. Practices that enhance soil carbon storage continue to gain momentum. Complementing this approach by developing and broadly applying emission reduction technologies, including seed genetics, is critical to achieving net negative production,” said Dan Northrup, lead author of the study and director of special projects at Benson Hill, a St Louis based company leveraging the natural genetic diversity of plants to develop more healthy and sustainable food choices.

Argonne Energy Systems Division’s senior scientist Michael Wang, who leads the Systems Assessment Center and is one of the study’s principal investigators, added, “Our holistic assessment of agriculture decarbonization highlights technical areas and focus points so that U.S. agriculture will be a solution to the climate challenge.”

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Other research team members included Philip Benfey of Duke University, HHMI and Hi Fidelity Genetics, a company commercializing an in-field sensor-based root monitoring platform for crop plants; Bruno Basso of Michigan State University and CiBO Technologies, innovators of a breakthrough technology platform that accelerates regenerative agriculture; and Cristine Morgan of the Soil Health Institute, a nonprofit that safeguards and enhances the vitality and productivity of soil through research and advancement.

This research is funded by the SMARTFARM Program of DOE’s ARPA-E and DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy supports early-stage research and development of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies to strengthen U.S. economic growth, energy security, and environmental quality.

Argonne National Laboratory
seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science
is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.

About Benson Hill
Benson Hill moves food forward with the CropOS® platform, a cutting-edge food innovation engine that combines data science and machine learning with biology and genetics. Benson Hill empowers innovators to unlock nature’s genetic diversity from plant to plate, with the purpose of creating healthier, great-tasting food and ingredient options that are both widely accessible and sustainable. More information can be found at bensonhill.com or on Twitter at @bensonhillinc.

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