Beyond Carbon Neutral awards second round of seed grants

Friday, June 30, 2017

This month, nine U-M faculty individuals and teams were awarded a second round of seed grants to conduct exploratory research on various scientific and societal aspects of carbon dioxide removal- a climate change reversal strategy aimed at reducing the amount of greenhouse gases entering the environment. Administered by the Energy Institute, the project is called Beyond Carbon Neutral.

The approximately $200,000 of research funding will focus on supporting projects that that amplify and build upon results from the first round of funding, and on new ideas that provide foundational results that can be built upon with additional research. These seed funding outcomes will identify specific research objectives to drive the next funding phase.

For Beyond Carbon Neutral, the Energy Institute has worked with over 60 U-M faculty to develop more than 50 inventive research proposals investigating different aspects of carbon dioxide removal. These research activities fall into three overlapping areas: the biosphere, technology, and human systems. Some Beyond Carbon Neutral research activities fall clearly into one research area, while others bridge the conceptual divides that too often limit the scope and ambition of academic research.

Learn more about BCN and contact team leaders here.

Seed grant awardees and project descriptions are listed below:

How many, and which species are need to maximize the sequestration and burial of carbon?

By: Bradley Cardinale

Building on his 2016 Beyond Carbon Neutral seed project to quantify how plant biodiversity influences C‐ storage in terrestrial ecosystems, Cardinale will expand this research to look at how species diversity influences carbon storage in aquatic ecosystems. His experiment, to be completed by a Ph.D. student as part of his dissertation, will quantify how the diversity and composition of common species of freshwater algae impact carbon sequestration and herbivory (two biological processes that influence carbon storage).

Broadband Solar Energy Harvesting for Chemical Transformation of CO2 into Fuels

By: Neil Dasgupta, Johannes Schwank, Charles McCrory

This research team proposes to demonstrate a new method of broadband harvesting of solar energy for chemical transformation of CO2 into fuels. A prototype reactor for high-temperature gas-phase photocatalysis or photocatalytically enhanced thermal catalysis has been recently built by the team; this platform will be used to feed in a stream of CO2 and H2 gas (for example by blending H2 with CO2 captured from the hot exhaust stream of a natural gas power plant), and use sunlight to drive the conversion of CO2 into methane. This reactor will close the carbon cycle, and provide a useful fuel that can be reused in an carbon capture power plant, or for building heating. The objective of this proposal is to assess the feasibility of this approach for CO2 utilization, and generate results that can be leveraged for future funding opportunities.

Factors in Forest management to Protect Carbon Sinks on Private Forestland in the Great Lakes Region

By: Paige Fischer and Bill Currie

This project aims to identify key social and ecological factors that determine whether and how private landowners manage forests in ways that can protect and enhance carbon storage in forests in the northern Great Lakes region.

Enhancing Long-Term Carbon Sequestration in Soils by Mycorrhizal Fungi

By: Mark Hunter, Timothy James

This project will host an international workshop to explore the potential of managing northern forests to sequester carbon through mycorrhizal fungi in soil. With Year 1 seed funding, this research team established that (a) pine plantations in northern Michigan sequester more carbon in deeper soil layers than do unmanaged forests; (b) carbon sequestration is associated with high fungal biomass and an increase in the representation of ectomycorrhizal taxa; and (c) high rates of timber extraction from northern deciduous forests reduce the abundance of ectomycorrhizal fungi in soils.

Carbon Sequestration and Conversion to Industrially Relevant Biomonomers: A Photosynthetic Microbial Consortia Approach

By: Nina Lin, Neil Marsh

This project’s goal is to develop a highly efficient pathway to biologically sequester CO2 and convert the sequestered carbon into valuable molecules that can be utilized in large-volume applications, particularly bio-based plastics. Building on initial progress supported by the first round of Beyond Carbon Neutral, we will continue the design and optimization of a tripartite microbial consortium in which three microbes of differentiated specializations can convert sunlight, carbon dioxide, and atmospheric nitrogen into chemical precursors for bulk polymer production. This framework offers a novel opportunity for biobased polymer production without energetically or monetarily expensive nutrient inputs, subsequently providing an attractive, sustainable alternative to fossil fuel analogues.

Carbon Negative Landscapes – Examining the Design and Perceptions of High Performance Landscapes for Carbon Dioxide Removal

By: Mark Lindquist

The objectives of this research are to develop novel landscape scenarios that exceed carbon neutral performance by employing a carbon negative framework and then to examine the tradeoffs between each scenario -- explicitly communicating tradeoffs using 3D visualization. Lindquist will then assess public reactions to carbon negative landscapes and the impact of communicating tradeoffs on acceptance.

Testing risk compensation effects of learning about CDR in a representative sample

By: Kaitlin Raimi, Sol Hart, Victoria Campbell-Arvai, Kim Wolske

This research builds on an ongoing Beyond Carbon Neutral study examining whether learning about carbon dioxide removal affects support for climate change mitigation using online convenience samples. In this proposed research, we seek to leverage a new partnership with the Ford School’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy to replicate and extend these findings with a representative sample. 


Microbial Mechanisms for Atmospheric Methane Removal


By: Jeremy D. Semrau, Christian M. Lastoskie

Methanotrophs are a group of intriguing microbes that utilize methane as their sole source of carbon and energy. It has been recently shown that methanotrophic communities can remove methane from the atmosphere. The objectives of this proposal are thus to integrate microbiology with modeling and life cycle analyses to identify strategies where methane can be efficiently removed from the atmosphere via methanotrophy.

The Measurement of Knowledge, Concern, and Policy Opinions in the Beyond Carbon Neutral Domain

By: Nicholas Valentino, Michael Traugott

This project will field a baseline national survey to gauge awareness of and support for carbon removal technology development and deployment around the country. The team will explore whether these new strategies are already politicized compared to other climate change knowledge, and how quickly they may become politicized over time.