Dirt Cheap Solution? Spreading Clay on Farms May Dramatically Cut Carbon

L-R: Dr Sina Rezaei Gomari, Mardin Abdalqadir, Peter Scott and Bob Borthwick at the carbon sequestration research site

Northeast England Could Dramatically Cut Emissions Through Innovative Carbon Capture, Teesside University Study Finds

Spreading a blended clay waste on agricultural land in northeast England could significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the region, according to new research from Teesside University scientists.

The study, published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, found that applying a silicate clay-rich waste (SCRW) at a rate of 11.2 tonnes per hectare could sequester around 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year in northeast England. This is equivalent to a substantial portion of the region’s total emissions.

“The results indicate that the application of SCRW on agricultural land in North East England could capture a substantial portion of the region’s CO2 emissions, equivalent to a significant reduction in the UK’s total emissions,” said Mardin Abdalqadir, a doctoral researcher at Teesside University and lead author of the study.

The research is part of a groundbreaking three-year carbon sequestration study undertaken in partnership with Scott Bros, a local recycling specialist based in Stockton-on-Tees. Scott Bros is hosting the research program on a donated site near Haverton Hill, where 30 test pits have been created filled with a combination of waste clay, filter cake, recycled aggregate and compost.

The fine-grained SCRW is a byproduct of Scott Bros’ two wash plants, which convert construction and demolition waste into commercial-grade sand and aggregate. The SCRW is rich in calcium and magnesium, nutrients that are beneficial for plant growth. With a particle size under 1.5 mm, it is ideal for absorbing carbon dioxide through a natural chemical weathering process.

“This innovative approach emphasizes the significant carbon capture potential of waste materials like SCRW compared to natural rock,” said Dr. Sina Rezaei Gomari, an associate professor at Teesside University and co-author of the study. “It carries promising implications for cleaner production technologies and sustainable practices in agriculture.”

Applying similar SCRW to agricultural land across northeast England could sequester up to 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, according to the researchers’ estimates. This is equivalent to over 5% of the total carbon dioxide emissions across England in 2019.

“I’m confident that SCRW can contribute towards achieving increased resource efficiency while playing a major role in mitigating climate change,” said Peter Scott, a director at Scott Bros. “Scott Bros is proud to be supporting this Teesside University research which is a promising step toward reducing carbon emissions.”

The concept behind using SCRW for carbon capture is inspired by natural geological weathering processes. Some geologists believe past ice ages were triggered by increased chemical weathering of rocks, which absorbed more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The blended SCRW aims to accelerate this natural process as a method of removing excess carbon dioxide.

“To fully realize its potential, field-level investigations, robust monitoring systems, and comprehensive assessments are essential to understand its impact on soil properties, water management, and crop growth,” said Dr. Rezaei Gomari.

In addition to carbon capture research, Scott Bros is investigating converting the waste clay into recycled bricks. Prototype bricks have already garnered interest from major UK homebuilders.

“There were four million tonnes of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste in the UK that remained unrecycled in 2020,” said Scott Bros director Bob Borthwick. “This study has the potential to completely turn that situation around and provide a huge boost to the circular economy.”

The carbon sequestration research was published in the Journal of Cleaner Production under the title “Process-based life cycle assessment of waste clay for mineral carbonation and enhanced weathering: A case study for northeast England, UK.”

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