Genomic Science Program
U.S. Department of Energy | Office of Science | Biological and Environmental Research Program

Terraforming Soil Energy Earthshot Research Center: Accelerating Soil-Based Carbon Drawdown Through Advanced Genomics and Geochemistry

Authors:

Jennifer Pett-Ridge1* (pettridge2@llnl.gov), Cody Balos1, Steve Blazewicz1, Peer-Timo Bremer1, Kari Finstad1, Erika Fong1, David Gardner1, Katerina Georgiou1, William Hynes1, Kim Mayfield1, Karis McFarlane1, Erin Nuccio1, Dante Ricci1, Randolph Settgast1, Fangchao Song1, Noah Sokol1, Peter Weber1, Carol Woodward1, Mavrik Zavarin1, David Savage2, Peggy Lemaux2, Jillian Banfield2, Melinda Kliegman2, Isabel Montañez3, Anthony O’Geen3, Radomir Schmidt3, Caroline Masiello4, Caroline Ajo-Franklin4, Satish Myneni5, Eric Slessarev6, Noah Planavsky6, Dan Maxbauer7, Haruko Wainwright8, Egbert Schwartz9, Bruce Hungate9, Victor Leshyk9, Jane Zelikova10, Peter Nico11, William Riley11, David Trebotich11, Mary Lipton12, Ljiljana Paša-Tolić 12, Bjorn Traag13, Jonathan Sanderman14

Institutions:

1Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; 2University of California–Berkeley/Innovative Genomics Institute; 3 University of California–Davis; 4 Rice University; 5Princeton University; 6Yale University, Center for Natural Carbon Capture; 7Carleton College; 8 Massachusetts Institute of Technology; 9Northern Arizona University; 10Colorado State University, Soil Carbon Solutions Center; 11Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; 12Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; 13Andes Ag, Inc; 14Woodwell Climate Research Center

Goals

The Terraforming Soil Energy Earthshot Research Center (EERC) will study biological and geological solutions to accelerate scalable, affordable carbon drawdown in the United States’ 166 million hectares of agricultural soils. Research objectives include gene-edited plants and microorganisms that accelerate carbon sequestration, strategies that encourage soil mineral-organic interactions, and models that predict carbon durability in small soil pores as well as regional-scale estimates of locations with opportunities for increased soil carbon removal.

Abstract

To reduce the United States’ net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to zero and limit the impacts of global warming, it is essential to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Soils store a vast amount of carbon (C) in organic and inorganic forms, on the order of 3,000 billion tons globally. This is more carbon than is found in the atmosphere and on land combined. While the United States’ 166 million hectares of agricultural soils have lost a vast amount of carbon in the past century due to cultivation and erosion, there is clear potential to reverse this trend and actively manage agricultural lands with strategies that capture CO2 from the atmosphere. The Terraforming Soil Energy Earthshot Research Center (EERC) will research new bio- and geoengineered techniques to understand, predict, and accelerate scalable and affordable CO2 drawdown in soils, via both organic and inorganic carbon cycle pathways. The Center’s overarching goal is to advance the fundamental understanding of CO2 drawdown in soils through both organic and inorganic pathways by measuring soil C storage capacity, durability, and regional variations that have bearing on land management practices. In Objective 1, synthetic biology tools will be used to accelerate naturally occurring plant and microbial traits that shape CO2 fixation processes, organic matter formation, and mineral dissolution. Combined genome sequencing and isotope tracing approaches will be used to quantify the fundamental mechanisms of how organic matter accrues over time and the traits of plants and microorganisms that need to be better reflected in process models. In Objective 2, the Center will focus on positive interactions that can occur during the weathering of primary minerals and the formation of organic matter-mineral complexes—together, these have dramatic potential to accelerate soil CO2 drawdown via combined organic and inorganic pathways. But currently, the interactions between soil weathering, soil biology, and organic matter cycling are poorly understood. The Center’s field and laboratory-based studies will measure how soil management approaches can be ‘stacked’ together to optimize total CO2 drawdown via co-deployment of novel engineered crops or microbes, silicate minerals, or organic amendments. Research for Objective 3 will integrate new modeling capabilities and data exploration to enable better predictions of soil CO2 drawdown in both space and time. Novel micro- and macro-scale simulation tools will be combined with advanced modeling, machine learning, and data science approaches, allowing the Center to better forecast the potential impacts of new soil CO2 drawdown approaches at multiple scales. The Terraforming Soil EERC team includes world-class experts in soil carbon cycling, photosynthesis biochemistry, plant/microbial gene engineering and genomics, mineral geochemistry, machine learning, exascale modeling and computing, additive manufacturing, and in situ isotope-based characterization. Throughout the research program, the Center will bridge cutting-edge analytical and computational studies with a commitment to engage with community stakeholders, exploring the technical, social, and economic implications of engineered soil CO2 drawdown. The Center will emphasize diverse training opportunities for students and early career scientists and amplify equity and inclusion throughout the research pipeline.

Funding Information

This research is based upon work of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory ‘Terraforming Soil’ Energy Earthshot Research Center (EERC), supported by the U.S. DOE Office of Science, BER program, Basic Energy Sciences (BES) and Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) programs under Award Number SCW1841 to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and multiple subcontracts. Work at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was performed under U.S. DOE Contract DE-AC52- 07NA27344.