A schematic view of Carbon fixing by green plants and the formation of coal, gas and oil, as in the Carboniferous Era, is shown in the Figure below. What happened then was that plants took Carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to form large, organic Carbon molecules and gave back Oxygen. The most commonly quoted equation leads to a 6-Carbon sugar.
6 CO2 + 6 H2O → C6H12O6 + 6O2
Plants, of course, go on to produce much larger Carbon-based molecules and although the whole process of forming those original Carbon reserves is not the subject of this blog, the result is summarised in the figure. (For the full story on this, go to “Reversing Global Warming for Profit, by Bill Butterworth, published by MX Publishing and available from any good book shop and via the web.)
Figure. Yes, the organic matter from plant remains contained Carbon which originally produced oil and gas reserves. Now, crop residues, muck and imported wastes can produce hydrocarbon fuels directly from oil seed crops such as rape.
If humans were to try to mimic that process, then it would involve growing more green crops globally and on a very large scale, including reclaiming deserts and, in doing so, avoiding a further problem. Research sponsored by the UN] showed that in the manufacture of mineral fertilisers in typical, modern USA factories, one tonne of Nitrogen nutrient used 21,000 (yes,twenty one thousand) kWh of electricity. Many factories around the world are significantly less efficient. In the current world, the electricity used in that manufacturing process comes mainly from burning fossilised fuel, thus forming a disproportionate amount of Carbon dioxide. Clearly, that is not sustainable.
The classic method of solving a problem depends on putting two, mirror-image “problems” together so that they wipe each other out and, preferably, do so sustainably. The mirror image problem identified in a research and development programme carried out by Land Research was urban waste. So, wastes were used to completely replace mineral fertilisers with a result that cultivation energy went down dramatically, crop disease fell and yields went up and became more consistent. More than that, farms were able to grow oil seed rape and use the extracted oil either as biodiesel or PPO (Pure Plant Oil) in their tractors, combines and pick-up trucks, so achieving a level of energy independence and security.
The Wednesday sustainability in farming blog from Bill Butterworth 7th June 2016