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US (CA): Berkeley Lab awarded $4.6M for ag tech research

As advanced as agriculture has become, there remains a pressing need for nondestructive ways to ”see” into the soil. Now the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has awarded $4.6 million to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) for two innovative projects to address this gap, giving farmers important information to increase crop yields while also promoting the storage of carbon in soil.

One project aims to use electrical current to image the root system, which will accelerate the breeding of crops with roots that are tailored to specific conditions (such as drought). The other project will develop a new imaging technique based on neutron scattering to measure the distribution of carbon and other elements in the soil.

“Both technologies could be transformational for agriculture ⎯ for quantifying belowground plant traits and where carbon and other elements are distributed⎯and will enable the next generation of predictive models for agriculture and climate,” said Eoin Brodie, deputy director of Berkeley Lab’s Climate & Ecosystem Sciences Division and a microbiologist who is contributing to both projects. “They’re windows into the soil, something that we urgently need.”

Berkeley Lab received these competitive awards from ARPA-E’s Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration (ROOTS) program, which seeks to develop crops that take carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in soil — enabling a 50 percent increase in carbon deposition depth and accumulation while also reducing nitrous oxide emissions by 50 percent and increasing water productivity by 25 percent.

Soil carbon deficits are a global phenomenon resulting from many decades of industrial agriculture. Soils have the capacity to store significant quantities of carbon, reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations while also enhancing soil fertility and water retention.

Read more at the University of California website

Publication date: 1/9/2017



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