INBAR recently released another report about bamboo and climate change. The report promotes the potential of bamboo as a core resource to mitigate the effects of climate change. Drawing on a range of INBAR projects and initiatives, the report suggests three main ways bamboo can mitigate climate change: bamboo as a carbon sink; durable bamboo products; and, bamboo-based biofuel and bioenergy. The report is rather broad-based and its purpose as a policy document precludes any in-depth analysis. No mention is made of bamboo phytoliths and their role in climate change mitigation.
As you will recall from a previous post, phytoliths, or plant opal, are microscopic siliceous bodies which occur in living plants. Work is currently underway in Australia and China to investigate opportunities to sequester carbon using phytolith-occluded carbon. Carbon dating has established that plant opals and the carbon stored within them, are highly resistant to decomposition and will stay in the soil for thousands of year, remaining stable even after volcanic explosions, forest fires and earthquakes.
Not all phytoliths have the capacity to store significant amounts of carbon though. A current project at Southern Cross University is investigating the range of agricultural and grass crops, including bamboo, that do have the capacity. The potential exists for reducing carbon emissions in the order of 1.5 billion tonnes a year simply by having farmers choose high-plant opal carbon yielding cultivars of crops they already grow.
The same holds true for bamboo. Careful selection of bamboo species can dramatically increase the sequestration of carbon within the phytoliths. Recent research in China looked into the phytolith content of the leaves of 75 species of bamboo. Sasa came out on top. But Sasa is not a major commercial species on the scale of say, Moso.
Another 2014 Chinese study looked at the potential for carbon sequestration in Moso forests. The study found that the carbon content of phytoliths is dependent upon the parent material underlying the soil in which the bamboo grows.
It’s astounding and timely research work. Solutions for climate change mitigation are right under our noses. Of course, here in Australia we have a government that insists that climate change is not real, so we don’t need to worry.