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Sempra donates $2M to Salk Institute for R&D efforts on plant-based carbon-capture

Photo courtesy USDA

West coast utility owner Sempra Energy is partnering with a well-known research firm that will study and advance technologies for plant-based carbon capture and sequestration.

Sempra is donating $2 million to the Salk Institute to help fund the five-year project. The owner of San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Gas and Oncor Electric, is the lead sponsor for the Salk project.

The institute’s Harnessing Plants Initiative aims to fight climate change by optimizing a plant’s natural ability to capture and store carbon and adapt to diverse climate conditions. Salk researchers will develop plants which can draw down significant amounts of the excess carbon in our atmosphere while also providing more food, fuel and fiber for a growing population.

“At Sempra Energy, we support partnerships designed to produce sustainable and responsible change, and we believe the Salk Institute is an ideal partner to make true progress in the fight against climate change,” said Kevin Sagara, group president of Sempra Energy and advisory committee member of HPI. “This project has the potential to help remove significant amounts of carbon from entering our atmosphere and aligns with Sempra Energy’s portfolio to advance the global energy transition to lower-carbon energy sources.”

With Sempra Energy’s funding, over the next five years Salk scientists will work to develop a drought-tolerant, carbon-sequestering grass (sorghum) variety designed to grow on land in Southern California and store carbon in the soil for use with grain production, grazing or bio-energy feed stocks.

“There is incredible urgency to address our changing climate,” said Salk Professor Wolfgang Busch, co-director of the Institute’s Harnessing Plants Initiative (HPI). “As the world’s population increases to 10 billion or more, global warming is going to put incredible pressure on our ability to meet humanity’s needs for food, fuel and fiber. Sempra’s investment in research to develop solutions that remove excess carbon from the atmosphere is an investment in our shared future.”

HPI aims to develop crop plants that have significant global acreages to store long-lasting carbon in the soil. Crop plants that are engineered to store more carbon in the soil for longer can lead to a potentially enormous reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).

The six crops that HPI is developing (including sorghum) can have a global impact on carbon levels. HPI estimates that if, worldwide, 70% of the target crops are converted into carbon-sequestration-enhanced crop plants, 1.5 to 6 gigatons of CO2 can be sequestered per year, the equivalent of up to as much as one-third of human-caused CO2 emissions that accumulate in the atmosphere each year.

Like many utility leaders, Sempra Energy has set a goal of reaching zero-carbon electricity by 2045 and is headquartered in California where a statewide goal has been passed by political and regulatory leaders.