Injecting carbon dioxide into a greenhouse to increase crop yield is one thing, but venting it into an almond orchard in the hope of increasing production?
That’s the idea on about a third of an acre off Weedpatch Highway as part of a $100,000 business demonstration project aimed at improving agricultural efficiency by applying the basic principles of photosynthesis.
In addition to the potential benefits to agriculture, the state-funded effort near Lamont aims to pioneer a low-cost method of fighting climate change through carbon sequestration.
Bakersfield chemical engineer Brian Kolodji, a former oil industry gas treatment expert with three patents to his name, has developed a system to cool exhaust gases from combustion sources and distribute them to trees which he thinks will get bigger and produce more almonds. .
At the heart of the project is the biological principle that plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen during photosynthesis.
There’s no yield data to show for Kolodji’s work yet, only because the orchard where he works and often camps hasn’t been exposed to CO2 gas long enough to make a difference. Even so, he and the scientists he consults have little doubt that the trees he works with will produce more nuts using less water – assuming the carbon dioxide remains where it is applied long enough.
“The question is, can (Kolodji) keep the CO2 high around the almond orchard?” said Bruce Kimball, a published researcher who spent years at the US Department of Agriculture for carbon-enriching crops such as cotton, but never almonds.
Another Kolodji consultant scientist on the job, Brian Marsh, a local agricultural adviser and Kern County director of the University of California’s office of cooperative extension, expressed hope that the job will point to a cost-effective alternative to this which is otherwise the costly capture process. carbon dioxide and bury it deep underground, as several local oil producers have proposed.
Marsh recognized the challenges ahead, from negotiating with industrial CO2 emitters for a steady supply of gas to their smokestacks, to establishing a cost-effective way to distribute it to sprawling orchards.
Infusing crops with CO2 in a greenhouse works on a limited budget because the gas does not escape easily. But there are hurdles to getting the gas directly from industrial pollution sources and doing it in the open using a process called open-air carbon enrichment – FACE.
Kolodji applied his engineering skills to invent relatively simple solutions to different aspects of the problem. For starters, his system near Weedpatch Highway and East Panama Lane mimics industrial emissions by collecting exhaust from a propane generator and two gasoline-burning vehicles.
Channeling and guiding the exhaust through a duct system, it cools the gas with water from a children’s pool, a small pump, a sprinkler and a condenser. A variety of fans drive CO2 through the ducts, which are connected to sensors measuring temperature, water content and CO2 concentrations.
The sheaths follow a path on the ground before being hung at different altitudes near a succession of almond trees. Marsh noted that he and Kolodji are experimenting with other methods of distributing CO2 through the orchard.
The orchard is owned by Paramjit Dosanjh, who has made land available to Kolodji for free because, Dosanjh said, he wants to be proactive.
“Unless we do, you never know,” Dosanjh said.
Burning propane and gasoline to produce CO2 has never been the long-term solution; the goal is to eventually absorb exhaust from a refinery or get it directly from an oil wellhead, which Marsh says would likely require an investment in chimney equipment and a permit to ‘air.
He pointed out that negotiations on the supply of gas from industrial sources are continuing. The plan is to have almond growers pay for the gas, while emitters would ideally receive government incentives to divert CO2 to an orchard whose wood will eventually be ground up and buried in the ground as a form of storage. soil-friendly carbon.
Kolodji talks enthusiastically about his work, such as a patent-pending membrane he invented that he says collects carbon dioxide directly from the air at low cost; this membrane would not necessarily be part of the orchard project.
His hope is to prove the concept of his FACE approach and scale it up to increase almond yield by an average of 40% while reducing water consumption by at least 10%, based on decades of research by Kimball and others. He notes that his process removes water from the exhaust streams in a way that keeps CO2 close to the ground instead of allowing it to vent into the atmosphere.
Kolodji said he was grateful to many who supported his efforts, including Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, who backed his 2018 application for the $100,000 Department of Health grant. California Food and Agriculture.
Fong noted in an emailed statement about the grant award that a quarter of the country’s food is grown in the Central Valley and the industry employs hundreds of thousands of people.
“Innovations aimed at improving agricultural production should be encouraged and supported,” he wrote.
A CDFA spokesperson said by email that it could not offer a specific assessment of the Kolodji project as work continues, but it is part of the department’s efforts to save water. and deliver benefits in a context of drought and climate change.
Spokesperson Jay Van Rein wrote that CDFA’s SWEEP program, which stands for State Water Efficiency Enhancement Program, encourages farmers to adopt and develop new and proven technologies to save water.
“This is one of the many things farmers are doing to help California conserve water during this severe drought,” he wrote. “This grant project is one example of hundreds we have funded where farmers are finding better ways to provide our food supply while using less water, reducing energy consumption and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse effect. This is all part of California’s overall and real response to climate change.”