Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

March 14, 2007

Display to Show How Plants Can Ease Global Warming

People attending College Royal this weekend will get an “up close and personal” lesson on how plants can help mitigate global warming, courtesy of the University of Guelph’s Department of Plant Agriculture.

A special display is being installed in the Crop Science Building (rooms 116/117) that demonstrates the process of plants removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It includes corn, soybeans and canola plants in a large transparent box that is illuminated so the plants photosynthesize. Measurements will be taken with a gas analyzer and the date recorded by a computer and projected on a screen.

“It’s a way of literally ‘watching’ plants remove carbon dioxide from the air,” said Prof. Hugh Earl, who studies oilseeds agronomy and physiology and helped create the display.

C02 in the Earth's atmosphere is a major contributor to the greenhouse effect, which is the cause of global warming and associated aspects of climate change, Earl said. Burning of fossil fuels, including coal and petroleum products, is the major cause of increased atmospheric CO2. The CO2 that’s released when these fuels are combusted is derived from carbon that has been "stored" under the Earth's surface for millions of years.

“But we can now replace some of our fossil fuel use with bio-fuels derived from crops, including ethanol from corn, biodiesel from soybeans and canola, and even simple combustion of plant materials to generate electricity,” he said.

Although burning these fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere in the same way that burning fossil fuels does, the CO2 released from bio-fuels was recently removed from the atmosphere by crops as they grew and carried out photosynthesis, Earl said.

“Thus, we have closed the CO2 loop, and there is no net release of CO2 into the atmosphere and no net contribution to the greenhouse effect.”

The display will be up and running both days of College Royal, which runs March 17 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and March 18 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The University’s annual open house attracts thousands of visitors to campus each year. Rene van Acker, chair of the Department of Plant Agriculture, said it’s a great opportunity to educate the general public about the important role agriculture can play in helping to relieve global warming.

Prof. Hugh Earl
Department of Plant Agriculture
519 824-4120, Ext. 58568

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: 519 824-4120, Ext. 53338.

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