New, nondestructive soil-analysis device measures carbon, more, in situ
are seen in
BNL.s new Soil
Facility with the
new device that
Click here for a high resolution photograph.
With funding assistance
from DOE's Office of Science
and the National Energy
Technology Laboratory, Lucian
Wielopolski of the Environmental
Sciences Department (ES) has
developed a device that can
measure carbon and other elements
in soils non-destructively
and in situ.
The device is mounted on a
cart and is field-deployable. It
was created as part of the Lab's
ongoing effort in carbon sequestration
in the free-air CO2 enrichment
(FACE) facility, and
could have national and international
implications for both agriculture
and the environment.
Sudeep Mitra, also of ES, assisted
Wielopolski in his research.
Housed on site at the Lab's
newly constructed Soil Analysis
Facility, Bldg. 487, that opened in
December 2004, the instrument
employs different methods of
neutron activation to determine
how much carbon is sequestered
in soils. Over the past year, it has
been undergoing modifications
and field tests on site and at the
FACE facility in North Carolina.
Plans call for it to be used jointly
by scientists from the U.S. Department
of Agriculture and DOE facilities
in Alabama and from the
University of Tennessee.
"In the past, soil carbon measurement
was done by taking
samples from small cores or large
excavations back to the lab,"
Wielopolski said. "Now, with
this device, we can sample a
large volume at the site so that
soil carbon measurement
analysis. It can
also be used in a
of a large area.
may be of particular interest to
farmers worldwide, who have
been switching in increasing
numbers from conventional agriculture
methods that turn the
soil to what is called "no-till"
farming. Since carbon generally
improves soil fertility, it will allow
farmers to determine when
soil conditions are ideal.
There is another reason the
farmers may want to keep track
of how much carbon is present
in their soils.
carbon in the root systems of
plants and finally in the soil,"
Wielopolski said. "Switching
from till to no-till agriculture increases
carbon sequestration and
farmers will want to be able to
verify the amount of carbon stored.
Since carbon sequestration removes
carbon from the atmosphere,
thus mitigating the global
warming, this will allow the
farmers to receive carbon credits."
Pursuant to the Kyoto Treaty
on reducing greenhouse gas
emissions, "carbon credits"
will be available to farmers
whose soil contains large
amounts of sequestered carbon.
Polluting industries are allowed
fixed amounts of carbon
dioxide emissions, after which
they will have to buy carbon
credits, now being actively
traded on stock exchanges from
Europe to Chicago.
The technology is also the
subject of a CRADA with the
XIA Company of California. In
the future, Wielopolski and
Mitra look forward to using
tagged neutron beams by applying
the associated particle neutron
that could provide vertical profiles
as well as the current total
carbon in a volume of soil.
"It would be a quantum technological
jump," Mitra said. "I
have used this technique to measure
carbon in live sheep."
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.