Native forests cover around 160 million hectares of the Australian landmass, so understanding how increasing levels of CO2 will actually affect the function of our forests is a vital question.
This innovative experiment aims to predict decades in advance the effects of exposure to rising CO2 levels on our unique native forest ecosystems.
EucFACE exposes large areas of native Cumberland Plain forest to elevated CO2 at around 550 ppm which is what we expect to reach by 2050. The level of CO2 in the air is currently around 400 ppm and rising.
Video: Kim Calders
“The world’s only Free Air CO2 Enrichment research facility in mature forest”
Where does the CO2 come from? We use food and beverage-quality carbon dioxide normally used in the food industry for carbonation of beverages such as sodas, beers and wine, or for food processing applications such as chilling and freezing, modified atmosphere packaging, and temperature control for products being stored and transported. The gas is free of contaminants, and our supplier’s production facilities have achieved the Food Safety System Certification 22000 (FSSC 22000), an internationally recognised standard for food safety.
Will the experiment increase CO2 emissions? No, the experiment will delay emissions of CO2 that would normally be released by industrial processes. In effect, this allows us to harness carbon dioxide pollution for scientific study.
Is the CO2 dangerous? No. The CO2 is diluted before release and will only be at a concentration of 0.06%. It would take 100 times more CO2 to directly threaten human health.
Are there plans to offset carbon emissions?Australian vegetation can be a large CO2 sink, and we seek to understand if our native vegetation can absorb more CO2 than it currently does. The Hawkesbury Forest Experiment and broader revegetation projects underway through national programs also helps to offset increases in atmospheric CO2.
Is the research being used in informing and shaping Australia’s policies and strategies around carbon emissions? The Institute’s work is quite unique and the results that will emerge over time from EucFACE and our experiments directly inform current approaches to management of carbon emissions.
EucFACE is a massive experiment that exposes large areas of native Cumberland Plain forest to elevated CO2 at around 550ppm which is what we expect to reach by 2050. The level of CO2 in the air is currently around 400ppm and rising.
Based on similar experiments in plantations and crops around the world, there is a reasonable understanding of how different managed ecosystems react to elevated CO2 but what is missing is good insight into how our unique, native Eucalyptus-dominated ecosystems react.
EucFACE consists of six carbon-fibre rings, three that act as controls and three that release CO2 into 25m diameter circular plots. The six rings operate as replicates, with the three control rings identical except that they do not release additional CO2. Over coming years, the vast quantity of data generated by experiments inside EucFACE will inform science and policy in Australian and internationally as the world moves to adapt to rapidly increasing CO2.
Carbon dioxide is stored in three 150,000 litre tanks under pressure as a liquid. During the day, computer systems release the liquid CO2 and run it through vaporiser pipes that use natural air to convert the liquid to gas form. The gas is then piped into the forest where it is run through fans to mix ordinary air with the CO2 to reach the required 550ppm.
The circular rings are designed to deliver enriched air according to the speed and direction of the wind, adjusting their output accordingly. With sensors and valves, the direction of the air release means that enriched air is always directed into the centre of the plot, creating a stable level of CO2.
Minimising its environmental footprint
EucFACE was specifically designed to minimise its environmental footprint, despite the need to construct the enormous steel rings, wiring, plumbing and equipment housing needed by the facility.
There is no concrete used anywhere in the forest so the footpaths, cranes and towers are fixed down with special mining screws that extend 5m into the soil. The rings themselves are fully raised off the ground so that animals can move freely in and around the rings and cranes, while all access to the site is by raised footpaths only.
All wiring and plumbing is also above-ground, meaning that it is accessible and does not interfere with the processes of the forest floor.