_NATURE ENVIRONMENT Emissions

_Plant Power

The regulation of emissions from the power sector could have a positive impact on plants, in addition to humans, according to new research.

_Shannon Capps

Capps is an assistant professor in Drexel’s College of Engineering.

The clean power Plan as finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 wouldn’t just be good for human health. Regulation of carbon dioxide emissions in the energy sector could also enhance yields of food plants and trees, likely saving farmers millions of dollars, according to research published by a Drexel researcher and her colleagues at Syracuse University, Boston University and Harvard University.

According to the study, reduction in carbon, nitrogen and sulfur emissions from coal power plants would lead to a decrease in ground-level ozone — a known inhibitor of plant growth. By modeling the EPA’s reductions for the year 2020, the researchers found that they would provide a significant boost to the productivity of key indicator crops, such as corn, cotton, soybean and potato, as well as several tree species.

“Our findings suggest that crops like corn, soybeans and cotton could benefit from substantial productivity gains under moderate carbon standards for power plants,” says Shannon Capps, an assistant professor in Drexel’s College of Engineering and lead author of the study. “With policies similar to those in the Clean Power Plan, we’re projecting more than a 15 percent reduction in corn productivity losses due to ozone exposure, compared to business as usual, and about half of that for cotton and soybeans. Depending on market value fluctuations of these crops over the next few years, that could mean gains of tens of millions of dollars for farmers.”

Researchers estimated productivity reductions of indicator crops and tree species resulting from three sets of carbon emission reductions policy options.

The study was the first to model the ecosystem impact of policy options for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
The team used three policy scenarios and they compared each policy scenario with a “business-as-usual” reference case that represents current clean air policies as well as energy demand and market projections.

“The option most similar to the Clean Power Plan has the greatest estimated productivity gains for the crops and trees that we studied,” Capps says.