Science

December 7, 2023

Spark Launches Atmospheric Methane Research Exploratory Grants Funding Opportunity

Spark Climate Solutions, a US-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, today launched its new Exploratory Grants for Atmospheric Methane Research. This new funding opportunity aims to advance scientific understanding of the mechanisms by which methane breaks down naturally and accelerate exploration of potential approaches to increase methane breakdown. The funding opportunity has three tracks:  

  • Advancing understanding of natural methane sinks; 
  • Improving tools for characterizing and quantifying atmospheric methane; and 
  • Exploring whether potential approaches for accelerating the breakdown of atmospheric methane could be beneficial to the climate, as well as safe, cost-effective, and scalable. 

Spark has issued a request for proposals for the new grants, offering up to $300,000 USD per project to support up to two years of research. 

The program is designed to support the continued development of an evidence-based foundation for the nascent field of atmospheric methane removal, which might have potential to reduce global warming and mitigate some of the impacts of increasing methane emissions from natural sources such as wetlands and permafrost. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is currently developing a research agenda for atmospheric methane removal.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, which has already caused about 30% of anthropogenic global warming and will have a powerful influence on near-term warming going forward. In addition to rising anthropogenic emissions, there is growing evidence that methane emissions from natural sources such as wetlands are increasing as global temperatures rise.

Scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in which global warming stays within 1.5°C or 2°C assume dramatic reductions in atmospheric methane levels. However, atmospheric methane levels are currently increasing at an accelerating rate. Deep cuts in anthropogenic methane emissions from sources such as fossil fuels, agriculture, and landfills are the top priority, and require additional support and focus. Atmospheric methane removal has the potential to be a valuable complementary strategy that could help address rising natural emissions accelerated by climate change.  

“Exploring the potential for atmospheric methane removal via fundamental research needs to be on a parallel track to rapidly scaling up ambition and action on mitigating methane emissions; it’s not an either/or,” said Spark co-founder David Mann. “Critically important work addressing anthropogenic methane emissions and other super climate pollutants, for example through our partners at the Global Methane Hub, is starting to scale up, and is the top priority. It will take a portfolio approach to fully address the challenge; there are many available methane emissions mitigation strategies today that are ready to deploy, and there is more research and development needed to ensure we can mitigate even more emissions. Meanwhile, rising natural emissions aren’t yet readily addressable with these strategies, so we’re working to assess the potential for removal approaches, and get viable ones into the research pipeline.”  

Grantees can use the money to conduct observational, laboratory, or modeling studies of atmospheric methane sinks, develop sensors or other tools to better monitor and characterize atmospheric methane, and assess and advance potential approaches to safely enhance oxidation of methane in the atmosphere, the biosphere, or in reactor-based systems. The grants are intended to support peer-reviewed, open-access research to advance scientific understanding around atmospheric methane removal. 

“Methane removal might prove critical to a safer climate future, but it’s still very early days,” said Spark co-founder Erika Reinhardt. “This is a very new research field. Coming out of a research workshop we held earlier this year, it was obvious that we needed to help support the expansion of this field and accelerate exploration and assessment of emerging ideas. With the launch of this program, more researchers will have a funding avenue to bring their expertise to the field and push on key scientific questions around how methane breaks down in the atmosphere naturally, and how the process might be safely accelerated. Investing in scientific advancement now is the best way to help the world make well-informed, timely decisions about atmospheric methane removal approaches in the future.”

Spark’s Exploratory Grants for Atmospheric Methane Research funding opportunity is open for research proposals now. The first-round deadline for submitting proposals is March 1, with award decisions made in mid-April.

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