Desert plants could help power the planet without upsetting food supplies, says eco-entrepreneur Mike Mason

My cacti could generate electricity and help curb climate change

What’s your approach to energy generation?
I am using anaerobic digestion – the breakdown of organic material in the absence of oxygen – to turn plant biomass into gas for generating electricity.

Aren’t biofuels discredited, partly because their production displaces food crops?
That’s why we need plants that grow fast in areas where food crops don’t grow. The solution is a largely overlooked category of plants that includes cacti such as prickly pear and other succulents (Energy & Environmental Science, doi.org/6nr). They grow in semi-arid places too dry for rain-fed food crops.

What’s the succulents’ secret?
They produce a lot of biomass for very little water. Conventional plants lose loads of water to evaporation when they open their leaf stomata during the day to capture carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. These plants – known as CAM plants – get round that by capturing CO2 in the …

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