How moving carbon carries energy
When you sit in front of the fireplace does it occur to you that the heat coming out of the fireplace is stored energy from the sun? Likewise, the heat that is given off by burning grass.
The energy of the sun is stored in carbon compounds and then transported around the landscape by these carbon compounds.
Grasses which are 45% carbon, store the energy of the sun in their structure as they grow, then pass it on to life above and below ground.
The warmth of our body and our ability to move is totally reliant on the energy stored in our carbon based food.
How it works
The process of how energy is stored in plants is that during photosynthesis, the carbon in carbon dioxide forms new, and more complex, carbon bonds with other atoms.
What happens is explained in the photosynthesis equation above. The energy of the sun is required for the chemical reaction to remove the carbon from carbon dioxide. The energy of the sun is also used to split water molecules into hydrogen ions and oxygen.
The hydrogen ions then combine with carbon as part of the new molecular structure of carbohydrates contained in plants.
The energy of the sun is stored in the new molecular structures that carbon forms.
More specifically, the energy is stored in the more complex bonds that carbon forms during photosynthesis.
The carbon hydrogen bonds in C6H12O6 contain more energy than the carbon oxygen bonds in CO2.
This is what scientists refer to as construction of energy.
During photosynthesis, light energy from the sun is converted into chemical energy.
It is important to remember that energy can't be created or destroyed, it simply changes from one form to another.
How all life (including soil life) sources energy during consumption is to break these complex bonds and release the energy. To do this, we breathe in the oxygen needed to oxidise the carbon compounds and then breathe out carbon dioxide. It is a case of reversing photosynthesis and converting the carbohydrates back to the more simple structure of carbon dioxide.
If you want to know how actively soil life (including microbes) is consuming organic matter, measure how much carbon dioxide is coming out of the soil.
The more carbon that management allows to come into the paddock, the more energy that is available for rural production and maintenance of paddock health.
The purpose of having this energy debate is to fully appreciate the value of better pasture management i.e. letting plants maximise energy collection through photosynthesis and then making it available to livestock and soil life.
Next week's discussion: "Think carbon before nitrogen"