Planet Earth has so many parts and subparts, elementary speaking. Many of these are finite, however they are distributed in ways that are out of balance. Carbon, for instance, is finite but in different forms and spread into places where it may be very detrimental to the natural weather processes that we feel everyday. The best set of non-technical comments regarding biochar, a field that is sure to become a new science, are in the below excerpt by Victoria Kamsler, D.Phil. Each of us can make a tiny difference that when combined with all other tiny contributions can actually make the change we need. Please take the time to read the following with great interest and learn about biochar:
The following is courtesy of Victoria Kamsler, D.Phil, Chief Ethics Officer and Research Director, Greenfiniti
"Here is a brief description of Biochar, which may be helpful for
Biochar is the modern version of an ancient Pre-Colombian technology
invented by the Mayan civilization to enhance soil fertility. Similar to
charcoal, it is created by pyrolysis (burning in low oxygen conditions)
of biomass: agricultural waste, dead trees, etc. Called terra preta
(prepared earth) in Brazil, the first thing to know about biochar is
that it is a way of permanently removing CO2 greenhouse gas from the
atmosphere. The carbon from biomass, when pyrolyzed, can remain in the
soil for hundreds or thousands of years. We know this because some of
the terra preta soils of the Amazon are 2000 years old. And these
ancient soils are still so fertile after all this time that there is an
industry in Brazil to collect these soils and put them in bags to sell
as potting soil.
Biochar is the only true carbon *reductive* technology that exists.
Other technologies that claim to take CO2 out of the atmosphere, like
geoengineering, and traditional carbon capture and storage (CCS) are
fatally flawed from a technical point of view, although it now appears
that oil, coal, and mining companies are about to put 100's of billions
of dollars into CCS that won't work (so they can make money taking
carbon out of the earth and then make more money putting it back into
the old mines). Other 'green' technologies, like solar and wind, merely
reduce the amount of CO2 that goes in to the atmosphere. Biochar takes
carbon out of the air and puts it in the soil, where it makes the soil
fertile. So biochar is unique in its ability to help humanity solve the
climate change problem by taking carbon *out* of the atmosphere.
Harold, because of your interests I will quickly say here that biochar
can be used as an addition for *smell free* humanure composting toilets.
The carbon controls odors, and the resulting compost can be much more
fertile than humanure alone. I can recommend people in the Biochar
Offsets group who have done this research or know about it. Regarding
Boudewijn's interests, I believe that biochar can be used as an addition
to pavements. I know less about this, but if you are doing zero- or
low-carbon concrete, there may be applications that could help make some
of your building projects carbon *negative* instead of just carbon
Biochar is also a source of revenue, especially for developing countries. There are many different pyrolysis technologies available and in development. All of them produce char, which can be sold or used on site. Biochar may soon be eligible for agricultural soil carbon credits both from the UN and in the US and Canada cap and trade systems. My Biochar Protocol subgroup of the Biochar Offsets group is right now drafting the world's first offset validation protocol for biochar which we anticipate will be ready in late June. And some biochar technologies are also capable of producing different forms of renewable energy: bio oil, syngas, heat and electricity. These can be used for electricity to light homes so people can work and read at night. These renewable energy components of biochar production are already eligible for the UN's CDM (Kyoto compliance) market offsets. These are the most valuable offsets on the global market and the easiest to sell. Prices now are around 30-40 Euros per offset (representing one tonne of CO2 equivalent).
But this just scratches the surface of what we
know about what biochar can do. Biochar is the Swiss Army knife, or the
"killer app" of climate solutions. Here is a quick list of some
1) Soil Fertility
Field tests by Biochar Fund in Cameroon
have demonstrated up to 220% yield increase in maize crops in degraded
soil in one season with addition of biochar to the soil. Although it
works in many different soil conditions, and possibly all, we know that
biochar works especially well in degraded soils, and in the tropics.
That is where the results are truly spectacular. Biochar Fund recently
received a $300k grant from Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai's
organization for additional biochar projects in Kenya, after their
spectacular results in Cameroon.
2) Farms & gardens
Biochar holds nitrogen and water. This means that farmers can use less
water and less fertilizer. They can make biochar from their wastes and
use It in their own fields without transportation. Different
technologies are being developed that are optimized for different
agricultural inputs, like rice husks, coconut shells, etc. Less
fertilizer use also means:
3) Pollution prevention
Biochar prevents runoff of nitrogen into waterways, thus preventing
human deaths (blue baby syndrome) and preventing the growth of "dead
zones" from nitrogen-induced algae blooms in the ocean. Biochar may also
be able to remediate other soil contaminant chemicals, though people in
our Invasives, subgroup know more than I do.
4) Invasive species control
It just so happens that the characteristic features of invasive species
(like kudzu in the southern US, cat tails and striga in Africa, and
water hyacinth in Africa and India) map almost exactly on to the list of
most desirable characteristics for biochar production. I don't know
which invasive species you have in Haiti, but this is what to do with
them. The manager of our Invasives subgroup is a well known expert who
has compiled the evidence for this conclusion.
We all know that Haiti is one of the most severely deforested places on
earth. Look at an aerial photo of the border between Haiti and the
Dominican Republic: green on one side, brown on the other. This is one
of the main causes of the critical clean water situation in Haiti, which
was already a huge problem before the quake. Biochar is ideal for
smart, integrated agroforestry and reforestation programs. It will
literally "change the earth."
There are many other things to mention, but I will conclude with:
As you may know, the World Health Organization estimates that
approximately 1.6 million people, mostly women and young children, die
*every* *year* from smoke inhalation from traditional cookstoves.
Biochar stoves are emission free and can solve this problem while
creating biochar for fertile kitchen gardens, and some stoves can even
create electricity for home lighting or cellphone charging.
Pyrolysis equipment exists in different sizes and many different types,
from small and very cheap ($6-8 dollars, some may be less, and I think
some can be made with local scrap) all the way to municipal scale.
This is why people in the Biochar Offsets group are so passionate about
this emerging technology and why we started Biochar Haiti. We believe
that biochar can play a key role in the sanitation, health, and food
security needs of the Haitian people. It is why people like Bill Clinton
support biochar for economic development. Our Biochar Haiti wants to
help bring a new biochar industry to Haiti to restore the forests and
make the soil fruitful for the people of Haiti, while creating jobs and
You can find out more at the excellent website of the International
Victoria Kamsler, D.Phil
Chair of the Biochar Offsets Group (a LinkedIn Group)"
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