Effective Remediation of Environmental Problems

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AlanPage's picture
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Effective Remediation of Environmental Problems

The free fall of global economies is a mesmerizing topic. Finding the means to protect ourselves from the effects of loss of purchasing power can be a significant challenge. However, as Chris has pointed out we are in a time of multiple melt down situations. The ones happening in our oceans (at the outlets of rivers - dead zones, the melting of Arctic sea ice, the melting of large areas of adjcent permafrost, and the release of clathrate stabilized methane), on our farms, neighborhoods, and communities (release of toxic or harmful compounds - hormones, antibiotics, nutrients), and at our resource extraction sites(depletion of nonrenewable resources and the despoiling of sites that should be producing renewable resources but are not) must be corrected. If they are not there will be unexpected consequences at the most inopportune times.

The list above is very challenging. A significant way to deal with nonrenewable resources is to facilitate the use of renewable resources in place of those in short supply. However, that is the opposite of what is happening! Food is now processed and packaged in ways that add materially to the energy cost of the nutrition. Buildings are now build to codes that require steel and masonry rather than timber framing and firestop wall structure. Search: "SWAT Team" in the search box above and go over the comments. The list could go on but you get the idea.

Recent research in soil science has documented with increasing certainty that increasing soil carbon in any of a variety of forms provides the basis for enhancement of soil productivity, stability, decontaminantion (think adsorption of septic wastes, retention of fertilizers, trapping and decomposing of complex organic molecules), and because of this the reduction of pollution of rivers and the eventual dead zones formed at the estuaries.

One way to add very long lasting very open structured carbon to soils is to char biological wastes and mix the char (biochar as opposed to graphite or lampblack) with the surface soil. This can be done effectively up to about 20% of the soil by weight. Ancient soils have shown incorporation depths down to 6'. These ancient soils have continuously supported nutrient demanding crops with very light fertilization. The Japanese have shown that corn has been grown on the same area for 10 rotations with minimal fetrtilizer additions and substantial increases in yield over untreated soil.

Another facet of efficient production of biochar as opposed to the open burning or smoldering of vegetation (which is how the original terra preta was formed) is to control the availability of O2 and control the heating of the material to remove a variety of products and energy before forming the biochar. These extracted compounds can then be converted into a producer gas or some other useable form. There are many manufacturers of these devices, but most lack adequate controls to carefully extract the truly useful compounds or to form the biochar in the most biologically active configurations.

I suggest that this Chapter of the CC needs extensive help to document the assertions that Chris makes about the best being lost completely. It is true that we need to be much more careful about what we use and how we do it, but at the same time we need to recognize those areas where we need much more information and experimentation and investment in proven concepts.

This coming period will be very difficult to do constructive projects if everyone is hunkered down over their gold and silver. So how do we get Chris to address these issues?


AlanPage's picture
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Re: Effective Remediation of Environmental Problems

A new description of biochar from the Interantional Biochar Initiative:

IBI Announces Success in Having Biochar Considered as a Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Tool

IBI Logo
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  December 10, 2008
POZNAN, Poland, December 10, 2008 - The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) announces that the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
(UNCCD) has submitted a proposal to include biochar as a mitigation and
adaptation technology to be considered in the post-2012-Copenhagen
agenda of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A copy of the proposal is posted on the IBI website at 
is a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain
nutrients and water. The carbon in biochar resists degradation and can
sequester carbon in soils for hundreds to thousands of years.
Executive Director Debbie Reed said, "The UNCCD submission is a great
success, and is paralleled by a lot of very positive discussions and
interest in biochar amongst country delegates as well as observers of
the process." 
The UNCCD, a sister convention to the UNFCCC,
has identified biochar as a unique opportunity to address soils as a
carbon sink. According to the submission document: "The world's soils
hold more organic carbon than that held by the atmosphere as CO2 and
vegetation, yet the role of the soil in capturing and storing carbon dioxide is often one missing information layer in taking into consideration the importance of the land in mitigating climate change."
proposes that biochar must be considered as a vital tool for
rehabilitation of dryland soils: "The fact that many of the drylands
soils have been degraded means that they are currently far from
saturated with carbon and their potential to sequester carbon may be
very high ... making the consideration of Biochar, as a strategy for
enhancing soils carbon sequestration, imperative."
UNCCD also
cites the ability of biochar to address multiple climate and
development concerns while avoiding the disadvantages of other
bioenergy technologies that deplete soil organic matter (SOM). IBI
Executive Director Debbie Reed said, "Pyrolysis
systems that produce biochar can provide many advantages. Biochar
restores soil organic carbon and soil fertility, reduces emissions from
agriculture, and can provide clean, renewable energy. Conventional biomass energy competes with soil building needs for crop residue feedstocks, but biochar accommodates both uses."
deforestation is another biochar advantage cited by the UNCCD in their
submitted proposal for including biochar in carbon trading mechanisms:
"The carbon trade could provide an incentive to cease further
deforestation; instead reforestation and recuperation of degraded land
for fuel and food crops would gain magnitude."
Craig Sams, founder of Green & Black's
Organic Chocolate, is in Poznan to help educate delegates about
biochar. Sams believes that the climate and ancillary benefits of
biochar are so great that biochar systems should be eligible for double
credits. Sams said, "Adding the rewards for abandoning carbon emitting
practices such as slash and burn cultivation, deforestation and wood
fire cooking, to the rewards for adopting biochar practices in
agriculture, forestry and cooking, ought to qualify for double credits."
UNCCD proposes to include biochar in the Clean Development Mechanism
(CDM), and to revise the rules to account for biochar as a permanent
means of carbon capture. UNCCD also proposes adjusting the carbon
offset rules to allow greater financial flows to help developing countries increase soil organic matter with biochar.
Biochar has one important additional advantage over other land use carbon sequestration projects
- carbon sequestration through biochar is easy to quantify. It is also
relatively permanent. The UNCCD says: "Potential drawbacks such as
difficulty in estimating greenhouse gas removals and emissions resulting from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF), or destruction of sinks through forest fire or disease do not apply to biochar soil amendments."
the potential magnitude of biochar as a climate mitigation tool is
great. IBI Board Chair Dr. Johannes Lehmann said, "We are pleased that
the UNCCD has recognized the potential of biochar. Results from IBI's
preliminary model to estimate the potential of biochar carbon
sequestration show that biochar production from agriculture and
forestry residues can potentially sequester one gigaton of carbon in
the world's soils annually by 2040. Using the biochar energy co-product
to displace fossil fuel energy can approximately double the carbon impact of biochar alone."
objective for the remainder of the UN meeting at Poznan is to interest
more countries in proposing biochar for consideration as a mitigation
and adaptation technology in the post-2012 Copenhagen process of the
About IBI
The International Biochar
Initiative (IBI) is a registered non-profit organization that serves as
an international platform for the exchange of information and
activities in support of biochar research, development, demonstration
and commercialization. IBI participants comprise a consortium of
researchers, commercial entities, policy makers, development agents,
farmers and gardeners and others committed to supporting sustainable
biochar production and utilization systems that remove carbon from the
atmosphere and enhance the earth's soils. 

For further information, please contact:
Debbie Reed, Executive Director and Policy Director, International Biochar Initiative
Phone: 202-701-4298                          email:  [email protected]  
Johannes Lehmann, Chairman of the Board, International Biochar Initiative
Phone: 607-254-1236                          email: [email protected]
Thayer Tomlinson, Communications Director, International Biochar Initiative
Phone: 914-693-0496                          email: [email protected]  
To contact the UNCCD:
UNCCD Communications Officer
Awareness Raising, Communications and Education Unit
Marcos Montoiro-Allue
[email protected]

switters's picture
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Re: Effective Remediation of Environmental Problems

Biochar is indeed very exciting, and may help rebuild valuable topsoil and generate energy in the process.  But even those closely involved with it caution us to remember that it's only a very small part of what needs to be done. 

That said, it's a promising old technology that has been recently rediscovered!

Damnthematrix's picture
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Posts: 3998
Re: Effective Remediation of Environmental Problems

Great post CameronHill, and welcome to the fray.....

We've been following this biochar stuff in Australia for some time.  Australia has some of the world's poorest soils (never glaciated, virtually no vulcanism - except fpr tiny regions, where I live being one).  As a result, Australia utterly relies on fossil fuels to grow the food we consume.

I practice Permaculture.  On our small plot, we mulch, and mulch, and mulch......  returning much C to the soil.  Nothing like bio char of course, but it's start.  We also grow tons of legumes, many in tree form...  much more efficient than ground cover like alfalfa etc.  And we have lots of birds (ducks and chickens, and soon gees and guinea fowls)  We also raise goats.  So we have lots of available manure too....  including our own.

Sustainable agriculture is possible, but absolutely not on the broadacre scale.  Survival will depend on bio diversity, as much as it might on bio char! 

Damnthematrix's picture
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Re: Effective Remediation of Environmental Problems

switters, I've noticed you use the Permaculture logo as your avatar....  do you practice PC as well?

switters's picture
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Re: Effective Remediation of Environmental Problems
Damnthematrix wrote:

switters, I've noticed you use the Permaculture logo as your avatar....  do you practice PC as well?

Just beginning to.  My wife recently finished a course and is "training" me.  She lived on a small island in BC completely off the grid for 10 years before we met, and grew a large amount of what she ate.  But right now we're limited in what we can implement because we're renting and aren't certain we're staying where we are. 

But we're doing what we can.  Basic grey-water system, chickens & rabbits, good compost, fruit, veggie & medicinal herb garden designed according to PC principles, etc.  In an ideal world we'd be on our own land doing all of this but we're just not there yet.


Damnthematrix's picture
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Posts: 3998
Re: Effective Remediation of Environmental Problems
I posted your website link to my Peak Everything Yahoo list in AUS, and got this interesting reply I thought you'd like to see... 
Re: [roeoz] The International Biochar Initiative
Australia's net ghg emissions in 2006 were 576 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent.
If all of that was really CO2, that would be 157 Mt of Carbon.
If we assume we could apply 1 Kg(Carbon) per square metre of soil
it would take 15.7 million hectares to absorb it all,
out of 27 million Ha of arable land.
So at first sight it seems feasible to think of burying an equivalent amount of carbon
to neutralise all our annual ghg emissions.
But could it really work in practice ?
Is there enough suitable, harvestable material to feed the char-making machines
reasonably close to where the char can be sequestered ?
If not, could we at least do 10% ?
Would the act of harvesting, charring and spreading create a significant amount of CO2
in comparison to the carbon sequestered ?
is the best I can find on their web-site and is not very helpful.
It finishes : "Detailed assumptions, calculations, descriptions and references, along with updated versions of this paper, are
available on the IBI website (www.biochar-international.org).  "
But this IS the latest updated paper on the web-site !
I'm also not sure they are using NPP (Net Primary Productivity) properly.
NPP is measured in grams of dry matter per square metre per year.
Tropical Rainforest scores ~2,200 g/m²/y
Temperate grassland scores ~600 g/m²/y
NPP is a rate of production, and is only one factor in the size of the standing crop,
which is what you can harvest.
Often more than 50% of the total organic matter is in the soil zone ( roots, tubers, etc),
and more than 50% of the above-ground matter is at the surface (fallen leaves, twigs, branches, bark )
some is removed by herbivores and detritivores ( fungi, beetles, termites )
and some is left as standing crop.
Standing crops range from 1 Kg/m² in deserts to 80 Kg/m² in tropical rainforest,
but more important would be the standing crop 1 year ( or several ) after a harvest.
Obviously there is a lot of detail missing from the char proposal as presented.
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Re: Effective Remediation of Environmental Problems

The best method of prevention of environment from getting polluted is to reduce the pollution ingradients such air we must stop water,air pollution.

If one wants to live healthy they must reduce the excess use of fossil fuels as they are non renewable..




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Re: Effective Remediation of Environmental Problems

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