Filed under: Biochar Policy | Tags: biochar, carbon sequestration, climate, dryland farming, policy, soil carbon
BIOCHAR SIDE EVENTS
Presentation on Case Studies in Carbon Negative Ecovillages: Biochar Energy, Carbon Farming, and Climate-Adaptive Built Environments
Wednesday, Dec. 9th, 12:30 pm – 2:00pm
Location: Vartov World Cafe, large yurt near the NGO Klimaforum in Christiania
Description: Case Studies in Carbon Negative Ecovillages, including information on biochar. He will also have an example of a biochar stove supplied by World Stove.
Speaker: Albert Bates
Biochar – Delivering Fast Climate Benefits?
Wednesday, Dec. 9th, 4:45-5:45 pm
Location: Bellona’s Conference Room, Bella Center
Organizer: The Bellona Foundation
Description: Brief presentation of biochar and ongoing research by Bioforsk Norwegian Research Centre. This session will discuss the potential of biochar, the need for policy, regulations, monitoring, economic hurdles, carbon credit barriers/enablers, scalability and the importance of sustainability criteria. Further themes include the developing countries perspective, recognition of soils as a carbon sink and the inclusion of biochar methods in a post-2012 climate protocol.
Dr. Johannes Lehmann, University of Cornell
Debbie Reed, International Biochar Initiative
Thomas Harrtung, Green Carbon Denmark
Nathaniel Mulcahy, WorldStove
Biochar: Climate Mitigation & Adaptation with Food & Energy Security Benefits
Saturday, Dec. 12th, 11:00 am – 12:30 pm
Location: Victor Borg Room at Meetings
Organizer: The International Biochar Initiative
Description: IBI and UNCCD will discuss emerging issues and current science related to biochar and links to food and energy security in developing countries and drylands. Data on water retention, increased crop yields from field studies, joint work and projects underway, R&D roadmap in dryland areas.
Debbie Reed, International Biochar Initiative: Session Chair
Sergio Zelaya, UNCCD Secretariat
Dr. Johannes Lehmann, Cornell University
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: biochar, forest management, forests, government responsibility, hazardous fuels reduction, homeowners, policy, pyrolysis, Smoky the Bear, wildfire, Wildland-Urban Interface, wood
OK, so, I am an irregular blogger. Sorry, everybody. Life in BiocharLand is busy and I don’t always make time for blogging. But I can get better, and I’ll do it, just for you.
In the meantime, here’s an editorial piece I wrote with a little help from my friends. Please feel free to pass it on. There is no need for forest management to be such a headache. Let’s just emulate Mama Nature and recoup the costs of the effort in the process. Let’s…..just…..biochar!
If you’re one of the 140 million people that live in the Wildland-Urban Interface, that ever-beautiful, ever-convenient region nestled in between the lushness of the forest and the culture of the city, you might be quaking like an aspen about the news of the Los Angeles fires. According to a report from Wildland Fire Programs for the International Code Council based in Washington, DC, an average of 2400 homes are lost every year to forest fires.
“That home in the woods, with the peaceful chatter of pine squirrels, a babbling brook and the occasional deer feeding in the flowerbed has become a dream for many,” says the report from Dan Bailey, the program’s director. “But protecting this dream has become a horrific financial nightmare for the government agencies charged with fire protection in these areas.” 2006 was the worst fire year on record. Over 89,000 fires burned over 9.5 million acres, destroying 2,256 structures and claiming the lives of 24 wildland firefighters. That year, wildland firefighting cost the government $2 billion dollars.
Smoky the Bear has no idea how much he had to do with this. Fires are a natural part of a forest’s way of self-management. The decades of suppressing forest fires at the demand of Smoky the Bear caused forests to become overloaded with small trees vying for precious sunlight. Small trees (“slash”) are kindling to a forest fire, and now, our forests are overloaded with them.
The United States Forest Service has allotted $297M to preventative measures, aka “hazardous fuels reduction,” in 2009, with a goal of treating 1.5M acres. However, there are a total of 600 Million acres of high-risk acreage in the Wildland-Urban Interface, known as the WUI to forestry folks. 40% of all homes and close to 140 million people are located in this fringe, where the undeveloped and developed lands meet.
The two most common methods for reducing fuel loads are mechanical removal and controlled burns. However, the former is expensive and intensive, requiring biomass transport to a central processing plant; and the latter is not appropriate for WUI areas, where air quality standards prevent it.
What government agencies have so far failed to recognize and utilize, are several other technologies that can not only reduce the fuel load, but add environmental and economic benefits, as well.
Allow me to introduce to you: pyrolysis. Think of pyrolysis like a forest fire in a can. When a forest fire burns, there are oxygen-reduced pockets that smother and smolder the wood, so that it does not combust all the way to ash, but into charcoal instead. This carbon-rich natural charcoal provides water retention, soil structure, and nutrient holding benefits to the new life that will grow. Pyrolysis is controlled, clean-emission, partial combustion in an oxygen-deprived environment (like the barrel in the picture below). The most common use of this technology is for internal incineration which can reduce everything from woody biomass to garbage into nothing but tiny handful of ash quickly and cleanly. Currently used for remote areas, it also can produce power, an oil or a char as by-products. In some pyrolysis, the charcoal that comes out is referred to as “biochar”, a carbon-negative soil amendment. Since it is one of the only technologies available that actually removes carbon from the global carbon cycle, biochar has been referred to as one of the solutions that just might save the world.
It’s still early days for biochar, but there are several companies making this technology, with a few of them focusing specifically on mobile systems that can be taken to staging areas in forests to reduce hazardous fuel load. Phil Badger, of Renewable Oil International, LLC, recently conducted demonstrations of his pyrolysis systems for forest management agencies in Oregon making both bio-oil and biochar. Waste Conversion Systems has semi mobile units that can internally convert almost any biomass into less than 1 percent ash. And Biochar Systems LLC, whose system is pictured below, converts woody biomass into valuable biochar. These mobile systems can be loaded onto a trailer, and with the aid of a chipper, a bucket loader, and a few forest laborers, could be the answer to protecting Wildland-Urban community dwellers.
With wild fires costing millions of dollars, risking thousands of lives and destroying thousands of acres of habitat, it would seem that every politician and decision maker responsible should be seeking climate friendly, safe mitigation technology to prevent the risk of fires.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: biochar, economy, engineering, green jobs, Murphy's law, pyrolysis, renewable, research, sustainability, technology
I often receive input from impatient—er, eager—potential investors, partners, & customers that they absolutely need biochar technology yesterday, and that since pyrolysis isn’t rocket science, why oh why don’t I deliver it FedEx Time Travel to arrive last week?
It is true that pyrolysis isn’t rocket science. But have you met my friends Murphy, of the famous Murphy’s Law, and Seth (Set), the Egyptian god of Chaos and Inertia?
Welcome to the Wonderful World of Stuff, where the gods Murphy and Seth reign sovereign. Welcome also to the Wonderful World of Global Recession. Combine the two, and you have nothing to bribe Murphy & Seth with.
When I mention this, I get offers. Ooooh, do I get offers! They perk my little ears right up. “How fast could we make this happen if I give you $10M?” and, “Hmmm….3 months? How many months if I put $25M on the table?” Yes, those are very exciting things to hear, but fortunately, I have a very judicious partner/colleague/friend/boss who has lived longer in the Wonderful World of Stuff, and he Knows. There is only so much you can bribe Murphy & Seth—which can still make things go faster, indeed. But only so much faster. There is a sweet spot between Time and Money. And all the Money in the world does not make Time move faster. (Though there are some meditation techniques that can take you outside of Time. But that’s a different story for a different blog.)
There is an old adage that says: “Good, Fast, & Cheap: Choose any two.” But you can only throw so much money at something and make it go faster.
Engineering of Stuff is an iterative process. You must try something until it exposes its weakness, fix it, try it again, fix it, try again, fix it, and try try again. This simply takes time. Fortunately, to do this does not require extensive training. It is not as complex as some of the other renewable energy technologies like solar, or even wind. Pyrolysis and biochar production provides an excellent opportunity for out-of-work automotive workers—when the industry is booming and ready to hire.
There are some biochar companies—Dynamotive and BEST, for example—that are currently producing pyrolysis technology. BIG pyrolysis technology. Many tons an hour, enormous processing plants that will also produce electricity to the tune of 10s of millions. And the simple fact about those is that they take up to several years to design, site, and build.
There are other biochar companies out there that are doing…well, I don’t know what. Many of them are new, and are probably dealing with the same Murphy & Seth issues that my company is. Also, interest in biochar, and the fledgling market that accompanies that interest, has only really begun to pick up in the last 6 months. My company, for one, necessarily had other technologies in the cache in case the whole biochar thing took many years to take off.
Ultimately, this “delay” all somewhat divinely ordained, because the folks that approach me with charcoal-colored dollar signs in their eyes are just a little too eager for the reality we are facing here. Biochar is not something that we could/should/would blanket over the entire planet immediately. Global production and application requires advancements in soil science, climate science, biochar and agriculture economics, climate policy, and technology. It requires infrastructure to support it. It was 10 years before biofuels were given a small tax credit.
Though we must toe the line of acting fast—in all arenas, not just biochar—to address climate change, we must also toe the line of being scientifically, ethically, and economically responsible.
Stay tuned–I will be at the Pacific Northwest Biochar Conference for the rest of this week, where we will be discussing the economic, social, & environmental implications and requirements for producing sustainable biochar.
Filed under: Biochar Policy | Tags: agriculture, biochar, carbon sequestration, climate, environment, policy
Too Much of a Good Thing:
What Hugs and Biochar Have in Common
Hugs are great. Who doesn’t like a good hug? Think of the last time a friend offered a hug because they noticed you looking blue. Or the last tight warm hug you had with a dear friend before departing. Or how about the hug after an exciting first date, where you’re wondering, “Will we kiss? Will we kiss?”
But….all the time? Have you ever had a girlfriend or boyfriend who wanted to hug you every time they saw you? After you go to the bathroom, there they are, arms wide open, ready for the 50 millionth hug today. Or how about the shmarmy new friend you just met who wants to hug you for 10 minutes until their heart chakra oozes all over you?
Yeah. Everything in moderation. Even hugs.
So when some advocacy groups started saying NO to biochar, I wasn’t exactly surprised. I got into this industry a few years ago because I, like many others, realized it was The Best Thing Ever for climate change, soil fertility, and energy. But as with all Best Things Ever, it must be tempered with Moderation.
Biofuels Watch and other concerned individuals do have a point. And thank you, after 2,136 protest emails (http://tinyurl.com/dzqhda), I GET THE POINT. But one of the things you must realize is that WE ARE ON YOUR TEAM. We are all striving for solutions to climate change, soil fertility, and energy, and see biochar as an invaluable player in the portfolio of solutions to these problems (NOT the Silver Bullet).
But, in the event that the biochar market completely takes off (which it is poised to do), and biochar is very Economically Attractive, the same minds that created Big Oil and could care less about biochar’s carbon sequestration potential could bastardize its benefit.
The root fear of these anti-biochar organizations is that creating a market for biochar will incentivize any profiteering schmoe to use up all the arable land to grow monocrops for biochar production, and/or cut down forests.
Raise your hand if you think biochar is cool AND you’d like to see this happen.
Yeah, no one’s hands are raised. Mine aren’t, and it’s not just because I’m typing. And I’m part of the “evil” biochar industry. (I’ve seen anti-biochar blogs suggest that I , and all biocharians, are evil. You can even ask my ex-boyfriends. I am not evil.)
But who’s to stop this from happening? What we need–and what we will get–is policy and regulations that define market conditions.
The International Biochar Initiative is working with the UNCCD (UN Convention to Combat Desertification) to develop the standards necessary to ensure this won’t happen. The UNCCD has taken to biochar as a solution to help the folks affected by desertification (think climate change isn’t real? Google desertification.)
See the UNCCD’s submission on Why Biochar Rocks (paraphrased) to the UNFCCC here: http://tinyurl.com/c4ooah
The IBI and the UNCCD will be meeting with policy leaders, technology developers, academics, NGOs, and scientists during the June climate talks in Bonn, Germany, to develop standards to ensure that biochar is sustainable from “seed-to-socket” (as in “electrical socket”). They will be bringing the draft policy standards to the UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December for public comment and refinement.
Thanks to the thorough critique from anti-biochar advocacy groups, we have a stronger understanding of the Worst Possible Outcome, and will use that to hone our approach on how to ensure that it is not a Nightmare Come True.
The end result will be a biochar certification standard required for any biochar product sold. If you don’t have this seal of certification that illustrates Sustainability from Seed to Socket (SSS), you can’t sell your biochar. Period.
Does this prevent black market biochar? (no pun intended) It doesn’t. But does it ensure that we don’t run into the coal or biofuels debacle, where an entire industry is based on being handsomely paid to thoroughly rape our resources for profit? Good god, I hope so.
This is officially an invitation to make your voice heard. Have an idea of how we can prevent such shenanigans? Leave a comment. I will make sure it gets into the right hands.
So when you read the negative biochar press out there, please take into consideration that the people involved in biochar are not idiots. It is a diverse group of scientists, policy-makers, and businesspeople with a shared mission and consideration for a whole-systems ecology and economy. Please. Can’t we all just get along?
How ’bout a hug?