Jul 9, 2010

Funding Opportunitiess - Farm Aid

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Click here to download Funding Opportunities for Investing in Family Farm Centered Food Systems as a pdf file.

Right now, numerous funding opportunities from several federal agencies can be harnessed to create thriving local and regional food systems with family farmers at their base. Several of these programs are underutilized; others often award the same recipients year after year, squandering opportunities to advance the reach of the Good Food Movement. Still other programs are just now being recognized as opportunities for investing in family farmers and local and regional food systems.

While many of the opportunities highlighted below are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the 2008 Farm Bill, or both, we issue a challenge to think outside the box and consider funding possibilities that cross sectors and foster new collaborations. Taking advantage of these opportunities can forge regional food markets, rejuvenate "agriculture in the middle" and stimulate local economies all at once.

Using Biochar (charcoal / agrichar / terra preta) to improve soil and sequester carbon

How to make biochar and use it to improve soil fertility and sequester carbon dioxide. A look at the implications for climate change, food production and carbon trading. Video by the Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth, Wales BIOCHAR (from wikipedia): Biochar is charcoal created by pyrolysis of biomass. The resulting charcoal-like material is a form of carbon capture and storage. Charcoal is a stable solid and rich in carbon content, and thus, can be used to lock carbon in the soil. Biochar is of increasing interest because of concerns about climate change caused by emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG). Biochar is a way for carbon to be drawn from the atmosphere and is a solution to reducing the global impact of farming (and in reducing the impact from all agricultural waste). Since biochar can sequester carbon in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years, it has received considerable interest as a potential tool to slow global warming. The burning and natural decomposition of trees and agricultural matter contributes a large amount of CO2 released to the atmosphere. Biochar can store this carbon in the ground, potentially making a significant reduction in atmospheric GHG levels; at the same time its presence in the earth can improve water quality, increase soil fertility, raise agricultural productivity and reduce pressure on old growth forests. About the video: Biochar is made using a process called pyrolysis, during which organic matter is heated to temperatures below 700 C in the absence of oxygen. This leaves a compound consisting mostly of carbon, which we would call charcoal. The inert character of this carbon means that it is not prone to decomposition unlike most organic matter which eventually rots down and releases its carbon into the atmosphere. By charring plant waste material in this way, carbon is transferred from the relatively fast carbon cycle into carbon storage where it is able to remain for thousands of years in the soils of terrestrial ecosystems. Scientists say that only a small percentage of atmospheric carbon dioxide needs to be captured and stored in order to mitigate our emissions. Biochar has also been seen, albeit mostly in the tropics, to have a positive effect on crop yields when applied to some soils. This is because it acts essentially as a nutrient sponge, holding on to minerals in the soil for plants to access, and preventing them from being washed out. Research in this area is not conclusive and much more work is needed to ascertain the true potential for Biochar to improve soil quality in other regions. At CAT we are running our own trials to address the use of Biochar as a soil conditioner with urine as a fertiliser. Indeed, it does seem that charcoal has a role to play in future environmental management, although the magnitude that it could be applied is unknown. On paper it looks good land can be converted to biomass production, feeding the energy industry which profits from electricity production and again from the sale and distribution of Biochar as an industrial waste product. It is also expected that under the clean development mechanism (or whatever replaces it at Copenhagen later this year) Biochar will eventually benefit form tradable carbon credits as a way of buying and selling emissions rights globally. So whats the catch? Amongst the enthusiasts you will find those who urge caution to our optimism. In order to achieve such magnitude of sequestration, vast areas of land would be required- far outstripping the demand of bio fuels and threatening food security globally. We risk displacing current land use practices and people for energy crops and plantations. We must check our enthusiasm and be sure not to fall for the magic bullet scenario which so many reports claim for Biochar. Most importantly, we cannot hope to have a stable global climate while emissions from the burning of fossil fuels remain so great. Initiatives such as bio-char hold some promise in terms of reducing the worst of climate change, and certainly in providing higher food yields and better soil quality, but only if we recognise this will have to come as part of a range of approaches, including a large scale reduction in direct emissions.

Turning human waste into energy

Waste not, want not
Plastics maker Sintex seeks to solve India's energy and sanitation problems in one stroke - with an at-home biogas digester.
By Jeremy Kahn

A Sintex digester can turn manure into fuel for cooking and electricity.

(Fortune Magazine) -- Sintex Industries, a plastics and textiles manufacturer in Gujarat, India, is betting it can find profit in human waste. Its new biogas digester turns human excrement, cow dung, or kitchen garbage into fuel that can be used for cooking or generating electricity, simultaneously addressing two of India's major needs: energy and sanitation.

Sintex's digester uses bacteria to break down waste into sludge, much like a septic tank. In the process, the bacteria emit gases, mostly methane. But instead of being vented into the air, they are piped into a storage canister.

A one-cubic-meter digester, primed with cow dung to provide bacteria, can convert the waste generated by a four-person family into enough gas to cook all its meals and provide sludge for fertilizer. A model this size costs about $425 but will pay for itself in energy savings in less than two years. That's still a high price for most Indians, even though the government recently agreed to subsidize about a third of the cost for these family-sized units. "We want to create a new industry for portable sanitation in India that's not available now," says S.B. Dangayach, Sintex's managing director.

Government officials plan to end open defecation by 2012 (hundreds of millions of Indians use railroad tracks or other outdoor locales instead of toilets) and say biogas plants are part of the solution. A.R. Shukla, a scientific advisor in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, says India could support 12 million such plants, but only 3.9 million - mostly pricier models big enough to accommodate entire villages - have been installed to date. And last year the government fell far short of its target for new installations.

The future can be glimpsed on a dusty, rutted road in a poor South Delhi neighborhood. Here 1,000 people use an immaculately clean public toilet constructed by a nonprofit foundation, the Sulabh Sanitation Movement. The biogas digester attached to toilets provides cooking gas for a 600-student school and vocational-training program the foundation runs. In the past, nongovernmental organizations like Sulabh were the only ones offering biogas digesters.

But Sintex is hoping cities, real estate developers, building managers, and hospitals will jump at a ready-made way to harness the same energy.

Biogas digesters are just a small fraction of Sintex's business. The company has installed only about 100 of them. But it plans to increase investment and production tenfold in the coming year. That growth potential has helped Sintex stock more than double this past year. Human waste may be a stinky business, but to investors it smells like money

Vietnamese manure biofuel project scoops prize - SciDev.Net

Naomi Antony
5 July 2010 | EN
The biogas manure-digester system produces an organic fertiliser
Dong Xuan/Ashden Awards

[LONDON] A scheme that harnesses biogas to improve the quality of life for Vietnamese smallholders is one of six projects recognised in an international awards ceremony.

Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) teamed up with the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) in 2003 to create a countrywide biogas programme that takes Vietnam's human and animal waste and turns it into a source of clean, renewable energy.

The manure is placed in an airtight tank where it is broken down by bacteria to produce biogas — a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide. More than 78,000 biogas digesters have been installed so far, benefiting almost 400,000 people and saving nearly 167,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise have been released from burning fossil fuels.

The project was awarded a prize of £20,000 (around US$30,000) at the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy in the United Kingdom last week (1 July).

"More than ten million smallholder farmers in Vietnam live in very unhygienic conditions that pollute the rivers and groundwater," Tom Derksen, country director of SNV Vietnam, told SciDev.Net. "At the same time, gas prices are rising and cooking on coal and wood [causes] a lot of health problems.

"The biogas ... also has this great bio-slurry as a side product that is an organic fertiliser," he said.

Each household system costs around US$550, and with savings from gas and coal it pays for itself within 2.5 years, according to Nguyen Thi Minh, MARD project coordinator. The government provides a 12 per cent subsidy, she said, and there are plans for the Asian Development Bank to help banks provide 'biogas loans' for the poorest farmers.

The project started in Nepal, where 200,000 units have been built. Vietnam's target is 168,000 digesters by the end of 2012, with plans to expand to seven more Asian and six African countries. Thi Minh told SciDev.Net that pilot projects are in place in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Laos.

The project — one of the largest of its kind in the world — has also provided training for some 1,200 small businesses to build biogas digesters, with an additional 75,000 built so far.

"We've given them technical training and business training, and they are now making a living out of building biogas digesters," Derksen said.

Making technical biogas training available countrywide is the next step, he said. "There is a lot of scope for capacity-building ... and we've helped the government to develop appropriate policies for this."

Other winning projects incorporated the use of solar- and hydro-power. The overall 'Gold Award' winner was D Light Design, which has provided over 220,000 solar lanterns in more than 30 countries via a network of rural businesses.

The video is published under Vietnam EASE Programme which stands for Enabling Access to Sustainable Energy. This is the product of the project Biogas Market Development implemented by RCEE/CCRD. This biogas digester is the Improved VACVINA model technology.

Jul 8, 2010

US Focused Biochar Report: Assessment of Biochar's Benefit's for the USA | BioEnergy Lists: BioChar (or Terra Preta)

US Focused Biochar Report: Assessment of Biochar's Benefit's for the USA

US Focused Biochar Report: Assessment of Biochar's Benefit's for the USA

From the Forward Biochar is a charcoal carbon product derived from biomass that can enhance soils, sequester or store carbon, and provide useable energy. Lessons learned from Terra Preta (an ancient human-created soil type in Brazil) suggest that biochar will have carbon storage permanence in the soil for many hundreds and possibly thousands of years.2 Biochar is produced by subjecting biomass to elevated temperature, extracting energy in the form of heat, gases, and/or oils while retaining a large portion of the original biomass carbon in a solid form (charcoal or char). The relative percentage of solid carbon retained vs. the amount and form of energy produced is a function of the process conditions. The resultant solid carbon becomes biochar when it is returned to soils with the potential to enhance mineral and nutrient availability and water holding capacity, while sequestering carbon for on the order of a thousand years...

Well designed renewable energy (RE) technologies such as energy efficiency, solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, and biomass driven projects are needed to ensure a diverse portfolio of sustainable solutions to meet our energy demands. These RE technologies offer opportunities to produce energy that is carbon neutral, whereas biochar offers the potentialto be carbon negative. Biochar as a method of carbon management is also widely scalable in size and flexible across soil type and usage making biochar deployable worldwide. ... The following report addresses six critical topics:

  1. Agroforestry
  2. Energy Co-Products
  3. Reclamation
  4. Sustainability
  5. Green House Gas Accounting
  6. Green House Gas Markets

Each of these areas will continue to develop over time with research and application but the information presented in this report serves as a resource for those becoming involved or continuing to be involved in the exciting development of biochar. USBI encourages readers to consider how they might add to this body of biochar knowledge and contact us for suggestions and contributions

It will take a community to raise the biochar baby – biochar needs project champions, YOU are that champion.

Jonah G Levine Research Faculty University of Colorado Center for Energy and Environmental Security (http://cees.colorado.edu/) Jonah.Levine@Colorado.Edu

Jul 7, 2010

Biochar Symposium Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 9:30 am - 3:30 pm - Biochar and Carbon Sequestration - Illinois Sustainable Technology Center - University of Illinois

SJ Warner Conference RoomBiochar Symposium
Wednesday, September 1st, 2010
9:30 am - 3:30 pm
Stephen J. Warner Conference Room
Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (Directions)

Register for the symposium

This symposium is an opportunity to learn about the latest biochar research in the Midwest, exchange ideas, and discuss ways to collaborate on future projects. The symposium will feature presentations on biochar production, properties, and use in agricultural environments.

This event is sponsored by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, a division of the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It is free and open to the public. However, registration is required. There will be a cost of $12 for the catered luncheon, or you may bring your own lunch. For those wishing to join us for the catered sandwich/salad buffet luncheon (includes beverage and dessert), please fill in the appropriate box on the registration form. All registrations are due by Wed. August 25, 2010.

Please e-mail Nancy Holm (nholm@istc.illinois.edu) with any questions.


Biochar: Production, Properties, and Agricultural Use

Sept. 1, 2010
9:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

9 - 9:30 am
Continental Breakfast (9:05 am - optional tour of ISTC laboratories)

9:30 am
Welcome and Background on Biochar - Nancy Holm and Kishore Rajagopalan, ISTC

9:50 am
Catie Brewer - Iowa State University, Ames, IA - Biochar Characterization and Engineering

10:35 am
Kurt Spokas - USDA, St. Paul, MN - Impacts of Biochar Additions on Soil Microbial Processes and Nitrogen Cycling

11:20 am
Paul Wever - Chip Energy, Inc., Goodfield, IL - Biochar Production and Feedstock Effects

Noon - 1:00 pm
Catered lunch (12:35 pm - optional tour of ISTC laboratories)

1:00 pm
Steve Heilmann - Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN - Biochar from Hydrothermal Carbonization of Microalgae and Distiller's Grains

1:45 pm
Akwasi Boateng - USDA, Philadelphia, PA - Physicochemical and Absorptive Properties of Fast Pyrolysis Biochars and their Steam-Activated Counterparts

2:30 pm
Wei Zheng - ISTC, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign - Current and Future Biochar Research at ISTC

3:00 - 3:30 pm
Summary and Discussion - Kishore Rajagopalan, ISTC

Biochar and Carbon Sequestration

Global climate change and uncertain fossil oil reserves are two major energy, economic, and environmental challenges of our time. Fossil fuels as non-renewable energy resources will eventually be exhausted in the foreseeable future due to finite reserves and rapidly increasing energy demands of modern societies. Also, there is growing scientific consensus that the current climate change is attributed to the large emissions of greenhouse gases associated with the extensive use of fossil fuels.

Scientists at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) are exploring an innovative way to off-set fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions: using pyrolysis at low temperatures to convert waste biomass into valuable products. Pyrolysis is a thermochemical conversion process where waste biomass is heated in the absence of oxygen to produce a series of energy products such as bio-oil, syngas, and biochar. Bio-oil and syngas can be captured and used as energy carriers. Also, bio-oil can be used at petroleum refineries as a feedstock that is greenhouse-gas-neutral and renewable.

Biochar can be used as a fuel or as a soil amendment. When used as a soil amendment, biochar can boost soil fertility, prevent soil erosion, and improve soil quality by raising soil pH, trapping moisture, attracting more beneficial fungi and microbes, improving cation exchange capacity, and helping the soil hold nutrient. Moreover, biochar is a more stable nutrient source than compost and manure. Therefore, biochar as a soil amendment can increase crop yields, reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, and minimize the adverse environmental effects of agrochemicals on the environment.

Another potentially enormous environmental benefit associated with biochar used in soil is that it can sequester atmospheric carbon. In the natural carbon cycle, plants take up CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow, and subsequently CO2 is emitted when the plant matter decomposes rapidly after the plants die. Thus, the overall natural cycle is carbon neutral. In contrast, pyrolysis can lock up this atmospheric carbon as biochar for long periods (e.g., centurial or even millennial time scales). Considering CO2 is pulled from air to make biochar, the net process is carbon negative. Therefore, the biochar approach is an attractive solution to alleviating global warming concerns. James Lovelock, famous for his Gaia hypothesis, is now advocating biochar as "One last chance to save mankind".

ISTC's biochar studies include: production of biochar from a variety of waste biomass, characteristics of biochar, biochar for sustainable agriculture, and potential environmental implication associated with biochar use. For more information on ISTC's biochar research, or if you are interested in exploring biochar production at your facility or establishing collaboration on biochar research, please contact Dr. Wei Zheng.

The black, flaky miracle that is biochar | Climate Tasmania

Flakes of carbon-rich biochar ready for digging in. PHOTO Adriana Downie, Pacific Pyrolysis)An ancient soil enricher is set to be an important tool in the battle to reduce atmospheric carbon, while also helping us grow more food.

[Peter Boyer: posted 6 July 2010]

Every now and again in the big, unfolding saga that is climate change you find yourself heading back to the future, looking at something simple and basic that’s been around forever. I had just that experience at a meeting in Hobart last week.

Flakes of carbon-rich biochar ready for digging in. PHOTO Adriana Downie, Pacific Pyrolysis)
The Tasmanian Biochar Workshop put a spotlight on charcoal, that dirty, unmanageable residue of burnt plant and animal matter, and provided its participants with ample evidence that this humble substance has big implications both for reducing atmospheric carbon and growing plants.

Simply put, biochar is charcoal created by slow smouldering of organic material which, if dug into the ground, serves as a long-term carbon store while enriching soils, boosting plant growth and improving water quality. It can hold carbon in soil for many centuries, even thousands of years.

Biochar has an ancient history. Early peoples of the Amazon basin in South America are believed to have made it by smouldering food and agricultural waste, digging it into the region’s naturally infertile soil to be further broken down by native earthworms. European settlers called this wonder-soil “terra preta” (Portuguese for “black earth”).

In more modern times, the charcoal-burner was a familiar part of every settlement in Europe and elsewhere, including Australia, producing fuel for cooking and heating. The application of fine-grained char as a soil additive is an old-new idea whose time has come around again.

But the idea of biochar has taken a while to catch on in Tasmania. In 2008 it got caught up in the debate about biomass energy from Tasmanian forestry operations, involving gathering up the woody debris left after logging and burning it in a biomass electricity generator.

Some forests activists accused biochar advocates of aiding and abetting native forest clearfelling by providing the logging industry with a convenient repository for its waste and a reason to extend its harvesting operations.

The debate ignored the fact that the primary focus of biochar production is carbon storage and increased soil fertility. Energy generation from pyrolysis (the process of producing biochar) and production of biofuel are additional outcomes. The process is carbon-negative, which means that it takes more carbon out of the atmosphere than it releases.

The Hobart meeting was organised by international biochar consultant Attilio Pigneri, now living in Tasmania. Held under the auspices of the Australia New Zealand Biochar Researchers Network, it brought together specialists from the University of Tasmania, CSIRO, government and industry.

Farmers, soil scientists and biochar business representatives mixed with interested outsiders to hear research outcomes from trials happening in Australia (including Tasmania) and New Zealand.

The 60-strong audience heard that biochar production was potentially a highly-valuable greenhouse mitigation and growth-enhancing tool for Tasmania whose efficacy depended on environmentally-friendly biomass sourcing and production techniques and good knowledge of the best kind of biochar for particular soils.

The meeting was told that feedstock, or raw material, for biochar can come from a big range of sources, including green waste from gardens and orchards, woody weeds such as gorse or willow, food processing waste, sewage sludge and manure (including poultry litter), seaweed, crop stubble, sawdust and wood “from responsible forest management operations”.

Different sources produced different results, with biochar from animal waste providing better productivity for some crops and woody material benefiting others. Other variables included different soil types and climatic conditions.

The workshop examined key environmental and economic issues in use of biochar in Tasmania, questions about logistics and sustainability, synergies between environmental mitigation and regional development, commercial possibilities, and the challenges of bringing biochar activities into a national carbon pricing scheme.

To Dr Pigneri, the workshop has significantly raised awareness of current biochar activities, including five University of Tasmania projects, and begun to link researchers and their work across Australia and New Zealand, while providing a base for a permanent industry association.

He and his team will use discussion outcomes from the workshop to guide future planning and inform governments about the technology’s potential both in reducing atmospheric carbon and helping Tasmania improve its agricultural productivity.

My father grew up on a farm and was a lifelong vegetable gardening enthusiast, but on that score I’d have been a disappointment to him. Like so many post-war children, I turned away from my rural background towards a city life, becoming part of the “great forgetting” that served to distance much of modern humanity from the production of food.

Now, our roots are calling us back. Besides finding better ways of keeping carbon out of the atmosphere, communities everywhere need to start taking an interest in how they derive sustenance from their lands, and that means getting heads around how to manage soil to grow better plants.

For me, the great appeal of biochar is its basic simplicity. There’s much more work to be done — years of trialling different scenarios to ensure we maximise the gain from the effort — but all the signs are that public support for a biochar industry will be a splendid investment in the future.

Jul 6, 2010

Crisis of Capitalism

David Harvey asks if it is time to look beyond capitalism, towards a new social order that would allow us to live within a system that could be responsible, just and humane. View his full lecture at the RSA.

Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

This lively RSA Animate, adapted from Dan Pink's talk at the RSA, illustrates the hidden truths behind what really motivates us at home and in the workplace. www.theRSA.org

Why is global warming a problem? Climate Q&A : Blogs

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Observed From the International Space StationGulf of Mexico Oil Spill Observed From the International Space Station
download large image (327 KB, JPEG)

By Holli Riebeek
July 6, 2010

The cost and benefits of global warming will vary greatly from area to area. For moderate climate change, the balance can be difficult to assess. But the larger the change in climate, the more negative the consequences will become. Global warming will probably make life harder, not easier, for most people. This is mainly because we have already built enormous infrastructure based on the climate we now have.

People in some temperate zones may benefit from milder winters, more abundant rainfall, and expanding crop production zones. But people in other areas will suffer from increased heat waves, coastal erosion, rising sea level, more erratic rainfall, and droughts.

The crops, natural vegetation, and domesticated and wild animals (including seafood) that sustain people in a given area may be unable to adapt to local or regional changes in climate. The ranges of diseases and insect pests that are limited by temperature may expand, if other environmental conditions are also favorable.

The problems seem especially obvious in cases where current societal trends appear to be on a “collision course” with predictions of global warming’s impacts:

at the same time that sea levels are rising, human population continues to grow most rapidly in flood-vulnerable, low-lying coastal zones;
places where famine and food insecurity are greatest in today’s world are not places where milder winters will boost crop or vegetation productivity, but instead, are places where rainfall will probably become less reliable, and crop productivity is expected to fall;
the countries most vulnerable to global warming’s most serious side effects are among the poorest and least able to pay for the medical and social services and technological solutions that will be needed to adapt to climate change.
In its summary report on the impacts of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated, “Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time.”

(For specific information on the projected impacts of climate change in the United States, see the National Assessment Report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program.)

Related Resources
United Nations Environment Programme, Division of Early Warning and Assessment. (2006). Emerging Challenges: New Findings, in P. Harrison (Ed.), Global Environment Outlook Year Book 2006 (59-70). Malta: Progress Press Ltd.
McGranahan, G., Balk, D., and Anderson, B. (2007) The rising tide: assessing the risks of climate change and human settlements in low elevation costal zones. Environment and Urbanization, 19 (1), 17-37.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2007). Summary for Policy Makers. In Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor, and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge, United Kingdom, and New York, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Jul 5, 2010

The next crop revolution? - Farm-News.com - farming news and information for Iowa - Farm News

Matt Helmers, an ISU ag engineer, gesturing on right, explains to tour attendees how a series of monitoring wells record the amount of runoff that comes from corn and prairie grass test plots. The system includes automatically taking small water samples to determine the amount of nitrates and other nutrient soils that leach away following rains.

Fact Box

-noun. A fine-grained charcoal high in organic carbon and largely resistant to decomposition.

As a soil amendment, biochar significantly increases the efficiency of, and reduces the need for, traditional chemical fertilizers, while greatly enhancing crop yields.

Source: reference.com

Biochar touted as key soil management component

By Larry Kershner/Farm News news editor

BOONE When David Laird, standing in a corn test plot, said Tuesday evening that biochar not only repaired damaged soils for crop production, but was also a key component in long term crop sustainability in fertile soils, a murmur rolled through the listeners.

He pressed on.

"The idea of the biochar is to maintain soil quality, while maintaining yield."

Laird was speaking at Iowa State University's BioCentury Research Center, near Boone. Hen was talking to a group of field tour attendees, who have also been attending an international biochar conference in Ames.

This conference is a multiday event where the science, practice, and understanding of biochar were advanced. Conference literature claimed that biochar exists at the intersection of agriculture, climate science and energy, acting as a soil amendment and an agent for carbon sequestration.

According to www.answerbag.com: "Biochar provides places for micro flora to grow and also holds water and nutrients that can be available for plants. When mixed with soil, the result is terra preta."

In the corn test plot, plant growth and yield were being monitored based on the amount of biochar incorporated into the soil, along with the removal of field residue. The trial is trying to indicate if residue removal - for biofuel production, for example will not deprive soil of the nutrients gained from residue breakdown, if biochar can substitute that loss.

The test plants that were the tallest had biochar incorporated, at a rate of 4.4 tons per acre, with 90 to 100 percent of residue removed. Whether that computes into more corn in grain cart this fall is yet to be determined, he noted.

Laird said the taller corn was evidence that the plants were not competing with the residue for nitrogen. "Now that's the short term view," Laird cautioned his listeners. The long term considerations of leaving more residue behind at harvest includes erosion control in times of heavy rain while plants are small and early-season weed control that residue provides between rows.

The 24-acre parcel contained 28 plots, 24 with biochar incorporated in 2007, Laird said. The plots include cover crop applications and corn planted with both no-till and conventional tillage methods.

Laird said there are plans to incorporate more biochar this fall. "For long term sustainability, it becomes necessary to apply additional carbon because you are harvesting the forage."

To dramatically show what biochar can accomplish for a field, Laird introduced the tour attendees to a small parcel of corn planted in a totally depleted soil. The spot was near U.S. Highway 30, where the Iowa Department of Transportation took the topsoil for construction when widening the highway.

A 16-row corn plot was planted into the poor soil. A three-row wide segment was mixed with biochar, at a rate equal to 30 tons per acre, Laird said, along with some dairy manure.

These three rows were twice as big, almost five feet tall, and a lush green color. The other rows farther away from the biochar-manure-soil mix were stunted and light green by comparison.

He said biochar is applicable for redemption of sandy, depleted, eroded or damaged soils. He said there is also application for urban areas where bulldozers have compacted the topsoil.

"We anticipated seeing benefits (of biochar) in depleted soils," Laird said, "But we're seeing that in better quality soils, biochar becomes a component in maintaining a sustainable system."

To be used, biochar should be incorporated into the soil of a garden or farm field. It should be mixed in gently so as to prevent killing worms. Biochar could make-up five percent to 10 percent of the soil when the job is done, but it should not all be mixed in at once. Two or three years of adding smaller amounts seem to work better.

Once the biochar is in the soil, there should be little need to till. There should also be reduced fertilizer requirements, although phosphorus, potassium and trace minerals may need to be added periodically.

Other plots

Other test plots on Tuesday night's tour, included looking at switchgrass, being grown for biofuel and biochar sources and understanding when is best time for harvesting. ISU agronomists Emily Heaton and Danielle Wilson, explained that the plot is watching how the grass responds to harvesting at five different intervals of the growing season.

They said that it is already understood that the grass should wait until fall, when most of the nitrogen has receded into the lower third of the plant.

"The more nitrogen that is extracted with the bio-oil," Wilson said, "the more expensive it is to remove it from the oil."

Matt Liebman, an ISU professor of agronomy, and Renae Diettzel, who is working on her PhD in carbon sequestration, explained how they are looking at native prairie grasses, grown for biomass production, in both fertilized and unfertilized plots. They are monitoring, among other things, when nutrients move from soil to plant and back again, as well as the carbon the plants sequester and the quality of rain water runoff.

Liebman said there is more root development in the unfertilized field than in the fertilized. He explained that the fertilized plants don't have to work as hard for nutrients as its unfertilized counterpart.

However, he noted, that because the unfertilized stand has shorter, thicker stalks, they stand better against high winds with less lodging than the fertilized stand.

Matt Helmers, an associate professor in ag engineering at ISU, showed the well monitoring system that tracks and records the amount of runoff from each of the different plots, as well as the trace elements, such as nitrates, that are carried in the water.

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext. 453, or by e-mail at kersh@farm-news.com.

Energy Spotlight: Forest biomass also generates jobs | The News-Review - NRtoday.com

Jim Long
Recent forest biomass-for-energy developments may lead to new businesses and employment in the Umpqua Valley. Here are examples from a recent conference in Roseburg, field demonstrations near Lemolo Lake, and a web site.

The conference held June 17 at the Douglas County Museum was sponsored by Cooperative Extension, Oregon Department of Forestry and Oregon Forest Resources Institute. One speaker estimated sustainable supplies of waste forest biomass in Oregon and in Douglas County. Another presenter illustrated newer, more efficient ways to collect, transport and process forest slash to burn for heat or electricity, or to convert into bio-oil and biochar. The speaker highlighted industrial investments in designing and testing new equipment. An audience member spoke about a home-made trailer to haul non-merchantable logs with a load of logs for lumber.

Throughout the conference, speakers emphasized the importance of integrating energy production with other goals: to sustain soils, watersheds, wildlife, less fire-prone forests, clean air, and businesses that help achieve these goals along the chain of custody from forest to fuel. One panelist estimated that generally biomass-for-energy enterprises produce one tenth the emissions of burning forest slash in the open air.

The Umpqua National Forest scheduled field demonstrations near Lemolo Lake throughout the week following the conference. The demonstrations featured a one-ton/day fast pyrolysis unit manufactured by Advanced BioRefinery Inc. (ABRI) of Ottawa, Canada. With very high heat and very little oxygen, the unit degraded wood chips into bio-oil, biochar, and syngas. Bio-oil can be burned straight away for some purposes or further processed into biodiesel. Biochar is a valued soil amendment that helps some farm and forest soils hold moisture and nutrients for plants. And after startup, the syngas can be burned to dry wood chips and provide heat for the pyrolysis process itself.

The ABRI pyrolysis unit included a dryer; higher-moisture chips were dried to 10% and then processed into these three components. Also, the ABRI unit produced a cleaner bio-oil by more completely separating char from the oil.

A web site introduced Biochar Products of Halfway, Oregon, the business that conducted these demonstrations. Entrepreneur Eric Twombly, explained this transportable ABRI unit can process most any organic matter from forest slash, yes, but also, from livestock litter and manure, spoiled hay, woody weeds like Scotch broom and English hawthorn, industrial wastes, and municipal wastes. ABRI and Biochar Products are developing and testing a much larger portable pyrolysis unit.

A great deal of information is available:

• Biomass Energy and Biofuels from Oregon's Forests, a booklet that estimates forest biomass supplies. It was produced by Oregon Forest Resources Institute, www.oregonforests.org; 1.800.719.8195.

• Biomass and Family Forest Landowners, a pamphlet from Oregon Department of Forestry/Roseburg: 541.440.3412/115.

• Summary of regulations from Douglas Forest Protective Association, www.dfpa.net; 541.672.6507.

• Biochar Products of Halfway, Oregon: http//biocharproducts.com.

• Jim Archuleta, UNF soil scientist who arranged the pyrolysis demonstrations and established biochar test plots in an elk habitat and a forested parcel on pumice soils near Lemolo Lake: jgarchuleta@fs.fed.us.

• Advanced BioRefinery Inc., Ottawa: www.advbiorefineryinc.ca

Recent engineering, regulatory, and business developments suggest that forest biomass-to-energy enterprises as an integral part of sustainable forest management can generate new jobs in the Umpqua Valley.

Jul 4, 2010

Suburban Pollarding: Making your own mulch One Straw: Be The Change

Posted on July 1, 2010 by onestraw

There are several themes here on One Straw, but it can all be summed up with the statement that we need to build a regenerative culture as we skip merrily down Energy Descent. To do that we need to rebuild our culture, grow more of our own foods, find a way to power our civilization, learn a shit ton of new/old skills and stabilize the climate whilst dealing with the next 50+ years of weather silliness and rather a lot more. Any good permaculturist likes to hit more than one goal with each throw so I have been focusing on biomass lately.

I really need to write a biomass specific essay, but here is the skinny. Where I live in south central Wisconsin there is only fair solar and wind resources, no geo thermal to speak of and it has been several million years since we had a decent tide. But, thanks to plentiful rains, if you stop mowing your lawn for a decade you get a nice old field sucession. They don’t call it the “Northwoods” for nothing; we are really good at growing trees. Solar is a great way to make electricity and you would be insane to not consider something with such crazy low maintenance needs, but biomass has alot of fringe benefits to offset the labor input. Primarily – if you do it right you sequester literally tons of carbon. We all know that is cool ever since Al Gore told us so, but not only can we help offset truly catastrophic climate change, if we do it right, we can also heal our soils to feed our burgeoning billions. Carbon is a pain in the atmosphere (above 275ppm anyhow), but DAMN is it cool in the soil. We need to put it back.
Here is one of my all time favorite sustainability facts:

By raising the organic matter content by 1% you have effectively sequestered all the carbon above that area of soil.
Dang, sucka! This is why agriculture is such a huge contributor to global climate change – conventional ag destroys organic matter, removing it from the soil and getting it airborne through massive nitrogen fertilizers and tilling. But the simply beautiful thing is that we NEED to raise the organic matter content of our soil by 2-5% everywhere if we want to produce food organically and by doing so we heal the atmosphere. Trees, woody stalks, and straw are the best ways to get carbon out of the atmosphere (plants do it for free and are, by nature, carbon negative). The trick is to harvest that biomass efficiently and then process it in such a way as to sequester it for the mid/long term. Enter my Tuesday project.

I live right on a freeway. In addition to the noise and pollution, the salt spray in the winters also have a tendency to kill off or stunt just about anything I have planted there (trying siberian pea shrubs). But buckthorn thrives. Now I would never intentionally plant buckthorn, but there are several specimens on the D.O.T. side of the fence and one mature one just on my side. I have left it up as a windbreak to protect a maple I have planted. But that buckthorn is rather vigorous, as is their wont, and needs to be hacked back every few years. We call it trimming when its a chore and the material is thrown away, but when it is done with the specific goal of harvesting the biomass the proper name is Pollarding.
Here is a shot of the buckthorn with about 20% of the south side of it pollarded.

Its a BIG buckthorn! Pulled about 80#'s of biomass out and you can barely tell.
I essentially limbed up everything I could reach that had limbs facing in the 30 degree arc around the maple. This freed up a lot of room, and made too big piles of material. I separated these by use – the larger diameter wood (.75″-3″) I intended to chip up for oyster mushroom growing media, the leafy material at the end of the limbs would be shredded for compost.

I did not put any of this down as mulch due to the presence of very green berries on the tree. By composting this material I will essentially sequester half the carbon from the tree (the rest is off gassed by bacteria) for 5-50+ years in the soil as humus which is pretty stable. The results of chipping are always mind boggling. What started as enough material to fill my dump truck bed (11 cu yards) I am left with about 2-3 cu feet of wood chips and perhaps 9 cu ft of green shredded branches that will compost down significantly. Total weight was roughly 100#’s.

After composting it will be about 15# once the water is consumed by the bacteria and half the material is off gassed. The chipper does use fuel, but this stunt only consumed about 1/2 a cup which is less than my neighbor used mowing his lawn while I did this. Larger chippers are more efficient and can be run on methane from the midden or ethanol if gasoline engined, or biodiesel if not.

The shear scope of our problem can be staggering at times. I would like to add 1″ of topsoil to my new garden, which is 1100 sq ft. That works out to just shy of 7000#’s of compost. For one garden. That is why I am becoming more and more convinced that the single most important thing we can do is to plant trees. LOTS of trees. The great thing is that it isn’t that hard. 1.5 acres of willow will produce 22000#’s of chips annually (harvesting .5 acres a yr) for 2 decades or more before needing to be replanted. And that is dry trunk chips only, not the leafy biomass of the fronds. While we can’t grow the biomass needed to heal our soils in our own backyards, we can certainly plant enough trees and “woody” plants into our home landscapes to maintain the soils once we have healed them. 100 acres of marginal corn land – say near rivers that flood seasonally and shouldn’t be planted to annuals anyhow- planted to willow coppice would produce enough biomass to rebuild almost 100,000 sq ft of garden a year. Every year after year 3. In 8 years we could have a garden as large as mine in every yard in my hometown of 500 homes churning along at 5%+ organic matter and be producing 500,000#’s of food annually while also sequestering hundreds of tons of carbon annually.

When combined with energy systems like the Methane Midden, which has 6000#’s of chips in it, sequestering carbon can also offset carbon emissions for energy production. I planted 15 willows on our property this year specifically to begin coppicing in a few years. Next year I will pull rods from them to start 50 or so more. Box elders are another strong coppice candidate in this area. The hedgerows for a 5 acre sustainable produce farm divided into 1 acre plots would grow enough biomass to run a gasifier for a year while sequestering 11000#’s of carbon to be added back to the fields as biochar to help create terra preta.

We can partner with nature to heal the damage we have done. Even in the burbs.
Be the change!