Jul 17, 2010

Building the Biocarbon Economy: — Climate Solutions

The biocarbon paradigm aims at leveraging plant growth and rich soils to halt the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and then to achieve a global turnaround. By making nature a climate ally humanity can actually begin to draw down carbon dioxide toward levels that prevailed before we began massively consuming fossil fuels. 

This is a series of briefings on biocarbon, specially focused on how the Pacific Northwest can mount regional initiatives to accelerate biocarbon progress:

Building the Biocarbon Economy: How the Northwest Can Lead
Full briefings series in one document

Jul 14, 2010


GREENPOWERSCIENCE | This is our enriched soil, about 1/2 an acre:-)

Ames Tribune > Experts pioneer new technology at Biochar Conference

Weihua Deng, assistant scientist with the Center for Sustainable Environmental Technology, guides attendees of the U.S. Biochar Initiative Conference on a tour of Iowa State’s new Biorenewables Research Laboratory Wednesday in Ames."

By James Pusey
Staff Writer

Though biochar is a promising agricultural technology, few people know what it actually is.

A conference held in Ames this week aimed to help spread the word about biochar’s potential included invitations to some 270 scientists, industry representatives and entrepreneurs from around the world.

The 2010 U.S. Biochar Initiative Conference was from June 27 to 30 at the Scheman Building and focused on presenting the latest biochar research, deciding next actions and connecting researchers with industry representatives and entrepreneurs.

Biochar is one of the by-products of fast pyrolysis, the process used at Iowa State University’s BioCentury Research Farm to create bio-oil from organic material. Researchers have found that the dark, charcoal-like powder left over from pyrolization can be returned to the soil and vastly improve the quality of low-grade soils.

Harry Stine, president and founder of the Stine Seed Company in Adel, said he was first introduced to biochar when he stumbled across a highly productive farm in Germany where farmers were adding char from a kiln to its soil. Curiosity drove him to start his own biochar experiments.

“Adding the charcoal initially doubled our yield,” Stine said. “Now we’ve tripled our yields from what we had.”

Research being conducted at ISU has found that biochar is most effective on low-quality soils, but has little effect on good soils. However, Stine said scientists have yet to find an instance where putting biochar on soil has had harmful effects, and he doubts one could apply too much biochar to the soil.

“At first, we started adding biochar at low rates because we thought you could hurt stuff by adding too much,” he said. “Today, I find that hard to believe.”

Most conference attendees were from around the United States, but some traveled from as far away as Asia, Africa and South America.

Gerard Cornelissen, a researcher with the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute, said he was impressed by the potential benefits of biochar.

“It’s almost too good to be true, the win-win’s to be had,” Cornelissen said, “especially if we can help the poorest farmers on the worst soils. Then it’s a fantastic concept.”

Among the sponsors of the conference was the International Biochar Initiative, which has been in existence since 2007 and aims to further biochar’s cause by making changes in public policy. Executive Director Debbie Reed said the next step is for scientists to define exactly what biochar is, classify it and create standards for its production.

Thayer Tomlinson, the organization’s communication director, said the conference was the second held in the United States. The first took place in Boulder, Colo., last year.

“This is a great opportunity for everyone to come together, share research, but also share their experiences and talk about what they want to see out of this emerging industry,” Tomlinson said. “It’s the top of the field here.”

James Pusey can be reached

at (515) 663-6922

or jpusey@amestrib.com.

Beyond Farmers Markets: Building a Local Food System in Davenport, Iowa

by Alta Price, M.D.

The Quad-City Times ran a great opinion piece last Sunday written by Dan Carmody. Mr. Carmody lived and worked in Iowa, eventually moved into economic development in Rock Island, Illinois, then Indiana, and now works for Eastern Market Corp, a non profit local public market in Detroit.
The city of Davenport is trying to decide what to do with the Freight House building, part of which is used by the city’s most successful farmer’s market. Mr. Carmody has a wonderful vision for how Davenport could center a local food system around the Freight House. I’ll quote a few paragraph’s from the opinion piece, but encourage you to read the whole article.

The local food movement is not just about farmers markets. It’s about recalibrating the system we have developed to feed ourselves. Encouraging more local production and the direct sale of food from producer to consumer is a great start, but food systems’ other key components — processing, distribution, retailing and education — all need to be reassessed and modified to become more local, sustainable, viable and equitable. Local food system work is about the greenest thing a community can do.

He then gives specific examples of what could be done by Davenport at the Freight House to meet these goals. He also emphasizes the collaborative effort necessary to create a hub for a local food system, suggesting that the City of Davenport partner with Augustana College, the county extension services, and the Quad City Botanical Center. The type of projects he proposes would be appropriate to any city in Iowa developing a local food system.
He also makes that point that conventional agriculture and economic developers are skeptical of the local food movement, while local food activists sometimes advocate revolution rather than evolution. Both sides need to work together to gradually move towards a more environmentally sustainable, economically viable system.
The success of the microbrewery movement demonstrates that this approach is both feasible and economically advantageous.

He concludes
his article:

Collectively, we cannot feed ourselves only from local sources any more than we can continue to affordably feed ourselves on a system that requires 10 calories of energy for each calorie of food produced.

We must evolve a more sustainable food system as a way to deal with higher energy costs and a food system that encourages the consumption of healthier food as a way to deal with the higher health care costs, otherwise our economy will collapse.

Developing the Freight House as a local food hub can provide the regional forum which is needed if the Quad-Cities is to become a leader in the transformation of food systems.

For those of you in the Quad Cities area, mark your calendar for Wednesday, August 25, 2010. Mr. Carmody will be giving the keynote speech “Beyond Farmers Markets: Building Local Food Hubs” at the Iowa Downtown Summit at the River Center in Davenport.
Alta Price is a physician practicing Pathology in Davenport, Iowa. One of the original Deaniacs, she stays involved with Democracy for America, Iowa, and the Quad Cities. She advocates for quality, affordable health care for all, primarily as a volunteer with Progressive Action for the Common Good (Health Care Reform Issue Forum). She is also getting active with PACG's Local Foods Initiative. E-Mail Alta Price

Food Fuel Fertility = The New Paradigm - One Straw: Be The Change

Posted on July 13, 2010 by onestraw
Food. Fuel. Fertility. Of late, those 3 words hammer through my brain like a sledge whenever I get going on a new project. The reason is simple – I am convinced that our agriculture has to do all three if we are to build a new culture to survive the new reality of Climate Change on top of Energy Descent and our burgeoning billions. We talk and talk of sustainable culture – but I don’t want to sustain what we have now – the fear, the pollution, the waste – I want something far better. We need a Regenerative Culture. The Age of Exploitation must come to an end – the Age of Healing has arrived.

The Methane Midden is a good example of this thinking. While significantly on the energy/fertility side with its 4-6 months of hot water or methane on top of the 4000#’s of compost, it is also planted with squash and tomatoes to produce hundreds of pounds of food. The system is still being tested (the plants aren’t loving it) but the potential is immense. 7 weeks in and the pile is still over 125 degrees – with no turning or maintenance at all. Dang! Tomorrow I am going to harvest several hundred mature lambsquarter that are 9′ tall to be shredded for the methane feedstock. Much more to come on that project!

With that task of harvesting tall stalky plants in the back of my mind, this morning over breakfast I went on a fantastic internet fueled thought tangent on the feasibility of a fuel tweaked Three Sisters guild. It is so simple, which is why I am so excited. First – take the standard Three Sisters of corn + pole beans + winter squash and swap oilseed sunflowers for the corn. Why? Because my car and 2 wheel tractor run on diesel. Journey to Forever says that you can get 102 gallons of oil from an acre of sunflowers – 43,000 plants on 1′ spacing. But we are wanting a polyculture so we will need to let some light in by spreading the sunflower canopy a bit – say cut the spacing in half to 25,000 plants or so. That still leaves enough plants for 50 gallons of oil if we use oilseed varieties. Then take the understory and add back in the squash. Monoculture will get you 10-20 tons of squash per acre. So again, lets cut that down a bit and say 18,000#’s. That is ALOT of food. Food that keeps all winter long. Finally, we are vegetarians so we needs our protein. Add in the soup beans. 25 bushels per acre is typical @ 60#’s a bushel. Again, cut in half for polyculture and you get 12 bushels of beans, or 720 pounds. So to recap our acre is now growing enough seed to produce 50 gallons of oil, 18000#’s of squash and 700#’s of dry beans –both of which keep for months and months. That is rather good. Lets make it better!
Remember the thought stream that got me to this point over my now cold steel cut oats. Chopping down cellulose rich tall plants for methane fuel stock and compost. 25,000 8′ tall sunflowers…. lay them down end to end and its over 37 miles. I haven’t weighed one, but figure they weigh 5#’s each. That is 62 tons of green material that is going to be pretty close to perfect C:N ratio by harvest time. 125,000#’s of material – composted down with a 75% loss gets you to about 30,000#’s of compost, or 55 yards. That seems high so I would love to prove the math. That is enough to spread the entire acre with .4″ of compost- a very healthy amount and far more than I apply annually in my market gardens. Fertility would increase to say the least. 62 tons of material would also be enough to build 8 Methane Middens so that we can heat our winter greenhouses or the chicken barn. Dang sucka.
Back to the fuel part again. 50 gallons doesn’t sound like much. And it isn’t. Most of us only get 22 mpg and drive 12000 miles per car per year – 540 gallons per year per car. Ouch. But we all know that we will drive ALOT less in the future and most cars are fuel hogs. My VW TDI gets 42 MPG towing a 1000# of cargo in my trailer. Have I mentioned I love my car? So, even saving 5 gallons for the Grillo to till the acre, we still have enough oil to drive over 1750 miles towing all those squash and bushels of beans to market. If we relocalize that is 175 round trips to town 5 miles away – 3 trips a week. Huh.
But I want to re-stress my loathing of the food v. fuel argument. It is a farce if you think it through and know the science of biofuels-even ADM fed their ethanol mash to tilapia. So we take the 25,000 sunflowers, grind up the seeds (will need some energy there – unless we build a bicycle machine to do it), and press them. That seed mash left over from the pressing doesn’t just disappear. In fact, about 50% of the total oil is essentially impossible to remove from the pressed seeds without solvents, and the protein and carbohydrates are still there too –i.e. the food value of the seeds is still there. That means you still have 1500#’s of protein rich (40%) meal to feed to your livestock.
Can we rebuild the next 20 years to allow us to transition to a less energy dense future?
1 acre nets 18,000#’s of squash, 750#’s of dry beans (4500 cups cooked!), 1500#s of animal feed, 30,000#’s of compost after you have heated your buildings with 8 Methane Middens worth of energy, and you also managed to make enough oil to power the tractor and drive to town 3 times a week for the next year.
On one acre.
Be the Change!

Jul 12, 2010

July 13, 2010: Dr. Johannes Lehmann, to Discuss Biochar at US Congress | International Biochar Initiative

July 13, 2010: Dr. Johannes Lehmann, to Discuss Biochar at US Congress

Cornell University Invites You to a Briefing on Carbon Sequestration Practices, Hope or Hype? The Science Behind Using Geologic Formations and Developing Biochar to Lock Carbon in the Earth and Out of the Atmosphere
US House of Representatives: Tuesday, July 13, 2010
10:00 - 11:00 am
2325 Rayburn HOB
US Senate: Tuesday, July 13, 2010
3:00 - 4:00 pm
SVC 201, Capitol Visitor Center
The entrance to the Capitol Visitor Center is on the east side of the U.S. Capitol Building. Please allow extra time to go through security.
Cornell Professors Johannes Lehmann and Teresa Jordan will discuss state-of-the-art carbon sequestration practices in climate mitigation strategies. One of the world's authorities on biological carbon sequestration with biochar, Professor Lehmann will discuss how heating biomass creates renewable energy and a charcoal co-product, biochar, which when applied to soils, captures carbon and improves crop performance. Biochar has the potential to mitigate climate change impacts and enhance soil quality.
Professor Jordan's groundbreaking team in the Northeast focuses on geologic sequestration, a process injecting carbon dioxide underground for long-term storage. She will address practices, risks, costs and uncertainties associated with sequestration in saline aquifers and emptied oil and gas reservoirs.
For more information, contact (202) 434-8035.
Johannes Lehmann, Cornell associate professor of soil science and a leading authority on biochar, will explain how heated biomass can create renewable energy and a charcoal co-product called biochar. This biochar product is similar in structure to the Amazon region’s “terra preta,” which when applied to soil, captures carbon and improves crop performance. Lehmann says biochar may mitigate climate change and reduce fossil fuel consumption, but understanding the science of sequestration is critical to policy decisions.

Teresa Jordan, Cornell professor of geology, examines carbon injected underground for long-term storage. She will address practices, environmental risks, costs and uncertainties associated with sequestration in saline aquifers, the most widely available potential carbon reservoirs. Jordan’s current work in the Northeastern United States has implications for current legislative efforts to expand geologic sequestration as a climate mitigation strategy.

What is Big Agriculture doing with Biochar? - Naked Scientists Discussion Forum

Erich J. Knight
A Report on the US Biochar Conference at Iowa State University;
Session Presentations;
http://www.biorenew.iastate.edu/events/biochar2010/conference-agenda/agenda-overview.html, and click on the title of the session you want.

What a whirlwind at ISU, What a lab that the $22M of Conoco oil money built, and the 40 Acres of field trials, just overwhelming.

My opening plenary was well received, particularly the closing humorist sermon on a Carbon Based Religion. The plenary speakers I recruited were the talk of the conference; Gary DeLong on Soil Carbon Standards, and Laurens Rademakers of the Biochar Fund http://biocharfund.org/ (his Talk not posted yet)

My failures included;
Not getting Kyle Howell to speak on WalMart's Sustainability Index, or getting NASA-JPL to speak on Remote carbon sensor technology.

It was exciting to meet and inspiring to talk with people like Josiah Hunt and Trip Allen. Two men with the energy and knowledge to drive this market. Josiah, a passionate compost driven landscaper, (like myself) , His curiosity for the mysteries of the rhizosphere is palatable and lead to collaborations with U of H Microbiologist & agronomist. Trip, with equal energy and a clear whole ecology vision for southern California has "Biocharm" on the market; http://www.biocharm.com/
Jeff Wallin shared a totally integrated ecological system for a Mahogany tree Farm / Pyrolysis plant / Tropical Ag & live stock Farm. Including Char feed rations, Small Hydro Power and Aquaculture. The most holistic thinking I have seen for any Biochar project.

Kelpie Wilson; Biochar educator par excellence.
Every Science teacher in the country should have been there.

Many Biochar Pathways and Value Streams disscussed;
There are about a dozen Large and medium Pyrolitic & Gasifier reactor manufacturers,
Optimizing for gas ,bio-oil or char dependent on setting / feedstocks / energy needs.
SynQest has a novel path of corn cob feedstock - to - Anhydrous-Ammonia plus Biochar.

Highest value stream;
A dozen bagged char products on the home & nursery market,
Replacement of vermiculite and peat moss in growing mediums

Char composting amendment; Finished compost Retains 30% of the nitrogen normally emitted as GHG.

Soil Toxicity Remediation; High - P, manure feedstock chars sorbs heavy metals better that activated carbons. Also Atrazine , Dioxins and estrogens.

CharFeed ration; avoided methane belching & medications, reduced bedding/litter ammonia emmisions & increased feed conversion, over all GHG emissions cut by half.

Laurens Rademakers; Biochar King of the Congo;
ISU was so wise to have Laurens as the closing plenary speaker. So evocative, I left the hall tears streaming down my face, thinking of the potential for exponential growth across the continent.
At the Iowa House, late into the evenings, spending time telling stories of his and my experiences in Africa, I found a most brilliant man. A culturally comprehensive understanding of the continent, His solutions cascade like rain and will fill each Hamlet & Community in turn. Bottom line; He doubled the income for thousands of subsistence farmers!
He gave me a hard time one night, in passing, about my superlative words on some of my postings where I said It was only time between him and a Nobel. Well, I recanted then, but after his powerfully moving presentation, Now I reinstate it. Every mile saved walking for deforesting wood, Evey tree saved and every clean breath taken, lightens the load and helps to preserve this society and wonderful cultural legacy of pastoral & farming community.
On my reflection of our discussions, I would add some other titles; "Whole Congo Ecologist", or "Socioeconomic Shaman" healing soil and self-esteem in the infrastructural chaos of Congo, or "Char Czar" We amend, We seed, We rule.
The next step is for village Pyrolitic electricity and Bio-Oil river transport.

Thanks for all of your efforts.

Erich J. Knight
Chairman; Markets and Business Review Committee
US BiocharConference, at Iowa State University, June 27-30

EcoTechnologies Group Technical Adviser
Shenandoah Gardens (Owner)
1047 Dave Barry Rd.
McGaheysville, VA. 22840
540 289 9750
Co-Administrator, Biochar Data base & Discussion list TP-REPP

GREAT REPORT Erick! ... Monte