Sep 30, 2010

How biochar production could help climate change fight | Environment |

Cornell University's Johannes Lehmann thinks biochar - using organic matter to bury carbon dioxide in the ground - could be a large scale way to tackle global warming A seedling grown in a potting mixture including Biochar. Photograph: A seedling grown in a potting mixture including Biochar. Cornell University scientist Johannes Lehmann thinks biochar is crucial way to reduce human carbon emissions, by burying them. Photograph: Win-win solutions can be hard to come by. But if Cornell University soil scientist Johannes Lehmann is right, there may be a way to lower our emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, save millions of people's lives, and significantly boost the productivity of the world's farms—all at the same time. And, most remarkably, his strategy is based on a deceptively simple technology invented 8,000 years ago. Lehmann's idea starts with organic leftovers that people normally burn or leave to rot—forest brush, corn husks, nutshells, and even chicken manure. When this stuff decays or goes up in smoke, it releases vast amounts of heat-trapping carbon into the atmosphere. Lehmann's plan is to short-circuit this carbon cycle by creating a material called biochar. Making biochar involves heating this organic matter without oxygen in a process called pyrolysis. It can be carried out in a small household stove, or it can be an industrial operation. Either way, the pyrolysis doesn't produce carbon dioxide as ordinary, oxygen-fueled fire does. Instead, the carbon gets locked up in black chunks of charcoal-like matter. Take that biochar and bury it in farm fields, and it acts like a giant carbon sponge holding in moisture and nutrients that boost crop yields. In 2003, Lehmann and his colleagues treated farm fields in Colombia with biochar and found they yielded up to 140 percent more corn per acre compared to biochar-free fields. What's more, the buried biochar turns out to be remarkably stable, locking up carbon for hundreds or even thousands of years. Lehmann's calculations suggest that transforming the crop waste from 120 million hectares of U.S. farmland alone could sequester ten percent of the nation's annual carbon emissions. Play that out on a global scale, and you can make a serious dent in climate change. Lehmann's fascination with biochar began in the late 1990s while he was living in Brazil, working on a project to heal the ravaged soil of the rainforest. When the forest is cut away and replaced by farms or ranches, the fragile Amazon soil erodes and eventually becomes exhausted. As Lehmann toured the Amazon, he would sometimes come across huge patches of rich, dark soil that stood out from the red clay common to the region. When he traveled by boat, he could see thick layers of the stuff sandwiched along the banks. Lehmann was looking at one of the Amazon's great mysteries: terra preta, or black earth. He wasn't the first to encounter this amazing soil. Europeans first recorded pockets of terra preta along the waterways of Brazil in 1871. But even after more than 100 years, no one was quite sure how it had gotten there or why it worked. Early on, some scientists speculated that terra preta was the remnants of dead lakes. Others thought it was formed by blankets of ash from volcanoes. It didn't occur to scientists for a long time that terra preta might be the signature of an ancient Amazonian society. They narrowly pictured the Amazon rainforest as a primeval wilderness before the arrival of Europeans. In recent decades, however, archaeologists have recognized that pre-Columbian Amazonia supported a prospering population of Indians who built towns and large-scale farming and fishing operations. Thanks to the work of Lehmann and others, it now seems clear that those ancient farmers were onto something. Whether deliberately or by happy accident, the Amazonians created terra preta and used it to improve the soil. Radiocarbon dating reveals that people began laying down the stuff at least 8,000 years ago. And they kept creating more of it until Europeans arrived. For thousands of years, it steadfastly resisted erosion and remained loaded with rich, black carbon. And this discovery led to a profound idea. Lehmann and his colleagues began to wonder whether they could create a modern-day terra preta—in the form of biochar—to solve some very twenty-first century problems. For the past decade, Lehmann has been devoted to finding the answer. His work is spread out across multiple fronts. He oversees experimental farm fields in countries including Brazil, Colombia, and Kenya as well as greenhouse and laboratory experiments at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He's currently evaluating the horticultural effects of over 100 different biochar variations—ranging from chicken manure to nutshells and even discarded food waste from university cafeterias. Lehmann thinks that large-scale biochar production in the U.S. and other industrialized countries could be an efficient way to combat global warming. In a commentary in Nature, Lehmann proposed the idea of power plants fueled with materials such as forest residues or fast-growing plants such as switch grass growing on idle land. (1) A number of companies already generate bioenergy in this way. But to date, they've treated biochar as merely a byproduct that can be burned to reduce costs. Lehmann believes that, if they were to put biochar back into the soil instead of burning it, bioenergy could be a carbon-negative industry. To provide a sense of scale potential, Lehmann has made some preliminary calculations using U.S. land figures. Pyrolysis of forest residues from 200 hectares of timberland, pyrolysis of crop residues from 120 million hectares of farmland, and pyrolysis of fast-growing vegetation from another 30 million hectares of idle cropland could each sequester about ten percent of U.S. annual fossil-fuel emissions. But Lehmann believes that biochar production can also work on much smaller scales in the developing world to save lives and reduce carbon emissions. In many parts of the world, people are wiping out forests to make charcoal for fuel. When they cook with charcoal, they often use poorly designed indoor stoves that fill their houses with a deadly cloud of pollutants. (Indoor air pollution kills 1.6 million people every year.) Moreover, when wood burns in an ordinary stove, it releases soot and carbon dioxide, both of which can trap heat in the atmosphere. Biochar stoves could potentially knock out both threats with one proverbial stone. Several inventors are designing cheap, efficient models that allow people to cook without generating a lot of smoke. Instead of heating wood, these stoves use other plant material—even run-of-the-mill farm refuse. "Rather than women having to trudge into the forest and bring out a big log, they can use brush or corn husks," says Lehmann. They simply load the stove with fresh organic matter and light a conventional fire just long enough to get the material hot enough to release gases, which the stove can then burn to release even more heat. It takes conventional wood fire only a few minutes to get pyrolysis into a self-sustaining cycle. And because a pyrolysis stove doesn't produce much smoke, it releases very little carbon dioxide or soot. Instead, the carbon ends up in leftover lumps of biochar. And when farmers bury it in their fields, that carbon stays underground—for an extraordinarily long time. It's the kind of win-win that captures people's imaginations. Thanks to Lehmann and his fellow biochar advocates, terra preta has been transformed from obscure patches of Amazonian dirt to the subject of some of the biggest debates in climate-policy circles. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and other funding agencies are plowing millions of dollars into biochar research. Private companies are starting up, hoping to make money in the carbon-credit market by producing biochar on an industrial scale. Mario Molina, Nobel laureate for his discovery of the destruction of the ozone layer, and his colleagues published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences last fall in which they argued in favor of solutions for climate change that would be both quick and effective. (2) Biochar was high on their list. "These and other fast-action strategies may reduce the risk of abrupt climate change in the next few decades by complementing cuts in CO2 emissions," the scientists wrote. But the Royal Society came to a notably different conclusion about biochar in their report Geoengineering the Climate. (3) They questioned how effective biochar would turn out to be for reducing carbon emissions. They also warned that the global biochar bonanza could even cause great harm. "Inappropriately applied incentives to encourage biochar might increase the cost and reduce the availability of food crops," they wrote. Writing in The Guardian, environmentalist George Monbiot made a blunter political attack on biochar. (4) "The idea that biochar is a universal solution that can be safely deployed on a vast scale is as misguided as Mao Zedong's Great Leap Backwards," he wrote. "We clutch at straws (and other biomass) in our desperation to believe there is an easy way out." Lehmann is not a Maoist zealot about biochar, however. He is the first to admit that biochar might not make sense in many parts of the world—and that meeting the challenges of global warming will require significant reductions in fossil-fuel use. But he's also a realist. He insists that any viable climate-change strategy must also involve actively withdrawing some carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. And if we have to stash away large amounts of carbon to create temporary relief in our emission balance—why not grow some food with it? Literature Cited 1. Lehmann, J. 2007. A handful of carbon. Nature doi:10.1038/447143a. 2. Molina, M. et al. 2009. Tipping elements in Earth systems special feature: Reducing abrupt climate change risk using the Montreal Protocol and other regulatory actions to complement cuts in CO2 emissions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi:10.1073/pnas.0902568106. 3. The Royal Society. 2009. Geoengineering the climate: Science, governance and uncertainty. The Royal Society Policy document. 4. Monbiot, G. 2009. Woodchips with everything. It's the Atkins plan of the low-carbon world. The Guardian, 24 March 2009. • Carl Zimmer is a contributing editor at Discover magazine. His latest book, The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution, was published by Roberts and Company Publishers in 2009. He also contributes articles to the New York Times, National Geographic, Time, Scientific American, Science, and Popular Science.

Sep 27, 2010

Farm biochar flowchart

Ideally, it’s a continuously flowing cycle; there is no “waste” and no need for unsustainable inputs; that’s the goal. The chickens provide meat and eggs to the humans, and poop to the compost cycle; the biochar stabilizes the nutrients in the urine and compost, making them plant-available longer. You can see how the compost pile is the engine in the middle of everything.

Woodworking plan links

Popular Woodworking. Free plans and downloadable PDFs with detailed instructions and step-by-step photos. The Wood Whisperer is synonymous with modern woodworking. Marc has DVDs for purchase as well as countless free tutorials. Woodsmith. Tons of downloadable plans. Super clear instructions. They also have a series of books that I have used many times. Wood Magazine. I have subscribed to them for years. Top-notch outfit with excellent plans and a large selection. Individual PDF downloads. Many free plans. They also include tear-out templates in each hard-copy edition. Rockler is a name all woodworkers can trust. Awesome customer service. The New Yankee Workshop, of course. You can buy plans and videos of the projects Norm Abram made on his show. Downloadable project plans and technique articles developed by the editors Woodsmith, ShopNotes, and Workbench magazines. Workshop Essentials. Steve Maskery’s site for jigs, fixtures and more. Charles Neil Woodworking with detailed instructional videos. Craftsman Plans. Robert W. Lang has top quality plans and instruction. His books are excellent sources for historical accuracy and construction techniques. American Furniture Design. Furniture plans of all types. Better Barns. This is a great site to purchase plans to build a wide array of beautiful lawn buildings, sheds and barns. The Woodworkers' Edge. Glen Huey offers a variety of woodworking DVD packages on his web site containing video instruction, project plans, cut lists: everything needed to build his fine furniture. Tom Hintz makes no bones about being a regular guy without a huge corporation behind him. I like that. He sells plans to his fine projects on his web site. The Scrollsaw Workshop Steve Good runs a continually updated blog containing lots of useful information and plans for the scroll saw entusiast. Fine Woodworking has been a trusted name for years. Lots of plans for the serious woodworker. Woodworker's Journal has lots of downloadable plans and CD compilations. I've used a few of their plans in the past and they are all top-notch. Sign up for their ezine and get three free plans, too. Lee Valley sells a wide array of high-quality plans and books in addition to their extensive tool selection. Tools for Working Wood has a lot of period furniture plans and books for serious woodworkers. Do a site search for "plans". specializes in designs for CNC routers and laser cutters. There are a LOT of plans, or you can buy the projects already cut and ready to assemble. Meisel Hardware Specialties Paul Meisel's wonderful site with tons of small project plans including a great selection of toys. is a site by Rick Hutcheson dedicated to, well, scrollsaws! Reems of original paterns including an enormous and intriguing selection of Victorian patterns. Judy Gale Roberts' site with great plans and ideas for people who love intarsia, the art of combining woods into mosaics. Beautiful stuff. Sheila Landry Scroll Saw Patterns Sheila has been designing for Creative Woodworks magazine for 13 years. Beautiful original plans for scrollers. Woodturning Online features an enormous variety of online tutorials and original woodturning plans. Scroll Saw Video is a large site with information for the scroll saw enthusiast. Plenty of tips, videos and plans.

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Sep 26, 2010

Local Garden Harvest = Local Grown Health

by deZengo


We have established, over countless years many independent thinking minds that there is an interconnection between people and planet. Perhaps in the very next breath it was proclaimed that the global market served the greater “good” and it is in the best interest of humanity if the corporations continue expansion and extraction! There is no doubt that we can purchase products for less by using cheaper materials and paying minimal labor wages. Even our food sources must be examined to truly see how a lesser purchase price does not always equal savings in the long run. We do not recommend saving money at the expense of your future health.

September winds down another harvest for our local and backyard farmers; however, the number of independent farmers who still exist to provide healthy / natural food in our communities has all but dwindled away. The reasons are economically driven! The farmers cannot compete with food that is mass produced, genetically engineered, chemically sprayed toxins, injected anti-biotics, hormones, immunizations in the name of maximizing production (profit). To find out more about the entire food process we recommend watching the movie Food Inc. Of course, it will change the way you look at your food and has been known to motivate investigation and implementation of alternative methods for meeting our local demand for food. Time magazine shows briefly a frustrating and layered choice, one that implicates many other questions: What’s the most efficient way to grow food for all? Should farms be big or small, family- or corporate-run? How do your choices affect the planet? What tastes better? And then there’s that little matter of cancer. Why Eat Locally Grown Food?

Revenue Stays Local – When you buy direct from local farmers, your dollars stay within your community, and strengthen the local economy. More than 90¢ of every dollar you spend goes to the farmer, thus preserving farming as a livelihood and farmland. This is important because as mergers in the food industry have increased, the portion of your food dollar paid to farmers has decreased. Vegetable farmers earn only 21¢ of your dollar; the other 79¢ goes to pay for marketing, distribution, and other costs.

Food Tastes Better – John Ikerd, a retired agricultural economics professor who writes about the growing “eat local” movement, says that farmers who sell direct to local consumers need not give priority to packing, shipping and shelf-life issues and can instead “select, grow and harvest crops to ensure peak qualities of freshness, nutrition and taste.” Eating local also means eating seasonally, he adds, a practice much in tune with Mother Nature.

Improved Health Benefits – “Local food is often safer, too,” says the Center for a New American Dream (CNAD). “Even when it’s not organic, small farms tend to be less aggressive than large farms about dousing their wares.” Small farms are also more likely to grow more variety, says CNAD, protecting biodiversity and preserving a wider agricultural gene pool, an important factor in long-term food security.

Reduces Global Warming – Eating locally grown food even helps in the fight against global warming. Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture reports that the average fresh food item on our dinner table travels 1,500 miles to get there. Buying locally produced food eliminates the need for all that fuel-guzzling transportation.

A Few Ideas for Eating Local 1. Shop weekly at your local farmers market or farm stands[1] 2. Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for weekly seasonal harvest deliveries[2] 3. Buy from local grocers and co-ops committed to stocking local food[3] 4. Support restaurants and food vendors that buy locally produced food 5. Preserve food from the season — freeze, can, dry — to eat later in the year 6. Throw a “Locally-Grown Party” and serve all local food 7. Grow your own food in your yard or community garden plot 8. Visit local farmers and “u-picks” 9. Ask your grocer or favorite restaurant what local foods they carry 10. Plan your meals to accommodate local harvests and seasons.[4] 11. One week try spending 10% of the grocery budget on local food, grown with 100 mile radius of wherever you live 12. Try one new fruit or vegetable each day 13. / Join a Gardner’s Club and connect with others to share; look for seed savers programs locally and online[5].

Online Resource: The Organic Consumers Association has information online and easily accessible for ideas on how to help individuals and communities expand self-sustainable efforts. An easy way to begin is to urge local elected officials to support locally grown organic food[6].

:: Middle Tennessee Resources:

The FARM – Summertown, TN offers classes in Eco-Village Training. An eco-village is only different from a traditional village in its ability to be sustained indefinitely into the future. In all other respects, it may have all of the features people in the industrial world have come to expect, like electric appliances, refrigeration, and video games.

“It is a misconception that living in an ecological way involves sacrifice and hardship,” says founder Albert Bates. “Many modern designs for dings, vehicles, and new materials require no change in habit whatsoever, while reducing environmental impacts significantly.” ETC has hosted courses in permaculture, organic certification professions, herbology, installing solar electricity and water heating, and yurt, bamboo, cob, earth bag, round pole, and straw bale construction, bio-fuels, midwifery, an annual children’s camp, and ongoing demonstrations in alternate energy, hybrid vehicles, constructed wetlands and sustainable farming. We inaugurated a student exchange program with Israeli kibbutz, Russian and Brazilian ecovillagers and a social justice program for training disadvantaged populations. We have ongoing projects in Palestine, Mexico, and Brazil that our graduates can become directly involved with. The Eco-village Training Center assists transition towards a sustainable society by instruction in meeting basic needs for food, shelter, energy, fuel, gainful employment, and community process and progress. It comes around to understanding the needs of Earth’s natural systems and the human role in healing and helping.

ETC offers an immersion experience in sustainable living: courses and workshops, apprenticeships, and special demonstrations in green lifestyles. Set amongst the Farm’s 5000 acres of protected woods and meadows, the Eco-village Training Center is a living laboratory with a mandate to save the world. Sustainable technologies and principles surround you as you study and work throughout the training center-its eco-hostel, organic garden, forests, swales and ponds—in a permaculture consciousness, within an outstanding networking community of students and teachers[7].7

The Natural Answer Wellness Center – Sparta, TN has provided rural residents with naturally healthy solutions for over 10 years. This family owned business is located in a four story historic downtown building has the room and resources to provide the ommunity a myriad of wellness classes, as well as providing products and services that have been ahead of their time for years.

The Wellness Center carries quality products and has expanded to also include a selection of local honey, produce and Kocher produced meats. Purchasing local could cost more, but as the saying goes – you get what you pay for. Supporting other local businesses using principles of the 3/50 Project, the Natural Answer leads by example. Bringing food to the people from local farmers who actually care about the people! When you buy local, you support your local economy and empower the local people & communities to become more self-sustaining. Not to mention the list in the beginning for reasons to purchase locally grown food! It tastes the way nature intended it to taste and provides the nutrients naturally. Using locally grown food, the wellness center plans to offer cooking & meal preparation classes and taste testing events. It may be true that the average southern cook has never considered eating vegetables without frying them, but no laughing – because I’ve done it myself. A class offers the perfect environment to experiment without commitment or fear of failure. Plus, recipe cards are provided for those who wish to try it at home. The Natural Answer Shopping List provides simple healthy choices for meal planning on a budget.

For those who do yoga and drink Kombucha, the Natural Answer distributes locally brewed deKombucha and hosts tea ceremonies for those who wish to learn more about the healing properties of tea. Although deKombucha is new to Tennessee, it has been around for approximately 3,000 years. Generally, the drink is handed down from household to household as the original source is a mystery. Although you can find the drink gracing some health stores, many pasteurize the drink, thereby killing the active probiotic ingredient. If you don’t live in Tennessee, but wish to explore these types of options to sustain a healthy / empowered life, research your area on the internet or contact one of these institutes for information on sister facilities around the world. Without places and people like this, sharing information and learning how to become self-sustaining would become much more difficult. Don’t forget to support local businesses that care about your health and wellbeing while also taking a stand for environmentally sound practices. Our local farmers depend on us, but in reality we depend on them. Until the industry acknowledges and changes its food production process it has many hidden problems associated with it. Buying local or growing your own food supply when possible gives a higher probability of sustenance that can give the desired results, Energy: Health:

Biochar: is it any good?

Last March, George Monbiot has an attack on biochar. It has just been circulated to me by email to an influential list. George Monbiot is using the old journalistic trick of totalising the discussion, setting up an Aunt Sally. He says it has been advanced as a "Miracle" and the "universal answer to our climate and energy problems". Biochar is not a miracle, it is an interesting agricultural technique with carbon-storage spinoffs. Biochar is not, suddenly or otherwise, the "universal answer to our climate and energy problems" - it is an interesting pathway of remediation that should be investigated and evaluated by gardeners and agriculturalists, alongside other changes in the way we do things. The fact is that every day, solar energy acting on chlorophyll causes carbon dioxide and water to form sugars in leaves, some of which turn into xylem, are a store of energy and carbon. Left to itself, this store falls and rots, creating methane, thirty times more effective as a greenhouse gas than CO2. If we can pollibly divert some of this process into a long-term carbon store, while at the same time increasing food production, then it is entirely reasonable to experiment to see how this can be done in a way that helps biodiversity, helps local economies and local communities, and makes a contribution to stabilising our environment and society, alongside the radical decarbonisation of our energy Sure, there may be un-green industrial scale plans for biochar that are ill-thought through, have adverse consequences, and should be opposed. This does not mean that I as a gardener should not experiment with adding charcoal to my soil. To be fair, George does admit of this possibility, so our disagreement is one of emphasis and approach, rather than of total difference. We must always remember that even if it were possible by magic to stop all CO2 emissions tomorrow, we would still need to find a way to draw sequester the excess CO2 that we have already put in the atmosphere. There is no merit in the argument "We must not try to sequester CO2 before we have fully decarbonised the economy". We should also remember that it is possible to walk and chew gum at one and the same time.