Posts Tagged ‘biostorage’

Ecotecture Participates in 2012 US Biochar Conference

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Ecotecture is pleased to announce that our editor, Philip S. Wenz, has been invited to participate in the 2012 US Biochar Conference as a journalist and a pre-conference publicist. The Conference, sponsored by the Sonoma Biochar Initiative, will be held from July 29 through August 1, on the campus of Sonoma State University, located one hour north of San Francisco in California’s wine country.

Ecotecture supports the use of biochar for sequestering atmospheric CO2, and as a means of closing production/waste loops in the agricultural and forest-product industries. Biochar’s multiple uses and adaptability as appropriate technology for both developed and developing nations make it an important tool for the regeneration of the ecosphere.

The 2012 US Biochar Conference will emphasize practical applications of this rapidly emerging technology and will bring together specialists in forestry and agroecology, garden and industrial-scale biochar production, biofuels, biochar policy and entrepreneurial opportunities.

The conference will be an excellent venue for environmental problem solvers who want to learn more about biochar and network with others who are working in the field. Ecotecture will keep its readers informed of developments as the Conference’s speakers and topics lists take shape.

~PSW

Relevant Reading:

Buy books and help Ecotecture! If you liked this article and want to learn more, we invite you to buy books through the links below — we earn a small commission on each purchase you make, without raising your cost one cent. We’ll use that commission to expand our efforts to empower you to solve environmental problems.

The Biochar Solution, Albert Bates
Biochar  for Environmental Management, Lehmann and Joseph
The Biochar Debate, James Bruges
The Biochar Revolution, Transforming Agriculture and the Environment, Paul Taylor

Related Links On Ecotecture:

Biochar: A Global Warming Solution form the Ancient Amazonian Earth 
Comments are welcome and generally will be posted if they are on topic and inoffensive. However, Ecotecture does not post comments to the effect that global warming is a hoax. Read our position on global warming here.

 

Biochar: A Global Warming Solution from the Ancient Amazonian Earth

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

How do you like the idea of fighting global warming by pumping millions of tons of artificial volcanic ash into the atmosphere to cool the planet? Alternatively, would you support a plan to suspend giant “mirrors” made of fine wire mesh or shiny aluminum nanoparticles in the lower stratosphere to reflect sunlight away from the earth?

If you think these sound like expensive, harebrained schemes rife with the potential for serious unintended consequences, you’re probably right. Yet these and other planet-scaled “geoengineering” programs not only are being proposed, but some are actually being financed and experimented with in England and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, energy companies are continuing to extract fossil fuels from every last crevice of the earth, and conspiring economic and political forces make it unlikely that there will be any serious attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for another generation — by which time it could be too late to prevent the catastrophic overheating of the earth. It increasingly looks like our technocracy will destroy itself, and us in the process.

Or will it?

Biochar Rediscovered

What if the world’s farmers introduced a simple, inexpensive and earth-friendly agricultural practice that could significantly reduce atmospheric carbon and slow the emissions of the more potent greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide? What if that practice produced enough energy to fuel itself, and as an added bonus produced a significant amount or carbon-negative energy in the form of biofuels?

What if it also increased soil fertility by retaining nutrients (while decreasing nutrient runoff, which pollutes natural waterways), built habitat for helpful soil microorganisms, and improved soil stability and tilth — even in some of the world’s poorest soils?

Finally, what if this practice were readily scalable and could be implemented by home gardeners and commercial farmers everywhere — spreading quickly to much of the earth’s arable land to form a giant atmospheric CO2   sequestering system?

In fact, this agricultural practice was introduced over 2,500 years ago by Amazonian peoples who created charcoal from vegetation by “burning” it in an oxygen-restricted environment (pyrolysis) — probably in pits covered with a thin layer of dirt that caused the vegetation to smolder rather than burn outright.

The prehistoric Amazonians then worked that charcoal into the famously poor local soil and added plant nutrients to it, creating arable plots of land called terra preta (black earth). In the 1960s, archeologists working in the Amazon Basin rediscovered these terra preta plots and slowly realized that their original purpose was to make agriculture possible in a region where crops could not grow without soil amendments.

Some terra preta fields that were abandoned at least 500 years ago (with the arrival Europeans in the Amazon basin) remain fertile to this day, proving that buried carbon persists in the soil. (Just as CO2 persists in the atmosphere, which must be “scrubbed” of excess CO2 if we are to slow or reverse global warming. Charcoal, which is close to pure carbon, is essentially inert, and won’t nourish plants, but it helps retain nutrients and supports microbial organisms.)

Research into the properties of terra preta and the benefits of using vegetation-based charcoal — now dubbed “biochar” — along with the pressing need to find solutions to the greenhouse gas problem, have spawned an international movement to promote the use of  biochar in agriculture. The excellent web site of the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) serves as a primer in biochar applications and reports on home and industrial-scale biochar production facilities, agricultural research projects and conferences and events worldwide.

The carbon biostorage potential of biochar agricultural practice is the main reason for all the excitement. It works like this: Best practice requires biochar to be made from agricultural and forest waste only, not from plants grown for biochar production. Typically, thirty percent or more of the biomass can be converted to biochar. (The exact figures depend on the nature of the feedstock and the pyrolytic process, the desired ratio of biochar to biofuel in the end product and other factors.)

Once the waste biomass is converted to biochar it’s buried, sequestering its carbon for hundreds or thousands of years. As new plants are grown in the biochar-amended fields, they absorb more CO2, some of which is in turn converted to biochar and buried.

Conservative predictions on the IBI web site establish that biochar agricultural practices can sequester or offset a minimum of one billion tons of carbon per year by 2050 — about 15 percent of our current CO2 output — making it a major tool for controlling climate change.

~PSW

A slightly different version of this article was published in the nationally syndicated newspaper column “Your Ecological House” (by Philip S. Wenz) in September, 2011. 

Relevant Reading:

Buy books and help Ecotecture! If you liked this article and want to learn more, we invite you to buy books through the links below — we earn a small commission on each purchase you make, without raising your cost one cent. We’ll use that commission to expand our efforts to empower you to solve environmental problems.

The Biochar Solution, Albert Bates
Biochar  for Environmental Management, Lehmann and Joseph
The Biochar Debate, James Bruges
The Biochar Revolution, Transforming Agriculture and the Environment, Paul Taylor

Related Links On Ecotecture:

Global Warming Solution? The Framework for a Plan
Global Warming Solution? Energy Conservation and Carbon Biostorage

 

Comments are welcome and generally will be posted if they are on topic and inoffensive. However, Ecotecture does not post comments to the effect that global warming is a hoax. Read our position on global warming here.

 

Global Warming Solution? Energy Conservation and Carbon Biostorage

Friday, February 17th, 2012

This is the second in a series of articles outlining proposed solutions to the problem of global warming. Read the first article here

Good design gives us the most for the least — the biggest bang for our buck. For example, a properly engineered steel beam is no larger than it has to be to carry its anticipated load and provide a little extra margin of safety. A bigger beam would be uneconomical, while a smaller beam would be unsafe.

The same principle applies to tackling complex problems. Any proposed global warming solution should try to mitigate and adapt to global warming’s negative effects by the least costly and disruptive means, while recognizing that costs and changes to “business as usual” are inevitable. Our strategy should be to try to turn the costs into benefits, and the changes into long-term economic stability and positive cultural evolution.

In the first article in this series I discussed design parameters and called for a three-part global warming solution of conserving energy, lowering existing greenhouse gas levels (not just curbing future emissions), and transitioning to appropriate energy technologies. All three strategies can and should be implemented simultaneously and immediately.

Energy conservation is fundamental to the sustainability of any dynamic system, because it takes energy to get energy. Fortunately, energy conservation is the cheapest, most effective and most easily implemented measure we can take to reduce global warming — while simultaneously addressing a host of other environmental problems.

The 2009 McKinsey Report on energy efficiency  establishes that investments of $520 billion in efficiency measures — not counting energy used for transportation — can save $1.2 trillion in energy expenditures by 2020-2025, with most of the investments delivering savings for the decades to come. (Other studies predict similar results.)

The investment could come from all sectors, public and private, and in small and large amounts. For example, houses represent 35 percent of the possible gains in efficiency, so there is a large role for homeowners to play.

The Biostorage Global Warming Solution

Removing greenhouse gases, mostly CO2, from the atmosphere must begin immediately. We are already close to the safe limit (450 parts per million) of CO2 loading, and we’re seeing the early effects of global warming. The carbon emissions of both developed and developing countries, particularly China and India, will push us past the safe limit in about 20 years, and CO2 persists in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, locking in warming trends.

While many schemes for capturing and sequestering “carbon” have been proposed, most involve developing new machines, some of which are energy intensive and all of which are expensive. But nature has been sequestering carbon for millions of years — look at all that coal and oil! — through a mechanism known as “biostorage.” Plants, with their combined millions of square miles of leaf and algal-cell surfaces, use free solar energy to capture atmospheric CO2 and convert it into billions of tons of botanical biomass (tissue).

In nature, this process is mostly reversible: when plants die and decompose, most of their carbon is released back into the atmosphere. However, as coal and oil illustrate, a portion of that carbon can remain buried in the earth.

By mimicking nature’s processes, humans can convert up to 30 percent of farm and forest waste biomass into a form of charcoal called “biochar,” a soil amendment, and bury it in the soil, where it will remain for hundreds or even thousands of years.

So biostorage is a two-step process of growing plants, which quickly but temporarily store carbon in their biomass, and storing some of that carbon permanently as biochar or in other forms.

Trees dwarf other plants in their carbon storage capacity and planting millions of them is an obvious carbon sequestering strategy. But other forms of plant cultivation are also promising.

For example, pioneering agronomist Wes Jackson has developed “perennial grains” — hybrids of native prairie grasses and food crops such as wheat and sorghum — at The Land Institute in Kansas. Prairie grasses have huge root systems that live for years beneath the soil. If perennials overtake annuals as a primary food source, and if millions of acres are planted, billions of tons of carbon can be sequestered in the living roots, and recycled into new plants as the old ones die and are broken down to make new “plant food.”

In upcoming articles in this series, I’ll discuss other biostorage ideas and the technological, cultural and economic transition needed to shepherd humanity through the global warming era.

~PSW

This post is a modified version of an article that was originally written as syndicated newspaper column, published in various locations around the U.S. in February, 2012. 

Relevant Reading:

Buy books and help Ecotecture! If you liked this article and want to learn more, we invite you to buy books through the links below — we earn a small commission on each purchase you make, without raising your cost one cent. We’ll use that commission to expand our efforts to empower you to solve environmental problems.

Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, David Archer

(Note, David Archer, the teacher of a popular course on global warming for non-scientists at the University of Chicago, now offers a version, “Open Climate 101” — online and for free. If you complete the online course, he’ll send you a signed certificate. Read a good review of Online 101 on the NY Times Dot Earth environmental blog.)

Storms of My Grand Children, James C. Hansen
Hell and High Water, Joseph Romm
Forecast, Stephan Faris
Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, Mark Lynas

Related Links On Ecotecture:

Global Warming Solution? The Framework for a Plan (1st article in this series)

How Can We Stop Global Warming? Brains, Bodies or Biochar? 

Is It Too Late for Renewable Energy to Slow Global Warming? 

Man-Made Global Warming: It’s Real, Get Over It!

Comments are welcome and generally will be posted if they are on topic and inoffensive. However, Ecotecture does not post comments to the effect that global warming is a hoax. Read our position on global warming here.

 

Global Warming Solution? The Framework for a Plan

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

So many solutions to global warming have been proposed that we can’t see the forest for the trees. Confusion over how to approach the growing threat abounds in all quarters, from those of government policy makers to the scientific establishment to the thousands of environmentalists confronting the problem.

This is to be expected, because the scope and complexity of the challenge is unprecedented. Left unabated, global warming — which is ubiquitous and without borders — threatens to disrupt the global economy and even the stability of the ecosphere (see “Relevant Reading,” below).

It’s no wonder then, that there is confusion about the appropriate responses to the developing crisis. Global warming will affect everyone; therefore almost everyone has an idea about what should be done.

But few coherent, systemic solutions have been proposed. Instead, there is a hodgepodge of disconnected ideas, often half-formulated, often contradicting each other, either because of a lack of understanding of the dimensions of the problem or the failure to take an overview of its myriad aspects. Or, because of conflicting agendas between, say, developed and developing nations or vested interests and the public good.

The numerous partial global warming solutions include proposals for abandoning fossil fuels and adopting new energy sources ranging from solar, wind, geothermal and wave energy to nuclear energy; assorted plans for limiting greenhouse gas emissions including taxing “carbon” and burning “clean coal”; dubious schemes for atmospheric geoengineering; manufacturing more electric cars; increasing rail service; deploying artificial trees; burying biochar; and on and on.

Given enough time, humanity might have the luxury of allowing these proposals to develop, compete, evolve and coalesce into (pardon the phrase) a new world order that addresses global warming and its underlying socioeconomic causes in a pervasive, beneficial fashion. But we don’t have the luxury of allowing such “creative destruction” to act out for the century or more that would be needed to yield tangible results.

A Comprehensive Global Warming Solution

We need to formulate a comprehensive global warming solution now that will address the problem within the next 20 years, while we still have a chance of curbing its worst effects or, ideally, reversing warming to some extent. We should start by laying out the parameters for a realistic plan that could ultimately meet with success.

The objective is straightforward enough: to reduce the causes and curb the effects of global warming by means that can be implemented with affordable, existing, appropriate technology; are scalable and therefore “democratic”; can work with or without government support; are environmentally nurturing and regenerative; and will advance a relatively smooth transition to sustainable economic and cultural institutions worldwide.

That’s a mouthful, but it’s not necessarily an impossibly tall order. If you look at some of the key concepts — affordable, appropriate, scalable, regenerative, smooth —  you’ll see that it’s a minimalist approach to the problem, seeking to do the most with the least.

For example, Ecotecture’s three part proposal for curbing global warming, to be elaborated upon in subsequent articles, involves: 1) energy conservation, 2) biostorage of greenhouse gases (growing trees and conserving forests, revitalizing prairies, transforming agriculture and cultivating algae for fuel and sequestration) and, 3) adopting regionally appropriate, minimal-investment energy technologies to displace our current unsustainable energy regime.

Note that there is no call for “developing new energy sources to meet our growing needs” in developed countries. That’s because numerous studies have shown that energy conservation and efficiency measures can reduce U.S. energy consumption by 20 percent or more, without even counting the transportation sector. The reductions can save us over a trillion dollars, generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and obviate the need for new energy development in the near future. Since it takes energy to get energy, we need to conserve the energy we have as our first priority, while simultaneously converting to renewable energy sources.

The “scalable and therefore ‘democratic’” parameter means that the measures can be undertaken by individuals or communities or scaled upward to national or multi-national efforts. A homeowner can choose to insulate her house, a state can mandate stringent “green” building codes; the world’s nations can agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Working with or without government means that individuals, NGOs or companies can initiate projects — massive tree plantings, for example — when government help is restricted by funding or the inability to formulate policy.

Everyone can join the fight against global warming.

~PSW

A modified version of this article was originally written as syndicated newspaper column, published in various locations around the U.S. in February, 2012. 

Relevant Reading:

Buy books and help Ecotecture! If you liked this article and want to learn more, we invite you to buy books through the links below — we earn a small commission on each purchase you make. We’ll use that commission to expand our efforts to empower you to solve environmental problems.

Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, David Archer

(Note, David Archer, the teacher of a popular course on global warming for non-scientists at the University of Chicago, now offers a version, “Open Climate 101” — online and for free. If you complete the online course, he’ll send you a signed certificate. Read a good review of Online 101 on the NY Times Dot Earth environmental blog.)

Storms of My Grand Children, James C. Hansen
Hell and High Water, Joseph Romm
Forecast, Stephan Faris
Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planett, Mark Lynas

Related Links On Ecotecture:

How Can We Stop Global Warming? Brains, Bodies or Biochar? 

Is It Too Late for Renewable Energy to Slow Global Warming? 

Man-Made Global Warming: It’s Real, Get Over It!

Comments are welcome and generally will be posted if they are on topic and inoffensive. However, Ecotecture does not post comments to the effect that global warming is a hoax. Read our position on global warming here.