Thursday, April 02, 2009

Two articles on carbon ...

... the first is on biochar.
Its high carbon content and porous nature can help soil retain water, nutrients, protect soil microbes and ultimately increase crop yields while acting as natural carbon sink - sequestering CO2 and locking it into the ground.
I'm particularly excited about biochar because it's a focus of my research. We're in the process of looking at how biochar effects microbial communities (density, diversity, specific populations, etc). One thing to consider is that most biochars (there are multiple ways to make biochar and change it's physical properties) have a negative charge, and as such will act as a chelator and "mop up" cations (positively charged ions). While this will be a good thing from a remediation standpoint, if there are normal levels of say copper in the soil, this can reduce them to the point where it may detrimentally effect microbial populations. So we're in the process of looking into it.

The second is on carbon capture.
To find out exactly how the carbon dioxide is stored in natural gas fields, an international team of researchers - led by the University of Manchester - uniquely combined two specialised techniques. They measured the ratios of the stable isotopes of carbon dioxide and noble gases like helium and neon in nine gas fields in North America, China and Europe. These gas fields were naturally filled with carbon dioxide thousands or millions of years ago.

They found that underground water is the major carbon dioxide sink in these gas fields and has been for millions of years.
So what does this mean?
Professor Chris Ballentine of the University of Manchester, the project director, said: "The universities of Manchester and Toronto are international leaders in different aspects of gas tracing. By combining our expertise we have been able to invent a new way of looking at carbon dioxide fields. This new approach will also be essential for monitoring and tracing where carbon dioxide captured from coal-fired power stations goes when we inject it underground – this is critical for future safety verification."
IOW, the carbon dioxide that we capture in this manner may truly sit there for millions of years, and we can now feel relatively certain about it.


Ivan Privaci said...

carbon dioxide that we capture in this manner may truly sit there for millions of years[...]
Or until flood-irrigating agribusiness or overpopulated cities in deserts [Los Angeles/Las Vegas/Phoenix...] pump it all back out of the aquifers with the water...

Biochar has been sounding promising, though. Since I've also got some interest in environmental microbiology, I'm hoping you'll post results of your research on the blog here!

Anonymous said...

What do you burn to get to 1000 degrees?

Surely it releases more CO2 than is saved by making charcoal.

Tom said...

It sounds a bit counter intuitive but in reality you do get a net storage of carbon. There are several things to consider.

First, this can be done under high temperature and pressure, and so CO2 isn't a large byproduct.

Second, you do have to spend some energy to get that high temperature and pressure (electricity typically uses coal or natural gas), but there are systems you can use to capture most of the heat you'll lose to put back into the system. That cuts down on the cost/energy needed to run the system.

Third, if you left this manure, crop residue, leaf litter out in the field to rot, a large part will be generated into methane (CH4) instead of CO2 and one ton of methane in the atmosphere is equal to 24 tons of CO2. Therefore, locking this carbon into biochar form, which persists for thousands of years will keep it from being generated into CO2 almost immediately. It'll eventually wind back up in the atmosphere, but it'll take a few dozen generations to do so.

So, in conclusion ... looking at the net storage, biochar is definitely a good option. It's even better when you consider that it can be used to restore damaged soils thereby increasing our agricultural capabilities.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps people could stop purchasing hamburgers from McDonalds, Burger King, and other fast food restaurants and thereby stop the methane pollution of millions of cows raised for inevitable slaughter to supply these megacorporations. At the same time we would stop the decimation of forests which are cleared to raise cattle.

In America we seem to always think about how we can keep our lives the same way they are regardless of how damaging this is in the long run. The same is true with forms of "clean energy." Think outside the box. We aren't going to solve the energy problem by using the same thinking that got us into this in the first place.

If the energy form requires fossil fuels to produce it, that is not thinking outside the box. Yes, the energy form may be more efficient than burning oil and it sounds like biochar includes recycling which would appear to be a good thing.

But ultimately where are we with biochar (or any other carbon based fuel source)? We have to think long range rather than "new market." The Orion Project has some very interesting and viable ideas on energy production. These ideas are 100 years old now and have been suppressed by corporations making money by selling oil.

Thomas Joseph said...

Anon @12:01, you a spokesperson for PETA?

It's just not going to happen. People are not going to switch to vegan diets. Nor do I think they should. Besides ... all those crops that need to be grown ... where do you think the fertilizer is going to come from once we stop farming animals? The only other ready source of nitrogen for fertilization is from ... get this ... petroleum.

What a spectacular FAIL that turned out to be!

Sorry folks, things aren't as "cut and dry" as people want them to be.

Erich J. Knight said...

Biochar Soil Technology.....Husbandry of whole new orders of life

Biotic Carbon, the carbon transformed by life, should never be combusted, oxidized and destroyed. It deserves more respect, reverence even, and understanding to use it back to the soil where 2/3 of excess atmospheric carbon originally came from.

We all know we are carbon-centered life, we seldom think about the complex web of recycled bio-carbon which is the true center of life. A cradle to cradle, mutually co-evolved biosphere reaching into every crack and crevice on Earth.

It's hard for most to revere microbes and fungus, but from our toes to our gums (onward), their balanced ecology is our health. The greater earth and soils are just as dependent, at much longer time scales. Our farming for over 10,000 years has been responsible for 2/3rds of our excess greenhouse gases. This soil carbon, converted to carbon dioxide, Methane & Nitrous oxide began a slow stable warming that now accelerates with burning of fossil fuel.

Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon,

Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

Biochar, the modern version of an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice called Terra Preta (black earth, TP), is gaining widespread credibility as a way to address world hunger, climate change, rural poverty, deforestation, and energy shortages… SIMULTANEOUSLY!
Modern Pyrolysis of biomass is a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration,10X Lower Methane & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too.
Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration, Bio-Gas & Bio-oil fuels, so is a totally virtuous, carbon negative energy cycle.

Biochar viewed as soil Infrastructure; The old saw, "Feed the Soil Not the Plants" becomes "Feed, Cloth and House the Soil, utilities included !". Free Carbon Condominiums, build it and they will come.
As one microbologist said on the TP list; "Microbes like to sit down when they eat". By setting this table we expand husbandry to whole new orders of life.

Senator / Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has done the most to nurse this biofuels system in his Biochar provisions in the 07 & 08 farm bill,

Charles Mann ("1491") in the Sept. National Geographic has a wonderful soils article which places Terra Preta / Biochar soils center stage.

Biochar data base; TP-REPP

NASA's Dr. James Hansen Global warming solutions paper and letter to the G-8 conference, placing Biochar / Land management the central technology for carbon negative energy systems.

The many new university programs & field studies, in temperate soils; Cornell, ISU, U of H, U of GA, Virginia Tech, JMU, New Zealand and Australia.

Glomalin's role in soil tilth, fertility & basis for the soil food web in Terra Preta soils.

UNCCD Submission to Climate Change/UNFCCC AWG-LCA 5
"Account carbon contained in soils and the importance of biochar (charcoal) in replenishing soil carbon pools, restoring soil fertility and enhancing the sequestration of CO2."

This new Congressional Research Service report (by analyst Kelsi Bracmort) is the best short summary I have seen so far - both technical and policy oriented. .

Given the current "Crisis" atmosphere concerning energy, soil sustainability, food vs. Biofuels, and Climate Change what other subject addresses them all?

This is a Nano technology for the soil that represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.

Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.
Erich J. Knight
Shenandoah Gardens
540 289 9750

Biochar Studies at ACS Huston meeting;

Most all this work corroborates char soil dynamics we have seen so far . The soil GHG emissions work showing increased CO2 , also speculates that this CO2 has to get through the hungry plants above before becoming a GHG.
The SOM, MYC& Microbes, N2O (soil structure), CH4 , nutrient holding , Nitrogen shock, humic compound conditioning, absorbing of herbicides all pretty much what we expected to hear.



665 - III.


Company News & EU Certification

Below is an important hurtle that 3R AGROCARBON has overcome in certification in the EU. Given that their standards are set much higher than even organic certification in the US, this work should smooth any bureaucratic hurtles we may face.

EU Permit Authority - 4 years tests
Subject: Fwd: [biochar] Re: GOOD NEWS: EU Permit Authority - 4 years tests successfully completed

Doses: 400 kg / ha – 1000 kg / ha at different horticultural cultivars

Plant height Increase 141 % versus control
Picking yield Increase 630 % versus control
Picking fruit Increase 650 % versus control
Total yield Increase 202 % versus control
Total piece of fruit Increase 171 % versus control
Fruit weight Increase 118 % versus control



EcoTechnologies is planning for many collaborations ; NC State, U. of Leeds, Cardiff U. Rice U. ,JMU, U.of H. and at USDA with Dr.Jeffrey Novak who is coordinating ARS Biochar research. This Coordinated effort will speed implementation by avoiding unneeded repetition and building established work in a wide variety of soils and climates.

Hopefully all the Biochar companies will coordinate with Dr. Jeff Novak's soils work at ARS;

I spoke with Jon Nilsson of the CarbonChar Group, in their third year of field trials ;
An idea whose time has come | Carbon Char Group
He said the 2008 trials at Virginia Tech showed a 46% increase in yield of tomato transplants grown with just 2 - 5 cups (2 - 5%) "Biochar+" per cubic foot of growing medium.

Low Tech Clean Biochar;