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View Diary: Scientist Suggests Saving the World with Charcoal (57 comments)

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  •  That would be the biochar...there's still a lot (4+ / 0-)

    of controversy about that biochar stuff. Some suggest it could actually be WORSE for greenhouse gasses..some suggest it could be a miracle cure. Lotta conflicting science.

    Times, hard. People, starving. Foodbanks, empty. Bring them food, or donate now. (I'm on Twitter now)

    by Muskegon Critic on Sun Dec 13, 2009 at 08:44:36 PM PST

    [ Parent ]

    •  The difference (4+ / 0-)

      may be that food grown using biochar may be vastly more energy efficient in other ways compared with the current industrial model.

      If you look at biochar as a way to recondition depleted soils closer to consumers and take the whole energy/pollution equation, its probably a net plus.

      Until inauguration day The USA is in the greatest danger it has ever experienced.

      by Deep Dark on Sun Dec 13, 2009 at 10:06:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  There's conflicting science about that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        yaque

        whole biochar business. I think there's still a lot of research going on about it, and not all of the conclusions are good. Which is kind of a bummer.

        But it's sort of a wait and see thing for now.

        Times, hard. People, starving. Foodbanks, empty. Bring them food, or donate now. (I'm on Twitter now)

        by Muskegon Critic on Sun Dec 13, 2009 at 10:09:10 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Fair point (0+ / 0-)

          As a composter I know that carbon is absolutely key to good soil condition.

          I try to use about 60% carboniferous content like sticks, twigs, old tree roots, dried sunflower stems etc in a load of compost.

          The concept of being able to get some energy out of the wood first but still dump bulk carbon back in is certainly attractive. I also use the carbon from the cleaned chimney (we burn only untreated wood)

          But like permaculture itself, the jury is still out on whether it is ultimately sustainable, however doing something along those lines is way better than doing more of the same.

          Our big problem is that once we make an adaption we think that the work is done, but in a constantly changing environment, both biochemically, climate-wise and the associated shifts in pests and diseases, appropriate crops and so forth, we are pretty much guaranteed to spend the rest of our lives actively adapting.

          And the old saw about "adapt or die" will get some new teeth.

          Until inauguration day The USA is in the greatest danger it has ever experienced.

          by Deep Dark on Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 01:12:32 PM PST

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    •  partial disagreement because different (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Muskegon Critic, yaque

      environments act differently to biochar.  There's decent evidence that in some temperate regions biochar speeds up the decomposition of both ordinary organic litter and itself disappears quickly. That doesn't seem unexpected to me, in moist tropical setting where biochar generally seems to be helpful the soil biosphere has an abundant supply of organic litter and fires are fairly rare, while in many temperate climes there's a lower rate of plant litter formation and fires are more common - you'd expect some of the soil microorganisms to have adapted to chowing down of the polynuclear aromatics to graphenes that make up charcoal.

      •  Very true...there's also, some (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        wondering if, Youffraita, yaque

        oddity with how it's made industrially. Since it has to be made in an oxygen poor environment you have to burn something else to heat the wood you're turning into biochar.

        So you're not using the fuel potential in the wood to heat the biochar itself. You're using an external fuel source, while the wood being turned into biochar is in an oxygen starved environment like a large drum.

        Speculation has been that most likely coal would have to be used to create the biochar at anything approaching a reasonable price.

        Anyway...that's just one of the things I've been reading...lotta conflicting stuff. Geeze I wish I could re-find that article about a 10 year norweigian study that didn't like it. Though other studies show it to be great.

        Times, hard. People, starving. Foodbanks, empty. Bring them food, or donate now. (I'm on Twitter now)

        by Muskegon Critic on Sun Dec 13, 2009 at 10:24:11 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  MC, thanks for a great diary (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Muskegon Critic, yaque

          but I'm glad you mentioned the conflicting studies.  Maybe I'm just tired after work, but I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around the whole idea of burying biochar to reduce carbon ("Does Not Compute" lol) so it's nice to know that the scientists still aren't sure either.

          GOP: Turning the U.S. into a banana republic since 1980

          by Youffraita on Sun Dec 13, 2009 at 10:31:56 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Biochar and charcoal are somewhat different (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RunawayRose, Youffraita

            Biochar is basicaly super-oxygen-starved charcoal.

            Ignore the biochar stuff for now. Let's jut focus on charcoal.

            Are you aware how anthropologists find ancient human settlements? One of them is by finding remains of ancient fire pits. The charcoal stays around for thousands of years, giving evidence of human presence.

            That stuff has staying power. Doesn't go away.

            Charcoal is just carbon.

            Every day the tree is sucking CO2 from the environment and storing the carbon in its fiber to make more tree.

            Eventually, the tree will die and rot and the cellulose will decompose and the carbon will be set free back into the system.

            But we don't want the carbon to go back into the system. We have too much. We want to remove some of the carbon from the system and keep it removed for a long time.

            So...let's say I go out into the forest and take some wood, and burn it until it's charcoal. Then I remove it from the fire.

            What I'm left with is a block of carbon.

            The cellulose has been reduced to the carbon. Charcoal.

            And it's not going to decompose for thousands of years.

            I've basically removed carbon from the system. It's no longer in play.

            Times, hard. People, starving. Foodbanks, empty. Bring them food, or donate now. (I'm on Twitter now)

            by Muskegon Critic on Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 06:57:04 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Lol, yes, I know about (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Muskegon Critic

              archaeologists tapping fire pits & waste sites for evidence about long-lost cultures.  And I know about carbon-dating, too.

              A friend of mine -- a novelist who did freelance book publishing work to keep herself alive between novels -- was trained as an archaeologist, but her studies were done below-ground, in the ancient Roman sewers of London.  She told me that even 2000 years later, they retained a distinctive...odor.  

              GOP: Turning the U.S. into a banana republic since 1980

              by Youffraita on Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 02:23:20 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Ah frack...I KNEW it...I totally knew it (0+ / 0-)

                this whole biofuel series I've been simultaneously shocked at how high level I've been talking without knowing it and how low level I've been talking without knowing it and I'd resolved to lay out everything I knew and I knew it would come back to bite me in the ass...

                ...of COURSE you have a friend who did novels about subterrananian Rome...I mean, of COURSE you do...

                But man, I've been so shocked at how low level some of the shit I've had to say has had to be when it comes to this topic. Something about biofuel gets people crazy defensive.

                Anyway...awesome about your friend and I hope you know I didn't single you out by talking so low level. It's been rapant on this topic.

                Times, hard. People, starving. Foodbanks, empty. Bring them food, or donate now. (I'm on Twitter now)

                by Muskegon Critic on Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 07:29:39 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

        •  can use the volatiles given off as fuel (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, G2geek, yaque

          and in some locations concentrated solar can be used, most interesting if you want to use the volatiles as chemical feedstock; methanol is one of those and biodiesel can use such methanol to cut its last ties to fossil fuels.

          Note that medium to large sized operations are more efficient at using the volatiles as fuel, both because of the ability to have multiple stages of the operation going at the same time, smoothing of output fluctuations by combining multiple retorts, and the heat savings from the square-cube area-volume relationship.  The small operations using oil drums and such just don't get those efficiencies and often have to burn additional wood for heating.

          A few starting places on the tradeoff aspects

          http://www.nature.com/...

          http://www.csiro.au/...

          ==============================================
          big fuss-up in The Guardian

          http://www.monbiot.com/...

          http://www.guardian.co.uk/...

          http://www.guardian.co.uk/...

          http://www.guardian.co.uk/...

          http://www.monbiot.com/...

          ================================================

          http://www.garyjones.org/...

          http://www.garyjones.org/...

          (Gary isn't a organic farming fundamentalist, he's most of lot-at-good-and-bad-of-all-methods type)

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