Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Cornell University student team wins award with pyrolytic cookstove design

The Cornell University student team project “Pyrolytic Cook Stoves and Biochar Production in Kenya: A Whole Systems Approach to Sustainable Energy, Environmental Health and Human Prosperity” has qualified to receive a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant of up to $90,000 to further develop their pyrolytic cookstove design, reports the Cornell Chronicle on July 1, 2013.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Biochar stove recharges cell phone

Julius Turyamwijuka and Robert Flanagan have developed a stove prototype that can utilize bamboo clippings or other agricultural waste to produce biochar.

The stoves are currently being tested in Uganda. The bamboo/biochar project’s primary focus is to introduce biochar and pyrolysis technologies at the household level with selected villages and districts.

Some stove models will be built with a thermo-electric generator that can convert heat energy into electricity. An adapter can be connected to the stove capable of charging a cell phone (see photo right, by Julius Turyamwijuka, added with permission). 

For more details, see the post at: 
Profile: Using bamboo for stoves in Uganda
http://www.biochar-international.org/Uganda_Stoves

Monday, February 11, 2013

Biochar plus urine results in highest yield

The results from adding biochar to test plots in Bungoma County, Western Kenya, have been published by Re-Char.
  • Plain soil (without chemical fertilizer or organic amendment) produced around 70 kg of dry sorghum per acre.
  • A 15% solution of sanitized urine and water added to soil gives a sorghum yield of 205 kg per acre.
  • Adding 50 kg of chemical fertilizer per acre– the Kenyan Government’s recommended quantity– can increase yield of sorghum to 420 kg per acre.
  • By applying 6,000 kg per acre of composted cow manure, farmers can produce 810 kg of dry sorghum per acre.
  • Applying the above urine treatment to soils amended with biochar (at a rate of 6,000 kg per acre) resulted in a sorghum yield of 533 kg per acre in season 1, and 1,025 kg per acre in season 2 without adding any additional biochar.
The data are presented below in an interactive graph (move mouse over bars to view data).
This highlights biochar's potential to help achieve higher crop yields than chemical fertilizers, while biochar has the additional benefit of helping combat climate change by avoiding emissions, such as of carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and soot. Moreover, adding biochar and olivine sand to the soil results in additional vegetation growth that takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, while safely storing carbon in soils.

Chemical fertilizers cause large nitrous oxide emissions and make farmers dependent on their continued supply, which can be hard given variations in farming income and in the price of the fossil fuel that is typically used to produce the chemical fertilizers. Long supply lines and extensive transportation and infrastructure requirements that are vulnerable to extreme weather events can significantly increase the cost of chemical fertilizers. By contrast, biochar and urine can be produced locally from waste products at little or no extra cost to local farmers.

Feebates are recommended as the best policy instruments to achieve the necessary changes, as part of a comprehensive and effective climate plan. The image below pictures feebates in agriculture, land use and construction. Fees are imposed on sales of Portland cement, with revenues used to fund rebates on clean construction methods that incorporate olivine sand. Similarly, fees are imposed on Portland cement, on nitrogen fertilizers and on livestock products, with revenues used to fund rebates on soil supplements containing olivine sand and biochar.

From:  President Obama, here's a climate plan!
Combined, biochar and olivine sand can help soils become more fertile. Applying olivine dust on top of biochar can also reduce the albedo impact of biochar, which can be substantial as described in a 2012 study by Meyer et al. Thus, biochar and olivine sand can complement each other in several ways, as discussed earlier in the post Towards a Sustainable Economy.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Turning forest waste into biochar

Too much biomass waste in tundra and boreal forests makes them prone to wildfires, especially when heatwaves strike. Furthermore, leaving biomass waste in the forest can cause a lot of methane emisions from decomposition.

In order to reduce such methane emissions and the risk of wildfires, it makes sense to reduce excess biomass waste in fields and forests. Until now, this was typically done by controlled burning of biomass, which also causes emissions, but far less than wildfires do. Avoiding wildfires is particularly important for the Arctic, which is vulnerable to soot deposits originating from wildfires in tundra and boreal forest. Such soot deposits cause more sunlight to be absorbed, accelerating the decline of snow and ice in the Arctic.


A team of scientists at University of Washington, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, has developed a way to remove woody biomass waste from forests without burning it in the traditional way. The team has developed a portable kiln that can be assembled around a heap of waste wood and convert it to biochar on the spot, while the biochar can also be burried in the soil on the spot.

Demonstration in Kerby, Oregon,
Nov. 6, 2012, 
 by Carbon Cultures
Credit: 
Marcus Kauffman at Flickr
The team initially started testing the effectiveness of a heat-resistant blanket thrown over woody debris.  The team then developed portable panels that are assembled in a kiln around a slash pile.

Students have set up a company, Carbon Cultures, to promote the technology and to sell biochar. CEO of Carbon Cultures is Jenny Knoth, also a Ph.D. candidate in environmental and forest sciences.

The kiln restricts the amount of oxygen that can reach the biomass, which is transformed by pyrolysis into biochar. The woody waste is heated up to temperatures of about 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (600 Celsius), as the kiln transforms some 800 pounds of wood into 200 pounds of biochar in less than two hours. “We also extinguish with water because it helps keep oxygen out and also activates the charcoal [making it more fertile in soil].”

Currently, the total costs of disposing of forest slash heaps (the collections of wood waste) approximate a billion dollars a year in the United States, according to Knoth.

And of course, adding biochar to the soil is a great way to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. “Biochar is proven to fix carbon for hundreds of thousands of years,” Knoth said.
Demonstration in Kerby, Oregon, November 6, 2012, organized by Carbon Cultures Credit: Marcus Kauffman at Flickr

As said, when biomass waste is left in the open air, methane emissions are produced during its decomposition. Moreover, such waste will fuel wildfires, which produce huge amounts of emissions. The traditional response therefore is to burn such waste. Pyrolyzing biomass produces even less greenhouse gases and less soot, compared to such controlled burning.

Biochar is produced in the process, which can be added to the soil on the spot. This will help soil retain moisture, nutrients and soil microbes, making forests more healthy, preventing erosion and thus reduces the risk of wildfires even further, in addition to the reduction already achieved by removal of surplus waste.

A healthy forest will retain more moist in its soil, in the air under its canopy, and in the air above the forest through expiration, resulting in more clouds that act as sunshades to keep the forest cool and return the moist to the forest through rainfall. Forests reinforce patterns of air pressure and humidity that result in long-distance air currents that bring moist air from the sea inland to be deposited onto the forest in the form of rain. Finally, clouds can reflect more sunlight back into space, thus reducing the chance of heatwaves.

References

Recycling wood waste - The Daily of the University of Washington
Helping Landowners with Waste Wood While Improving Agribusiness and Energy - National Science Foundation

Related

- Biochar
- CU-Boulder gets into biochar

Monday, April 30, 2012

Vortex towers could vegetate deserts


Plans to bring water and vegetation to deserts through vortex towers and biochar


Vortex towers are typically seen as ways to produce electricity. They could also help to vegetate deserts, in a number of ways. 

The vortex towers that I envisage would be a cross between the VortexEngine.ca and the Solar Tower by enviromission.com.au. Making a spiral groove inside the surface of the tower could enhance the vortex updraft effect. This has all been discussed for years, e.g. in the Economist Sept. 29, 2005. 

Vortex towers can produce huge amounts of electricity, that can be used for purposes such as:

  • Desalination of sea water and transport of the resulting fresh water into the desert

  • Capturing CO2 from ambient atmosphere and capturing CO2 produced in the process of making biochar. The CO2 could be used for cloud seeding, carbon building material and char (see below). 

  • Surplus water could also be sprayed into the sky, using the vortex tower's updraft, to further induce cloud formation to create both albedo change and rain.

  • Split the water into hydrogen and oxygen, by means of electrolysis. The hydrogen could then be used as fuel, or to produce ammonia by drawing nitrogen from the air. The ammonia could then be used to produce fertilizer.

  • Carbon that is captured from the atmosphere could be turned into char, similar to biochar, with its benefits as a soil improver and as a safe way to store carbon. This char could be applied to the soil simultaneously with olivine dust and fertilizer as produced in the way described above. Application of such fertilizer together with char could not only reduce the need for fossil fuel-based fertilizers, it can also reduce runoffs that cause N2O emissions and dead zones in the sea, since the char will improve retention of fertilizer in the soil. The carbon could even be combined with ammonia to produce urea, and all this fertilization would benefit vegetation growth. 

Apart from producing electricity, a vortex tower could also push dry, hot air high up into the sky. Some of that heat would escape into space, while the updraft could also establish an air circulation pattern in which hot air would move, high up in the sky, towards the ocean. Simultaneously, as part of this air circulation pattern, air from above the ocean would be drawn - closer to the ground - towards the vortex tower. This air circulation could bring cold and moist wind into the desert, which would benefit vegetation growth.

The benefits of vegetating desert are many; it would take CO2 out of the atmosphere, it could produce food and vast areas could be made suitable for many plants, animals and people. By selling land for settlement, projects to vegetate the deserts could pay for themselves, as part of the Biochar Economy

Projects that involve afforestation, water desalination, biochar production, olivine grinding and building of vortex towers don't require access to high-tech equipment or scarce resources. This means they can be started at many places around the world, with many global benefits.

Forests have many benefits. Trees take carbon out of the atmosphere to grow. Trees can provide food and building material. Forest waste can be turned into biochar. Forests can have a cooling effect by shading the soil, thus preserving moisture. Furthermore, forests release volatile organic compounds that can have beneficial effects, as follows:
  
When you're walking through a forest you can smell a kind of piny odour and that's because of these other compounds, volatile organic compounds. And they're things like isoprene, monoterpenes.

When they're released into the atmosphere they undergo reactions with a class of compounds called oxidants and that's things like ozone. Following those reactions they're able to form tiny particles in the atmosphere.

While they're present in the atmosphere they can kind of interact with incoming solar radiation - the energy from the sun essentially and kind of perturb its path so that it doesn't make it to the earth's surface and scatters it.

Additional to this is the role that these particles play in brightening the clouds that are above the forests. And they do this because when they're in the atmosphere they grow and they get to a certain size where they're able to form cloud droplets. And the more of these droplets that there are in a cloud the whiter and brighter that it becomes. And that means that it will reflect away more of the incoming solar radiation that's falling on that particular part of the earth's surface.
[italics part edited from National Environment Research Council, May 18, 2011, podcast and transcript



Read more at:
Afforestation - bringing life into the deserts


Earlier posted at knol (meanwhile discontinued by Google) by Sam Carana, October 12, 2011. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Biochar Economy

The Biochar Economy offers a sustainable alternative to economic systems that fail to sufficiently take into account care for the environment and concerns for global warming.

Biochar is one of the products of pyrolysis, an oxygen-starved method of heating up biomass to (also) produce renewable energy.  

The Australian Government plans to award carbon credits for the application of biochar to soil, for biochar's ability to abate greenhouse gases. As part of the Carbon Farming Initiative $AU2 million will be provided for a Biochar Capacity Building Program. This in addition to $AU1.4 million that is already being invested in the National Biochar Initiative as part of the Climate Change Research Program.

Carbon credits constitute just one way to support biochar. Ultimately, carbon credits are typically paid from profits on fossil fuel, which are scheduled to decrease over time. To develop more lasting support for biochar, alternatively policies should be considered.
The Biochar Economy


The idea behind the "Biochar Economy" is to try to embed biochar production into as many processes as possible, as pictured on above image, from open source ecology.

In carbon-negative 'Biochar Economies', biochar is proposed to also act as a kind of local 'gold standard' for local currency supply. Biochar-based currency could strengthen local economies and shield them not only from the volatility of global currency fluctuations, but also from the danger of global warming causing the entire global financial system to collapse, as discussed back in 2007.

Biochar-based local currencies go well together with three types of local feebates: 
  • Energy fees, imposed on polluting fuel and the equipment and appliances used to burn the fuel, to fund rebates on local clean energy programs.
  • Fees on polluting cement, livestock products and nitrogen fertilizers, made payable in local currency, funding rebates on locally-produced biochar and olivine added to local soils.
  • Local rates that incorporate feebates, i.e. higher fees the lower the soil's carbon content, with rebates for soils with the highest carbon content.
Since pyrolysis of surplus biomass can produce renewable energy, it can benefit from local energy feebates as pictured below. 



In addition, soil supplements that include biochar can benefit from feebates as pictured below. 

These policies will avoid emissions and effectively take greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. 

These policies will also create local employment and investment opportunities without having to borrow money elsewhere, and will increase local standards of living and health, as well as increase the quality and value of the land. 

All this can be achieved though mechanisms that work in parallel and are often complementary, e.g. pyrolysis of forest waste can stimulate forest growth, avoid termite infections and reduce the risk of wildfires; furthermore, when pyrolysis provides power that replaces the practice of burning firewood and fossil fuel to power lighting and cooking, this will also reduce the risk of lung infections.

To increase demand for the local currency, rebates on local clean energy programs and soil supplements could be paid out in local currency. Furthermore, a community can call for local rates and fees on products such as fuel, polluting cement, livestock products and nitrogen fertilizers to be paid in local currency.

Much crop is now used to grow feed for livestock ― less livestock could free up land that could be used to produce food & wood, and the associated organic waste. Furthermore, such feebates can avoid soil erosion and deforestation, and instead result in more vegetation, thus further increasing the amount of biomass available for pyrolysis.

Below are some further ways pyrolysis can be integrated in the local economy:

  • Pyrolysis of biomass is an excellent way of handling organic waste, while producing useful products such as biochar, biooils and gases such as hydrogen. Biooil and hydrogen can be used to power aviation and shipping.  
  • Bioasphalt® is a type of asphalt made from bio-oil. According to its manufacturer, it can save energy and money, since it can be mixed and paved at lower temperatures than conventional asphalt. 
  • Apart from burial of biochar to enhance soil fertility, biochar can also be used to manufacture a range of products, including vehicle bodies made of carbon fiber and capacitors. 

    A team at Stevens Institute of Technology has designed, fabricated, and tested a prototype supercapacitor electrode made from biochar. The team demonstrated biochar's feasibility as an alternative to activated carbon for supercapacitor electrodes. Currently, supercapacitors use activated carbon. The team estimates that biochar costs almost half as much as activated carbon, apart from being more sustainable. 

    Supercapacitors can be used to power electric buses. Ultracapacitor buses by Sinautecus have been operational in the Greater Shanghai area since August 2006, as mentioned under this post on electric bus systems.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

How much bio-char can be added to soil?

Using published projections of the use of renewable fuels in the year 2100, bio-char sequestration could amount to 5.5–9.5 PgCyr−1 if this demand for energy was met through pyrolysis, which would exceed current emissions from fossil fuels (5.4 PgC yr−1).

Assuming large bio-char sequestration over long periods of time, a bio-char sequestration of 140MgCha−1 would calculate to 224 PgC storage capacity globally for the 1,600 Mha of cropland worldwide and to 175 PgC storage capacity globally for the 1,250 Mha of temperate grasslands (IPCC 2000), not including forest land.

From:
Bio-char sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems – a review, Lehmann et al. (2006)

Note:
1 PgC (petagram Carbon) = 1 Gt (gigatonne Carbon) and corresponds to ~3.67 Gt CO2.
1 ppmv CO2 in the atmosphere corresponds to 2.12 GtC or ~7.78 Gt CO2.
9.5 PgC per year corresponds to 4.5 ppm per year, or 112 ppm in 25 years.

280ppm
Image from: The way back to 280 ppm - by Sam Carana