Monday, June 15, 2015

Extinction Within Decades?

How the situation in the Arctic threatens most, if not all, life on Earth with extinction within decades.  

Vast amounts of methane

In the Arctic, vast amounts of carbon are stored in soils that are now still largely frozen. As temperatures continue to rise and soils thaw, much of this carbon will be converted by microbes into carbon dioxide or methane, adding further greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

In addition, vast amounts of methane are stored in sediments under the Arctic Ocean seafloor, in the form of methane hydrates and free gas. As temperatures rise, these sediments can get destabilized, resulting in eruptions of huge amounts of methane from the seafloor. Due to the abrupt character of such releases and the fact that many seas in the Arctic Ocean are shallow, much of the methane will then enter the atmosphere without getting broken down in the water.

What makes the situation so dangerous is that huge eruptions from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean can happen at any time. We can just count ourselves lucky that it hasn't happened as yet. As temperatures continue to rise, the risk that this will happen keeps growing.

What caused this dangerous situation?

This dangerous situation has developed because emissions by people have made the temperature of the water in the Arctic Ocean rise, and these waters keep warming much more rapidly than the rest of the world due to a number of feedbacks. One such feedback is the retreat of the sea ice, which in turn makes the Arctic Ocean heat up even more, as much sunlight that was previously reflected back into space by the sea ice, instead gets absorbed by the water when the sea ice is gone.

Without sea ice, storms can also develop more easily. Storms can mix warm surface waters all the way down to the bottom of shallow seas, reaching cracks in sediments filled with ice. This ice has until now acted as a glue, holding the sediment together. As the ice melts, sediments can become destabilized by even small differences in temperature and pressure that can be triggered by earthquakes, undersea landslides or changes in ocean currents.

As a result, huge amounts of methane can erupt from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean and once this occurs, it will further raise temperatures, especially over the Arctic, thus acting as another self-reinforcing feedback loop that again makes the situation even worse in the Arctic, with higher temperatures causing even further methane releases, in a vicious cycle leading to runaway global warming.

Global impact

Such a temperature rise in the Arctic will not stay within the borders of the Arctic. It will trigger huge firestorms in forests and peatlands in North America and Russia, adding further emissions including soot that can settle on mountains, speeding up the melting of glaciers and threatening to stop the flow of rivers that people depend on for their livelihood.

These developments can take place at such a speed that adaptation will be futile. More extreme weather events can hit the same area with a succession of droughts, cold snaps, floods, heat waves and wildfires that follow each other up rapidly. Within decades, the combined impact of extreme weather, lower soil quality, crop failure and shortages of just about anything can threaten most, if not all life on Earth with extinction.

Food security

Will higher temperatures and carbon dioxide levels stimulate more plant growth? Will a warmer world allow more farming at higher latitudes? Firstly, the devastating impact of extreme weather events that come with a warming planet, will severely curb the prospects of farming anywhere. Successions of droughts, heat waves, wildfires, floods, storms and wild temperature swings could cause crop failure, while increased pests and diseases will have further debilitating impact.

Frost can ruin crops. Rice will only germinate at temperatures above 20°C (68°F). Cold snaps, hail storms and strong winds, can be expected to strike with increased intensity as the planet warms. More generally, a recent study finds that, while the global mean number of days above freezing will increase by up to 7% under a RCP 8.5 scenario (“business as usual” until 2100), the number of suitable growing days will decrease globally by up to 11% when temperature, water availability, and solar radiation are taken into consideration.

Indeed, each type of vegetation has its own optimal levels of water, sunlight, temperature and necessary nutrients in the soil. Changes in any of these levels could affect their growth negatively, with soil quality constituting an additional factor. Soil degradation can occur due to continued intensive single-crop farming or grazing. More extreme weather will make things worse, making it ever harder for farmers to continue to grow the crops they're used to.

This study finds that most temperate grasses and cereals, as well as many woody species, have temperature optima in the range from 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F). Rice has a higher optimal temperature, but requires lots of water. Many legumes have a low net carbon dioxide uptake because of their high rate of pod and seed respiration. A rise in temperature will result in even greater respiratory losses from the pod and thus even less net carbon dioxide uptake. Legumes are important for their ability to fix nitrogen to the soil, an essential nutrient.

Recent research found that the situation is even worse than thought and that higher carbon dioxide levels will reduce the ability of plants to take up nitrogen. A recent study examined various types of ecosystems, including crops, grasslands and forests. "The nitrogen content in the crops is reduced in atmospheres with raised carbon dioxide levels in all three ecosystem types. Furthermore, we can see that this negative effect exists regardless of whether or not the plants' growth increases, and even if fertilizer is added," says co-author Johan Uddling, senior lecturer at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Gothenburg.

What can be done?

What can be done to improve this situation? The Climate Plan advocates support for soil supplements containing biochar and olivine sand, to make it easier for soil to retain nutrients, moisture and microbes that benefit vegetation growth. The Climate Plan avocates that funding for such support be raised through fees on sales of livestock products and nitrogen fertilizers. This will reduce the use of fossil fuel-based fertilizers, while the pyrolysis to produce biochar can also produce hydrogen that can in turn be used to produce nitrogen fertilizers. Furthermore, moving away from farming livestock and associated single-crop farming will give more room for growing legumes alongside other crops. 

Two sets of feebates can work simultaneously and in parallel, i.e. separately, yet complementary, to facilitate the necessary shift to clean energy (yellow lines in top half of the image below) and to reduce levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and ocean, while also increasing food security (yellow lines in bottom half of image below).

The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action as discussed in the Climate Plan


- Towards a Sustainable Economy

- Feebates

- Climate Plan

- Combining Policy and Technology

- The Mechanism leading to Collapse of Civilization and Runaway Global Warming

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Biochar most effective in removing radioactive cesium

Removal of Radioactive Cesium (Cs-134 plus Cs-137) from Low-Level Contaminated Water by Charcoal and Broiler Litter Biochar

Kimura et al., Mar 09, 2015

Various charcoals (used in food processing and water treatment) and broiler litter biochar were examined for
ability to adsorb water-soluble low-level radioactive cesium (ca. 200_250 Bq/kg) extracted from contaminated wheat bran. Among the materials tested, steam activated broiler litter biochar was the most effective sorbent and was able to reduce the concentration of radioactive cesium to less than 10 Bq/kg. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

BadgerChar Mobile: A Farmer-Friendly Mobile Biochar System

BadgerChar Mobile

BadgerChar Mobile will build, operate, and de-bug this MOBILE Biochar Production System. The idea is to produce kits and plans for farmers to build their own, using real world economics all the way- with better soil and profits for Farmers - the best reasons you can give them.

Support this project at kickstarter:

For discussions and more details see:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Biochar Builds Real Assets

The paper money economy could collapse in a matter of days. Entire companies, now valued at billions of dollars, could become worthless overnight.

How could we build assets that are more durable, now that the markets must also deal with the rapidly growing uncertainties posed by climate change?

Anxiety about food security makes many countries make huge investments in farms, but such investments are all to often used in ways that degrade the land, through groundwater and aquifer depletion, through depletion of soil nutrients and by lowering the soil's carbon content, ultimately resulting in erosion and desertification.

But if a local council adds extra fees to rates for land where soil carbon falls, while using all the revenues for rebates on rates for land where soil carbon rises, then biochar becomes the currency that will help improve the soil's fertility, its ability to retain water and to support more vegetation. That way, real assets are built.

For more, join the Biochar Economy page at facebook.

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

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.