Carbonscape and the new Victorians

Buried among the emails which accumulated while I was in hospital was one from Carbonscape, the NZ company working on biochar, drawing my attention to an article in the UK Sunday Times. It missed proper attention until I tidied up my inbox yesterday, but even a few weeks late I think it’s worth reporting, especially as Hot Topic has posted on Carbonscape previously (here, here and here).

The Sunday Times article contained interviews with a number of people it described as the new Victorians, meaning modern-day heroes of science and technology. Among them, as the new David Livingstone, was Carbonscape director Chris Turney, paleoclimatologist and author of Ice, Mud and Blood (reviewed here). In the interview he speaks of how 125,000 years ago the temperature was 1.7 degrees warmer than before industrialisation got going and the sea levels were 4-6 metres higher than today, suggesting a large number of the ice sheets had melted. Now our stated goal is to keep temperatures less than 2 degrees higher than at the start of industrialisation. The possible implications for ice sheets and sea levels are obvious.

We talk about reducing emissions in the future, but we’ve already got 200 billion tons of carbon in the atmosphere that shouldn’t be there, and that’s what’s driving the changes we see today. We need to get this carbon out of the atmosphere, and fast. This is where Carbonscape’s technology has a part to play. Turney describes it as effectively an enormous microwave with a few tweaks. It turns plants, including waste, into charcoal, which is stable and locks the carbon away permanently. The charcoal can be put in the soil or – and this was a new thought for me – go back down and refill coal mines.

Opinions vary, sometimes fiercely, on the feasibility of charcoal as a means of CO2 sequestration, but there are some well-known names among its supporters, including James Lovelock and Tim Flannery, the latter having joined the Carbonscape Board. It’s still largely unexplored territory, which I presume is why the Sunday Times suggested David Livingstone as Turney’s progenitor. Surely territory worth investigating.

26 thoughts on “Carbonscape and the new Victorians”

  1. The concept of microwaved wood and waste fries being a significant sequestration methodology for carbon is tragic.

    As the negative crowd point out, it should be a technique for niche economic situations where the inputs ( energy and feedstocks are less valuable than the outputs ( fuel gases, fuel liquids, liquid wastes, and solid char ). In most cases the value of the carbon component of s feedstock as a fuel means it should be combusted to completion ( CO2(g) ), and then separated from other flue gases.

    As noted by critics, using marginal land to produce feedstock isn’t an economically-viable option. The most obvious feedstock would be waste – agricultural, household, and industrial – each of which has it’s own obvious problems ( low density, diversity, or co-mingled toxin precusors ).

    At lot of research is being performed on organics to char ( rather than to complete combustion ), with valuable gaseous or liquid byproducts as well as the solid carbon – which we could even use some as a component of electrodes for Bluff smelter. Many of the researched options require serious energy inputs ( usually thermal ) .

    The trick is to produce high-value by-products that make the process viable, and for governments to provide useful tax relief for the unused energy that is sequestered. It’s a niche concept, and should be promoted as such, rather than as a significant global solution.

    We should remember that making charcoal was a major industry during the latter 19th century, and destructive distillation of biomass was also heavily investigated in the first half of the 20th century. The costs ( not even counting the extensive pollution ) were much higher than for the clean fuel gases and distillate HC fuels that replaced solid fuels.

  2. Please don’t shoot down all biochar research or related technologies simply because of personal reservations about high-tech (microwave) thermal technologies proposed by Carbonscape.
    No one is about to propose ousting all other pyrolysis technologies, low tech or high tech. It may not be popular everywhere, but high tech biochar production may be an appropriate technology in some locations where thermal energy is low-emission (eg. nuclear powered electricity in N.Hemisphere), & or from renewable energy sources (biogas, hydro, wind, tidal, geothermal), but in any event high-tech solutions are very unlikely to be the only viable choice.
    It certainly seems wasteful to source biochar feedstock from purpose grown plantations, undoubtedly we already have an abundance of existing organic & rural waste streams. It also seems wasteful to hijack biochar technologies to produce only combustable gas or liquid fuels, that is not sequestering carbon at all, merely substituting again for fossil fuels. However this focus does seem to be the emphasis in North America, together with other biofuel crops to produce ethanol etc.
    Nothing is ever going a panacaea for dealing with organic wastes, even composting & mulching organic waste streams emits CO2. Current practices of effluent treatment & disposal waterways or landfills also produces CH4.
    Think how much better off we could all be if nothing else except human & dairy effluent solids were turned into biochar, (minus heavy metals & halogens of course!!) The result could be clean waterways plus re-usable nutrient rich soil organic matter, plus biogas byproducts or perhaps at least self-fueling biochar production.
    Give it a go mate 🙂

    1. Sustainable Land Development Goes Carbon Negative
      Sustainable Land Development Today –

      “Climate change is inevitable, proceeding and even accelerating.”

      With those alarming opening words, British scientist James Lovelock, author of the new book, “The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning,” is delivering a sobering message to large and influential audiences around the world. He says there’s nothing we can do now but adapt and survive. He claims it is too late for sustainable development and says civilization’s best strategy is “sustainable retreat.” If we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, he explains, it wouldn’t do much. We’ve already released enough carbon over the past hundred years to push us past the point of no return.

      When prompted, Lovelock says, the only way we could do something meaningful to avoid catastrophe is to extract and permanently store CO2 from the atmosphere, in addition to dramatically reducing our emissions. And the approach with the most potential, says Lovelock, is to turn biomass material into charcoal, now re-branded as “biochar,“ in a process known as “pyrolysis” and then bury it. The biochar, unlike the original biomass, can’t rot and release CO2 into the atmosphere. It doesn’t oxidize. It is chemically stable for hundreds of years, meaning the carbon is permanently sequestered. “This makes it safe to bury in the soil or in the ocean,” writes Lovelock.

      Lovelock isn’t alone in his enthusiasm for biochar sequestration. Australian biologist Tim Flannery, author of the bestselling climate-change book, “The Weather Makers,” is an avid supporter of the approach. James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a professor of Earth sciences at Columbia University, also sees an important role for turning biomass into charcoal as long as it’s done responsibly.

      Regardless of whether you believe human action can ultimately impact climate change, the overwhelming sentiment throughout the world is that we must do everything possible to reduce and offset human-emitted greenhouse gases. Strategies are currently being considered about the best ways to do just that. If we’re serious about halting the rise of – and eventually lowering – CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, biochar could prove the best way. The challenge, as with all other carbon-mitigation approaches, comes with reaching scale.

      Can biochar be produced to a large enough scale to make a measurable impact? The answer lies in the triple-bottom-line perspective. In other words, the only way it can happen is if it can be produced in ways that meet the needs of people, planet and profit.

      What makes biochar perhaps the most compelling solution is that it also provides significant benefits that go way beyond carbon mitigation. It allows us to more sustainably manage organic waste from municipalities, croplands, and wastewater treatment plants. In addition, it can help manage a certain amount of residues from forested lands which are largely responsible for the rapid spread of forest fires.

      Biochar and Sustainable Land Development

      Key factors in developing the social, environmental and economic potential for biochar lie not only in its carbon-sequestration abilities, but in those other valuable properties that the process brings to sustainable land development best practices.

      Biochar production is modeled after a process begun thousands of years ago in the Amazon basin, where islands of rich, fertile soils called “terra preta” were created by indigenous people. Anthropologists speculate that cooking fires and kitchen middens along with deliberate placing of charcoal in soil resulted in soils with high fertility and carbon content. These soils continue to “hold” carbon today and remain so ­nutrient rich that they have been dug up and sold as potting soil in Brazilian ­markets.

      When added to soils, biochar’s impressive capacity to retain nutrients can reduce fertilizer requirements while increasing crop yields. It can also be used for commercial potting soils. Research is now confirming benefits that include:

      – reduced leaching of nitrogen into ground water;
      – possible reduced emissions of nitrous oxide;
      – increased nutrient retention capacity;
      – moderating of soil acidity;
      – increased water retention; and
      – increased number of beneficial soil microbes.

      Plants simply grow better – far better – in biochar enriched soil! Biochar can improve almost any soil. Areas with low rainfall or nutrient-poor soils will benefit the most. Biochar systems can reverse soil degradation and create sustainable food and fuel production in areas with severely depleted soils, scarce organic resources, and inadequate water and chemical fertilizer supplies. Low-cost, small-scale biochar production units can produce biochar to build garden, agricultural and forest productivity. And with the addition of an engine or turbine, these systems can produce a biogas that creates distributed systems for heating, cooling and electricity.

      The total benefits that potentially flow from biochar production and use include waste reduction, energy co-production, improved soil fertility and structure, and carbon emissions mitigation. Not all of these benefits are well accounted for under current economic systems, but under the carbon-constrained economy most are projecting for the near future, the carbon emission mitigation benefit is likely to be accounted for as an economic benefit.

      Profitability of biochar systems will be especially sensitive to the cost and quality of the biomass feedstock that goes into the system, as well as to prices for energy and the carbon capping and trading markets. Farming and gardening systems stand to profit from the soil and water quality benefits biochar provides. Forested and agricultural land provides ready supply of the needed biomass feedstock. And as waste management systems and regulations “catch up” to this opportunity, therein lies another ­virtually unending supply of needed ­biomass.

      The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) was formed in July 2006 at a side meeting held at the World Soil Science Congress (WSSC) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the 2006 meeting, individuals and representatives from academic institutions, commercial ventures, investment bankers, non-governmental organizations, federal agency representatives, and the policy arena from around the world acknowledged a common interest in promoting the research, development, demonstration, deployment (RDD&D) and commercialization of the promising technology of biochar production.

      The mission of the IBI is to provide a platform for the international exchange of information and activities in support of biochar research, development, demonstration, and commercialization.

      IBI advocates biochar as a strategy to:

      – improve soil quality;
      – reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon; and
      – improve water quality by filtering agrochemicals.

      IBI also promotes:

      – sustainable co-production of clean energy and other biobased products as part of the biochar process;
      – efficient biomass utilization in developing country agriculture; and
      – cost-effective utilization of urban, agricultural and forest co-products.

      SLDI partners with Ocean Mountain Ranch in effort to go “Carbon Negative”.

      Fossil fuels are carbon-positive — burning them adds more carbon to the atmosphere. Ordinary biomass fuels are carbon neutral — the carbon captured in the biomass by photosynthesis would have eventually returned to the atmosphere through natural processes — burning plants for energy just speeds it up. Biochar systems can be carbon negative because they retain a substantial portion of the carbon that would otherwise be emitted by the plants or waste matter when it rots. The result is a net reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

      Located in the headwaters of the Port Orford Community Stewardship Area in Southern Oregon, Ocean Mountain Ranch (OMR) is a mixed-use development project that will incorporate residential, agricultural, educational, recreational, and industrial uses. It overlooks the newly-designated Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve and the largest remaining old growth forest on the southern coast in Humbug Mountain State Park. OMR is planned to be developed pursuant to a forest stewardship management plan which has been approved by the Oregon Department of Forestry and Northwest Certified Forestry under the high standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

      OMR will provide for long-term yield of high quality hardwood, softwood, and wildlife habitat. OMR is also serving as a pilot program and is expected to achieve carbon negative status through the utilization of low impact development practices, energy efficient buildings, renewable/clean energy systems, distributed waste management systems, biochar production, and other practices – with certification as a SLDI-Certified Sustainable Project.

      The land development industry is uniquely positioned to utilize SLDI best management practices to take advantage of emerging ancient and new biochar technologies to help address a multitude of pressing environmental, social and economic concerns by balancing the needs of people, planet and profit – for today and future generations.

      Terry Mock
      Executive Director
      Sustainable Land Development International

      1. Terry, your comments are welcome, but where you’re reproducing at considerable length written stuff from elsewhere, which I presume this is, we prefer extracts and links if at all possible.

        1. Bryan, The article I posted above – written by me and previously published in Sustainable Land Development Today magazine – is directly on target with the subject matter in this blog and less lengthly than the drawn out 2-party debate herein that you comment on below. However, I respect your right set the rules and I give you permission to edit my submission as you see fit. Keep up the good work. Terry
          P.S. I did use an abbreviated format to introduce another pertinent article further down…

          1. Terry, there’s no wish to edit your comment, the relevance of which is not questioned. It’s just an indication for future reference if you remain in touch with the site as we hope you will. The other comments in the exchange that you refer to were written specifically for the purpose – it’s where the material is already published elsewhere that we prefer extracts and links.

  3. NZ has very little money invested in research on alternative fuels, and it’s not sensible to spend money on alternatives whose effects on our economic development and transistion to alternatives will be minimal, at best.

    It’s all very well to be a cheerleader for alternatives, and if you want to invest your hard-earned bikkies in Carbonscape and similar ventures, please do. I want them to succeed too, but not at the expense of more beneficial actions that NZ should implement.

    Please don’t ask NZ taxpayers to waste precious research funds on alternatives that, at best, will have minimal impact on our nation’s future – MoRST/FoRST and MED have already become expert at that irrational approach to our impending energy/transportation crisis.

    If Carbonscape, and similar proposals, can come up with products that are higher-value than feedstocks ( without some form of subsidy or punitive tax on existing practices ) , then they will succeed. Based on history, that’s very unlikely – and viable self-fuelling Biochar production is extremely unlikely from any solid waste stream, even high energy, dry, industrially-sourced polymers. To be viable any process needs the outputs to be of higher value than the inputs..

    The “give it a go mate” attitude without sensible scrutiny is best exemplified by our financial markets – not a good role model for research, in my opinion, but you’re welcome to disagree.

  4. As far as I know no one has asked anyone for taxpayer funds to help Carbonscape to produce carbon sequestering products. I understand that some of the directors at Carbonscape are also putting their energies into developing biofuels from algae.
    The “Give it a go mate” comment is not meant as a green light to any ‘get-rich-quick’ fools to bankroll any silly idea. However the “give it a go” concept it is a necessary attitude to exploring & prudential research into the potential of new ideas, scientific enquiry & experimentation, (i.e. no guarantees or promises).
    I may be wrong but I think that we have an obligation to future generations & the planet to find new ways to do things. Risk management is what many people are trying to do, not just minimizing the risks of global warming, but also not putting all our eggs in one basket, starting with small scale projects to “suck it & see”, … of course we may have to spit it out if it’s no good, (try drinking Manawatu river water downstream from Awapuni landfill & sewage discharge – definitely not a good idea). It’s relatively easy criticize anything from the sideline, but if we’re not part of the solution we’re probably still part of the problem.
    Of course research funding is precious & very restricted in such a small population base. I’m personally going to the upcoming Biochar workshop at Massey University on Feb 11th & 12th. (see
    There are plenty of good ideas for ecologically & econimically beneficial by-products from biochar, and an even larger list of potential waste stream feedstocks. It would be a huge shame if funding for pyrolysis technology was restricted to producing biofuels for more CO2 emissions. Concentrating on producing biofuels seems to be concentrating on producing more carbon sources & emissions.
    I believe that we need to move away from an oil-based economy towards a soil-based economy, if ‘peak oil’ doesn’t signal the end of the way things are, then consider the ramifications & possible solutions of ‘peak soil’ (depleted soils dependent on high-energy-cost nutrient & tillage inputs). Part of the current problem is that “high value” products don’t include ‘soil biological fertility’.
    Research funding is too often tied to Development (R&D) of “high value” consumer technologies or products. Intellectual property protection is often seen as more important than the end result, e.g. the proliferation of problem-solving ideas or technologies. Most applied science research funding has an obligation (to investors) to provide a financial return from “off the shelf” products, not technologies or information to reduce inputs ( e.g research into organic agriculture vs. agrochemical innovations for “conventional” agriculture) The current consumerism model is not sustainable, we need to consume less not more. So-called “sustainable economic growth” is an irrational oxymoron.
    I also don’t understand why you’d think that organic waste feedstock, plus biofuel byproducts from biochar, couldn’t be re-used as energy sources for more biochar production. I don’t believe biochar or any other carbon sink technology is a panacaea, but I’d be surprised if biochar research evidence about “carbon positive”production are false claims or exaggerations.
    What we really need is more intelligent crops, e.g. for production of carbon-fibre aircraft, cars, bikes & building materials etc. We’re currently focused on producing ‘upmarket’ (high value) food & fibre products for distant global markets. Some of our intended ‘up-market’ customers are also intelligent global citizens & becoming increasingly weary about transport costs & ‘food miles’. Admittedly I haven’t done the maths but I’d expect that the carbon budget to produce & move steel vehicles is considerably more than producing and transporting heaps of people & stuff around in carbon fibre vehicles.

  5. ” However the “give it a go” concept it is a necessary attitude to exploring & prudential research into the potential of new ideas, scientific enquiry & experimentation, (i.e. no guarantees or promises). ”

    Not in my world. Research is a structured investigation intended to build on existing knowledge. Good research can be replicated by others, bad research can’t – simple really. Serendipity occurs when prepared minds are researching.

    Whether the research currently has economically-viable outputs differentiates fundamental ( Marsden Fund etc. ) and applied. NZ government and commercial enterprises currently fund around $2 billion of research annually, and there are very few outcomes ( other than people ) that taxpayers receive from that investment. We should do better.

    Carbon fibre is one “high tech solution”, and it’s being extensively applied in locations where the high cost can be justified ( new commercial passenger aircraft are 30 – 50% carbon fibre ), and it’s increasing in cars, but…..

    Amazing as it may seem, over the last 25 years vehicles have greatly reduced the quantity of structural steel for a given design – mainly due to the use of High Strength Steels, aluminium alloys, and polymers, but customers wanted to purchase safety, silence, capacity, comfort, and performance – so other systems and larger vehicle size have eroded the structural technology gains.

    Change the customer attitude, and the technology already exists to greatly reduce vehicle mass. I was hoping the substantial camera towers appearing on motorways were mounting blocks for anti-SUV missile launchers, but sadly they weren’t.

    Back to Biochar – it’s very unlikely to be self-fuelling because if you
    consider the relative masses of C and H in most organic waste streams, the amount of energy obtainable from oxidising the hydrogen to water is going to be significantly outweighed by the energy requirements of production and sequestration of the carbon ( Biochar is effectively charcoal with a 21st century name ).

    “Self-fuelling” used to be only applied to certain nuclear reactions that produced sufficient fuel to sustain future energy production, and it’s a pity other industries are now diluting the term.

    Open wood fires made charcoal, but more heat was released when the charcoal burnt. Obviously biochar is not self fuelled because the energy content of inputs ( including heat ) is much higher than available from output materials, so you require more feedstock.

    To be viable, you require the feedstock to have a much higher energy content, or the products to have higher value, hence the US focus on making liquid or gaseous output fuels with byproduct hydrogen and sidestream gases.

    The preferred alternative would be to make higher value products that make the process economic. If you want to sequester carbon from biomass, I suspect you have to make very high value byproducts from Biochar, or it’s probably better to just deeply bury the original biomass, rather than muck around with it.

    I’m not surprised Carbonscape directors are looking at algae fuels, they are, at least, consistent.

  6. It’s timely to recognize that we specialists can sometimes “talk past each other” without meaning to. I’m a plant biologist, soil microbiologist & ecologist. I’d probably also have some semantic issues about how non-specialists use such terms as “symbiosis”, “mutualism” or “commensalism” as interchangable terms for “mutually beneficial relationships”.
    We probably have more to learn from mutual respect for each other than would be possible from taking offense, or pushing our personal research agendas.
    I’m no physicist or engineer, nor am I qualified to offer counter arguments to your assertions about energy budgets. I certainly wasn’t aware of the linguistic history of nuclear energy industry, no offense intended mate. We may not read the same research literature but please don’t discredit what you don’t know much about.
    Burying the problem of organic wastes only puts it ‘out of sight & out of mind, but it doesn’t remove the issue of CO2 or CH4 emitted by their decomposition.
    However attractive or ecologically beneficial compost is for soils on the local market, export related biosecurity issues & our abundant supplies of plant waste biochar feedstocks could mean that there are possible economically attractive export potentials for biochar to amend biologically degraded & physically disturbed soils, to help to kick-start soil nutrient cycling necessary to plant root symbioses or soil micro-organisms.
    Energy for our most common fuels ultimately comes from the sun, the less soils can support photosynthesis the less natural carbon sequestering will occur.
    Meanwhile here in the land of the ‘long white smog’, (visit Nelson mid-winter, see & smell what I mean), soil-carbon sequestration hasn’t been supported by NZ Govts at Kyoto or at Copenhagen, the reason is MfE & MAF advice re economic risks (“liabilities”) associated with current rates of soil loss that mean that we lose more soil organic matter each year than is accumulated. This nett-loss of topsoils & soil carbon is a problem, however I’d prefer it if we could address this issue by officially recognising the potential benefits soil carbon sequestration & get on with practicing soil erosion protection by conservation planting & conservation tillage.
    Admittedly it’s relatively easy to quantify the above ground portion of plant biomass, it’s undoubtedly more difficult but not impossible to measure soil carbon in it’s various living, dead, decomposing & chemically stable forms.
    One of the first principles of non-experts (‘biological agriculture’ practitioners & ‘organic’ farmers) is to “feed the soil”. If you’re wondering how this area of science or time-tested soil husbandry crosses over with physics, have look at the feedback effects of soil organic matter & soil biota on soil structure, soil aggregation & reduced runoff erosion.

  7. No idea where an earlier version of this went, apologies in advance if this is a duplicate.

    [Sorry Bruce: you got labelled as possible spam, for some reason. GR]

    ” We may not read the same research literature but please don’t discredit what you don’t know much about.
    Burying the problem of organic wastes only puts it ‘out of sight & out of mind, but it doesn’t remove the issue of CO2 or CH4 emitted by their decomposition.”

    I wrote “deeply bury”, which clearly should not be amenable to biological degradation that would release the carbon back to the atmosphere.

    The concept of deep burial of biomass as a form of carbon sequestration has been around for decades, and a lot of theoretical work performed. I may not know much about it, but there are a lot of smarter people than I working on it, and who consider it could become viable in certain situations.

    Recent work has focussed on deep ocean sequestration.

  8. Bruce
    Sorry if I mis-read your above comment re deep burial of organic waste, my mistake. This is the sort of thing is just I meant by “talking past each other” (cf Dame Dr Joan Metge’s body of literature including “Talking past each other: Problems of cross-cultural communication”).

    I’m willing to look at the topic of “deep burial” of carbon as a means of sequestration, but from my rather limited knowledge this has usually been proposed as a means of burying CO2 or carbonated water in coal mines & oil wells. I have strong reservations about the practical viability & excessive carbon budgets required to transport let alone deeply bury solid organic matter or effluent. A similar debate has also been made regarding centralised versus mobile pyrolysis units for biochar production.

    It’s fair to say that I’m personally enthusiatic about the topic of “soil biological fertility”. I would also like to see our waterways & coastline cleaned up from being low-cost ‘sinks’ for agricultural & human organic waste streams.

    As previously stated, I don’t believe in a panacaea for climate change or for cleaning up waterways … (silver bullets sound too much like vampire myths). However, I am interested to see biochar sequestered into soils, not just as a carbon sink, but also as an effective filter to capture nutrient runoff from intensive agricultural practices, as well as used together with bio-digestors for treatment of domestic & industrial wastes.

    I’m not averse to selling biofuel by-products from pyrolisis technology, however from a “zero-waste” perspective it just seems an avoidable shame to convert too much biomass into biogas instead of biochar.

    Further to the biochar comments, research indicates this recent term isn’t just a neologism for charcoal. Freshly produced biochar doesn’t have the same characteristics of “Tera Preta” aka “Amazonian dark earths”. Biochar has a number of economic & ecologically valuable uses, but it’s my understanding that many people involved in this area would simply like to copy what occurred in pre-European plagen soils, ie, long term storage of chemically stable, nutrient rich soils derived from “slash & char”cleared forestry, mixed & charred together with human kitchen & toilet wastes.

    As per your above comment:
    “I wrote “deeply bury”, which clearly should not be amenable to biological degradation that would release the carbon back to the atmosphere.”
    This is a bit of worry, the reality of biological diversity is that organisms can survive & sometimes thrive in the harshest of extreme environments. I’m not a biogeochemist, extremophile biologist or an archae-bacteriologist, but I’d be extremely surprised to find that there are no microorganisms that could survive on an energy & nutrient rich diet of deeply buried organic matter. However, I could well be proved wrong???
    regards, Don-Lorax

  9. The second link I provided notes that the authors propose putting the biomass in oceans at depths greater than 1500 meters, and suggested river mouth alluvial fans as possible locations ( after suitable investigations for adverse effects ).

    They expected it to be buried for a significant time by the alluvial runoff. Not my field, but seems sensible, and they suggest the sequestration would be for thousands of years.

    Biochar is charcoal, and even Lovelock, in his response to Monbiot’s Guardian article, says they shouldn’t have renamed it. Apart from the loss of the unused fuel energy, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with sequestering charcoal, and it’s probably sensible in some niche locations. If it also improves the soil without adding to atmospheric greenhouse gases, all the better.

    However, there still appear to be serious questions about whether Biochar onto/in soils provides nett carbon sequestration. Given the low capital cost, and use of existing techniques, it’s not surprising that many countries want it included in the IPCC inventories.

    The most entertaining quote ( apart from the usual tendency to denigrate critical proponents of alternative sequestration ) that I found during my casual reading was…

    “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.”

    Sadly, reading further, they didn’t mention crystals and tin foil.

  10. Bruce,
    These links look interesting, however I have absolutely no idea why I couldn’t see the URLs at the end of your last posting ???

    I’d be interested in your comments on matters arising from the upcoming Biochar workshop in mid Feb. Better still if you’re able to attend or contribute.

    My particular interests in soil carbon sequestration aren’t restricted to just biochar, but are more focused natural processes & soil management practices that lead to water stable soil aggregates, glomalin effects, no-tillage soil management, & the use of cover crops in place of herbicide strips in orchards & vineyards. None of these research areas & practical methods are new, nor are all no-till technologies, ground-covers or cover-crops of equal quality or benefit.

    However, I am concerned that none of these matters will result in any benefits unless soil carbon sequestration can be included in NZ’s commitments to the Kyoto protocol & whatever results from Copenhagen negotiations.

    I’ve spoken directly with Nick Smith re this matter, but I haven’t had direct access to the MfE & MAF advice documents re the risks aka financial liabilities to the NZ Govt relating to nett soil losses from erosion, & the soil carbon contained within those lost soils. I think it would be logical to request this info via the official channels.

    I wonder how many other countries have also chosen to opt out of soil carbon sequestration? It puts light on an embarrassing lack of informed political insight regarding practices such as; steepland conservation planting & riparian planting for soil erosion control, silt dams, PFSI – permanent forest sinks initiative, conservation tillage technologies, carbon credits for replanting DoC land, wetland conservation or construction for water quality & carbon capture, … none of which are perfect either, but all of which reduce soil losses & increase soil carbon levels.

    Where’s the logic? … or am I just being naíve about political commitments to environmental protection?

  11. Not sure why you would want to read new age Biochar stuff, but the quote was from…

    With regard to the IPCC and soil carbon, it seems fairly clear that the concern is about the sequestration and release of greenhouse gases, as it’s alleged that some studies have shown that Biochar results in increased greenhouse gas emissions during the first year or so.

    That “research” is hotly disputed, but it’s possibly one reason why the IPCC didn’t allow it in inventories. More research should fix it, possibly by understanding the conditions that produce nett sequestration, and crediting those.

    I didn’t search on the issues, but it’s clear that countries with very energetic soil biomass ( bogs, tropical forests etc ) have pushed hard to have it included in national inventories – with good reason.

    I don’t think it’s too different to the debate about sequestration in old forests and what happens when tree are chopped down. All that’s needed is more research to ensure credits are given when the promised sequestration occurs, but not permitted when it doesn’t.

    Gosh, that should keep soil scientists employed for decades :-), but you might have to fight NIWA for reallocation of the PGSF funds. Then again, they could apply to divert the funds for investigation the potential effects of deep ocean burial of biomass.

  12. Hi Bruce,
    sorry but our wires seem to be getting crossed again.

    I wasn’t referring to any new-age biochar lit, I just couldn’t see your URL links…..ns_006.htm
    there seems to be gremlins somewhere ?!* 🙁

    However, I remain skeptical about the practicalities of logistics & energy costs of deep burial of carbon biomass. As I’ve understood the matter, it’s also necessary to completely waterproof such terrestrial burials to prevent decomposition. This moisture limiting factor is one of the reasons that it’s possible to read newspapers etc many decades after burial in landfill sites. I’m sure that there would be such dry sites under deserts but sadly they would be remote from sufficient sources of biomass.

    I’ve also read & heard about old-growth logs which are still being recovered from the Great Lakes & in smaller Canadian lakes, & even some in NZ South Island lakes. Apparently these logs are still quite mill able after more than 100 years, so it appears that in cold waters anaerobic decomposition is slow to act on heart wood. I don’t know what lake depths these logs have been recovered from.

    Further to your comments about the naming issues of charcoal & biochar / agrichar. ….
    I understand that “Terra preta” aka “Amazonian black earths” are in fact not ‘just charcoal’ with a new name, but these aged & plagen soil media also included nutrient-rich human food & toilet wastes prior to & or co-mingled with charred forest wood wastes at their time of burial in otherwise low-nutrient & highly leached tropical soils.

    Further to your above comments :
    … “I don’t think it’s too different to the debate about sequestration in old forests and what happens when tree are chopped down. All that’s needed is more research to ensure credits are given when the promised sequestration occurs, but not permitted when it doesn’t.
    Gosh, that should keep soil scientists employed for decades 🙂 , ….
    I agree with you that unfortunately there tends to be somewhat of a ‘bun fight’ for contestable funding, (ie. both applied science & PGSF).

    In the area of public / private collaborative research, I’ve been wondering about how bring on board the commercial sector re funding for biochar. In particular, one of my old favorites ie. biochar from effluent, (ie. to avoid polluting waterways).

    My idea for public / private collaborate research is that existing fertiliser manufacturers & distributors could invest in such research along the same manner that BP has attempted to re-label & promote itself as “Beyond Petroleum”. However skeptical anyone may be about such mega-corporate PR or “re-positioning tactics”, they do appear to at least have provided themselves with a form or future proof technology insurance by getting behind “renewable” energy production etc.

    If (& thats quite a BIG “IF”), if we can ensure removal or exclusion of organochrorides & a myriad of other toxic wastes from industrial processes, bleached paper etc etc, currently contained in urban effluent materials, then biochar produced from such rural & urban sewage, horticultural & food processing waste feedstock could be a very useful source of nonpathogenic nutrients for investors interested in the future of fertilisers.

    I know that to some people such a proposition could appear naive & perhaps dangerous ie. working with the “enemy”. However, on the other hand, sometimes environmentalists are perceived as always telling others what they’re doing wrong, or else “preachy”. This may some times indeed be the case, but if we can maintain our own personal integrity we should be able to work together with dissimilar peoples or groups. Of course the issues of mutual “respect” & “trust” are not small issues in such matters.

    The world is only very sssslllooowly changing in some ways, & yet Global Climate change requires much more urgent actions with wisdom we may not have in enough ready supply. However, I’ve recently taken heart from reading “A QUESTION OF INTENT”, David Kessler’s text re the FDA & US legislation & reform of the still very powerful & globally politically persuasive tobacco industry.

    Regarding our debate about the need for urgency to address how minimise the effects of climate change, there are many useful insights from Kessler re how the FDA & anti-tobacco lobbyists came to focus on such important public health issues, the chilling ethics of corporate bodies to put profit before all else, … & the eventual undermining of legal responsibilities by hiding & denial of the existence of tobacco industry research re cigarette carcinogens & the addictive qualities of nicotine.

    FDA staff, anti-smoking lobbyists & polititians eventually focussed on youth & pediatric disease, particularly the corporate intent re the habit forming & detrimental effects of tobacco advertising aimed at youth. After prolonged legal battles Kessler shared hard earned advice that in the US the politically appointed judges & a competitive adversarial court system is mostly focussed producing winners & losers, discrediting each other by fair means or foul, at whatever financial, time wasting or human cost, … & as a result the process has lost it’s focus on uncovering “facts” or “the truth”.

    Hence my question:
    Do the current climate change ‘evidence-based’ political processes, together with contestably funded scientific research interests also share a “competitive” & perhaps “combative” atmosphere & adversarial nature that may also be overly focused on producing winners & losers, rather than uncovering the truth???
    Who me a skeptic?

  13. I’m glad that I misunderstood your “last post URLs” comment, as interest in new age concepts, other than for entertainment, could be cause for concern 🙂 .

    I assume the “deep burial” scientists have clues, and await further research with interest. Obviously, there are shallow locations that may be suitable, but assuming there aren’t adverse consequences, the beauty of the deep ocean burial concept is that it’s similar to historical sequestration, and it’s instantly doable.

    My understanding is that much of our oil originates from millions of year old ocean biota that dies and falls to the bottom or was buried via rivermouth alluvial fans. One suggestion is to briquette up to 30% of biomass and dump, which doesn’t sound environmentally friendly, ( and may not be – more research required ) but would be reasonably easy to implement. I understand that 30% of the growth was chosen because the remaining quantity is required to maintain forest/soil fertility.

    I’m in favour of taking any rational local action now, rather than waiting for the UN to obtain national and political consensus for global action.

    One funding problem is that MoRST/FoRST are seen by most govt and private agencies as the Lotteries Commision for Research, and it’s difficult to now attract serious long-term research funding without involving them in some form. Until recently, they bizarrely favoured the competitive model, now they’re in the “we’ll pick the winners” model. Given their track record, betting against them should be lucrative.

    In my opinion, Biochar as a carbon sequestration option would only be a niche player, and research should be funded more as part of the greening of agriculture or environmentally-friencdly disposal of wastestreams benefits.

    The obvious first step is to look at who is funding Biochar research overseas, contact them for enthusiastic endorsements, and then approach the technical people in similar enterprises here.

    Funding usually only appears if there is a champion in the organisation who can present cogent arguments of mutual benefit and improved competitiveness to decision makers.

    I would suggest that Biochar is going to be of much more interest to agricultural-based industries, local councils, and perhaps some energy/transport enterprises, rather that industrial enterprises.

    I believe, but can’t confirm, that Wellinton’s regional or city council is funding research, including building a pilot plant, into disposal of polymeric wastes. Biochar would seem to be a possible good option. Allow a couple of years to sell the concept to councils, but start now.

    I wouldn’t worry to much about the organohalogens and similar refractive organic molecules ( difficult to decay ) in waste streams, as modern waste segregation processes should separate significant quantities. The activity of suitable Biochar carbon should also bind them. Toxic metals may be an issue, but they may be held by other soil/waste components.

    The USA EPA has announced it’s finally going to establish much lower limits on acceptable levels of residual man-made organohalogens in the environment, and that should provoke intensive research there that NZ can also apply.

    Most major oil companies in NZ are now distribution-based, and unlikely to invest much – unless you can link into to their overseas policymakers, however electricity and similar energy may be interested as an offset option.

    BP’s “greening” was led from the top, starting in changing the logo ( remember the old shield? ) and investing in solar photovoltaic. It wasn’t driven by their customers, and most NZ petrol users wouldn’t care which was the greenest company, and mainly interested in the price of their fuel.

    The continuing decrease in the number of service stations in urban NZ is now a mix of understanding how far people will travel to use a supermarket discount voucher and/or purchase a commodity ( eg wild bean coffee ), versus the relative operating costs of each location. There’s no local community consideration.

    Amazingly, it seems people will travel significant distances to redeem low value vouchers, or perhaps change their habits to purchase fuel when travelling for other reasons.

  14. Hi Bruce
    We appear to be engaged in a 2 person debate here, … I’ve no objection to this situation, however maybe we could also email more specific details of research proposals, I don’t want to put some ideas into this public domain without receiving feedback from a peer review process such as the upcoming biochar workshop. (my mobile # is 021 1152556)

    I agree with you that at this point in time there may be mostly niche markets for biochar, … but imagine if farmers could get carbon credits for putting carbon into their soils & at the same time reduce nitrate runoff effects … rather than have concerns about being a focus of unwanted attention re CO2 & CH4 emissions from ruminant activities & other undesirable environmental impacts. … Carbon carrots instead of carbon whips?

    However, peer pressure & historic habits are large forces behind the momentum of many rural & urban practices… As I’ve discussed before, most people generally don’t want to be told what to do or how not to do things that they like doing or have ‘always’ done for generations. …

    Using an example of the adoption of another ‘niche’ agricultural technoloygy, … from a rational point of view it’s a no-brainer for me & other agricultural technologists to promote the use of no-tillage technologies to replace the over use of conventional tillage tools that aim to invert, turn-over & break up soils like a dry cake mixture.

    The unintended consequences of conventional tillage are to completely break up mycorrhizal hyphal soil networks, destroy soil structure, bury & dilute aerobic soil biota, increase oxidation of soil organic matter, increase risks of soil erosion from wind & water, & use lots more tractor operations & fuel than comparative no-tillage practices. Of course I also empathize with organic farming practices that aren’t able to use the herbicides necessary for modern no-tillage technology. However, apart from weed control, undoing soil compaction resulting from livestock or excessive tractor traffic, & early heating up of topsoils in short growing seasons, there appears to be no rational or scientifically verifiable benefits from using a combination of ploughs / rotary hoes, followed by harrows, seed-drills, rollers etc … the costs are way higher than any perceived benefits.

    Despite a large body of research evidence & the testimonies of successful no-till practitioners, most farmers still continue to use conventional tillage technologies. Of course they also have a lot of capital tied up / invested in these older technologies, but there are lots of other social pressures from families & neighbours that act on people ‘in love with’ the idea of tilling their soils in ways similar to generations of farmers before them.

    Likewise, farmers need to be encouraged financially & socially to be part of the solution. There obviously needs to be more empathy from orthorexic urbanite populations & green consumers towards the realities of the day-to-day difficulties of primary production.

    Likewise there also needs to be some reasonable placation of vested interest groups involved agricultural machinery, fertilser production & the service industries providing support to these groups. However, without wanting to expose these people to that dreadful self-perpetuating phenomena of organizational “restructuring”, it seems only a matter of time until the total global demise the current ‘extraction model infrastructure of primary production & exporting of food, fibre, shelter & fuels from primary industries.

    The above example of recognizing & working with conventional practitioners & vested interest industries could equally be applied to the adoption of a technology that could replace the dominant transport & internal combustion technologies.

    I recognize the need to recognise, respect & repay research investments that develop the IP necessary to make technological progress, however this can be an obstacle to wider adoption of such technology by the masses, especially when such innovations are sen as a threat to vested interest industries, national economic interests & parochial political interest trying to support their own social, economic (or environmental ? ) personal agendas.

    I know this may be a somewhat socialist personal point of view, but the current political power behind protecting “private” property interests, these practices may also “deprive” the wider community & the environment we all share, from easier affordable access to the adoption & use of such technologies. Of course there is also a parallel problem or property pirating, as well as swindlers & cheats manufacturing poor quality copies of successful technologies.

    I can’t offer a simple solution to this dilemma, but our current competitive model copyright & patent legislation also seems to produce winners & losers, rather than to encourage adoption & utilisation of the most ecologically & economically sustainable (or evolutionarily ‘fittest’) technologies.

  15. Thanks for that. It’s probably time to move on now we’ve cleared our misunderstandings and simultaneously solved the world’s problems.

    My comments about funding were intended to suggest avenues you might like to consider, as I’ve no expertise in either agricultural research or Biochar.

    In the same vein, no-tillage probably will only become popular when the financial costs of current practices are clearly much greater than no-tillage alternatives. I wonder if there are specific soil type versus crop value farming environments that are more sensitive to the inevitable price increases of current farming practices?. Knowing that would help find early-adopting partners.

    Unfortunately, there are always opportunists wanting to make a quick buck from unguarded or undervalued commons. NZ has plenty of examples – inappropriate farming taking clean water and returning water + pollutants, mining on conservation land, etc etc..

    As there’s serious money to be made ( returns are better than investing in scientific research ), proponents are well funded. There’s no simple solution, it’s raw humanity.

    Good luck, and please keep having fun.

  16. “We appear to be engaged in a 2 person debate here”

    That doesn’t mean others of us haven’t found it interesting and instructive. Thank you both for your exchange, which has been relevant to several themes which must engage the attention of anyone who cares about possible solutions to climate change.

  17. Thanks for the encouraging coments Bryan …

    Thanks too Bruce for your ongoing commentary, it’s been a pleasure to engage in this discussion group. I’ve been off work since breaking a collarbone 3 weeks ago, & my usual work commitments don’t allow me much time for blogging. I also need to make time to up-skill & develop my website so I can refer to URLs that visually illustrate some of the points discussed.

    There are some quite large local sources of crop & forestry wastes in the Nelson Bays & Marlborough regions that could be suitable as biochar feedstocks. The winter air around Nelson Bays is often heavily polluted with thick smoke from orchard burnoffs, usually of green trees. Health statistics / estimates vary but in this region approx 10 – 16 people are thought to die from diseases associated with smoke particulates associated with poor air quality.

    Despite regional council requirements re modernizing of domestic home heating fires, rural fires add considerably to levels of particulate matter & smog. Nelson, Stoke & Richmond are often blanketed in smog [Nelson’s dirty little secret 🙁 ] This isn’t a very good look for the many tourists passing through the region, I hear lots of negative comments from disillusioned & dismayed travelers who are surprised at the cavalier attitude of orchardists & others clearing land for conversion of pines to pastures or for residential subdivisions.

    However I do understand the logistics of orchard production that requires trees be rapidly removed for replanting with new varieties, or for disease control measures. The general consensus of most orchardists is that there aren’t any viable alternatives available to burnoffs. I beg to differ, but there aren’t enough incentives or disincentives to encourage change.

    Another zero-waste opportunity awaits for quite large volumes of hop bines in this region. As of 3 years ago the local hops industry used 16,500km of polythene twine per year to train hops bines. A couple of growers have tried using twine produced from corn starch, however that was a short-lived experiment due to increasing costs of corn starch resulting from biofuel production demands. Polythene twine makes if difficult to extract from hops compost, & it’s not possible to burn it in open fires due to TDC air-quality regulations etc. Many hops growers are simply burying this waste stream.

    I have suggested that there may be a potential to recycle hops bine fibres for twine production or else for carbon-fibre. I have previously sent away hops bine samples to SCION (ex FRI) to test plant fibres for strength & flexibility qualities, ( the hops & hemp genera are both in the Canabidaceae family), … however I didn’t have funds to pay SCION to do these analyses. I am hopeful that his year the Hops Growers Assn may provide funding for such tests, I’ll keep you posted.

    However, I’ve since learnt more about pyrolysis of mixed waste streams & I now understand that Polythene should volatilize / fractionate separately from plant wastes, & could be a good source of biogas. The hops industry use kilns that require a substantial quantity of fuels (coal, wood pellets etc) to dry hops flowers, thus biogas could be a useful byproduct to hops growers.

    It may be that I’ve become a bit ‘fixated’ with seeing avoidable wastes, but lets face it, they’re all about us in this region & in many other regions. Another example is the quite large volumes of reject quality fruit, esp. apples & kiwis, … as well as fruit pulp from apple juice processing. The rejected fruit waste streams from packing sheds currently get buried, other fruit wastes remain unpicked on trees & become windfalls when the variety price is no longer marketable, or when picking costs make them not worthwhile sending to markets & jeopardize flooding apple supplies or storage facilities. Perhaps I’m being too idealistic, but the opportunity to produce ethanol fuels from these waste streams appears to have been ignored. Meanwhile, many orchards have a colourful carpet of waste fruit under trees, or else trees laiden with unpicked fruit that provide energy rich feed for flocks of birds that later breed & pester vineyards at other times of years.

    Picking up from an earlier comment of Bruce re the clean burning qualities of charcoal, I’ve had an idea for a few years about producing charcoal during the summer season. Of course it would be messy to handle charcoal ‘logs’ unless they were covered with paper.

    Perhaps the technologies that produce wood pellets could be used to process feedstocks prior to charcoal manufacturing, or to pelletize charcoal dust. Likewise charcoal pellets may be a suitable alternative to wood pellets to fire furnaces?

    O.K. already Bruce, I can hear you commenting here about the energy costs & final product costs, but the biggest problem with air particulates derives from using wet wood. I don’t know if we’re ever going to put an end to public aesthetic demands to have fires to heat their homes, but can you imagine the marketing hype of using charcoal as a light weight & clean-burning fuel?

    My fascination / obsession? with zero-waste & finding useful by-products from otherwise “useless” waste-products is by way of example an explanation of why I have become interested in using biochar for a variety of end uses, including soil carbon sequestration & as a carrier medium to introduce or improve soil biodiversity & for bio-protection of crops & degraded soils.


  18. Sorry to hear about your collarbone – wish you speedy recovery

    Many agricultural “waste products” were investigated in the 1980s and early 1990s by various DSIR divisions, and those reports, although less relevant in today’s world, will highlight some of the issues.

    A couple of decades ago, I was involved in looking at viable utilisation of agricultural wastes. We looked at apple pomace, kiwifruit seeds etc etc. They all had some good features ( cheap, being unused wastes ), but the economics sucked – mainly because the collection, preparation, and processing costs.

    Most of that research would be irrelevant in today’s world, but some have now found a niche market ( eg kiwifruit seed oil ). Our main interest was in using then as cheap fermentation feedstocks, which sounds simple, but is actually quite difficult, because fermenters are effectively 5-star hotels for all bugs, so you need to prevent/kill bad bugs and nurture good bugs you add, which often tend to be less robust.

    Another programme we had was to make, via fermentation, biopolymers, especially polyhydroxyalkanoates ( PHAs ), specifically PHB ( polyhydroxybutyrate ), which possibly would be good replacement for polyolefin twine. We made some nice samples, but obviously nobody was prepared to pay the substantial green premium. I doubt that situation has changed.

    The main disadvantages of biofuels is transportation of feedstock or product and labour costs, so if you can have small local systems with cheap labour, they are more likely to be viable.

    I’ve lent lab equipment to some people trying to make small scale energy systems using biomass feedstocks. It’s been a difficult journey for them, as control of small systems is often more difficult than large systems.

    Polyolefins are just so cheap that alternatives will struggle, especially against “biodegradable” grades. They are good fuels, however their unsaturated nature means that combustion can result in significant pollutant emissions.

    With regard to air particulates, I suspect that you could look at what the USA is doing regarding urban wood combustion, including use of flue catalysts etc. If you could recover more of the heat whilst destroying pollutant and particulate precusors, that would be a win that homeowners could understand.

    Don’t hold your breath though, there are people who believe taking the exhaust catalysts off vehicle engines improved the performance and fuel economy. Unless other modifications were performed, the main change was more exhaust noise, and I suspect they believed that more noise = more power. They’ll show similar attitudes to flue modifications.

    As always, NZ lags behind Europe and the US, so you should look there first for solutions that may be applicable before starting work.

    With regard to using charcoal as fuel, when I was young we used coke for our open fire because it was clean burning ( compared to coal ). It was a form of coal-derived charcoal and was common in some urban areas before natural gas was reticulated.

    The earliest steam engines had to use coke as fuel to avoid poisoning their neighbours with sulphur and other toxins from coal combustion – later designs and better quality coal fixed the problem.

    If you can make charcoal as a fuel economic in today’s markets, I have no real issues. I would suggest that some of the coke techniques, such as forming briquettes would make utilisation easier – especially if you want to use hopper feeds and automation. There’s also been research on using waste newspaper as a binder in waste fuel briquettes to obtain improved handling and combustion properties.

  19. Thanks again Bruce,
    One project @ a time is good fishing for me. However, I’m interested in doing my own part in a local zero-waste project that also benefits soil, air & water quality using both agricultural & urban waste streams.

    I’ve yet to organise for a physics teacher / engineer friend check out a local coke manufacturing plant that is currently moth-balled. According to the son of the engineer who designed & built it, it is a unique design in that it is a “continuous process” coke plant rather than a “batch” process plant. Considering the needs to exclude air, I can as yet only imagine how this concept was realised.

    However despite the potential benefits of such a design, it is a large & stationary machine so it would require high cost transport of feedstock. When this plant was operating, coal gas was being flamed off, what a waste eh!!

    Nonetheless, as you say things have moved on in the last 2 decades, but economic realities are still constraints. I don’t have the level of experience & interpretation that you have, however I believe that EECA are interested in the development of efficient use & production of renewable energies including biogas & solid biofuels. I also understand that their interests in energy conservation could be applied to the use of farm vehicles in food production methods, including conservation tillage (no-till) technology.

    It may be possible to stretch the energy conservation interests of EECA to compare the energy costs of the production of fertilizers from different sources. I personally don’t have the tools to compare energy use / carbon footprints of manufacturing inorganic fertilzers – versus recovery & refinement of nutrient-rich biochar from effluent wastes.

    However, as the raw materials for phosphates are not finite, I expect that we have yet to see how nutrient recovery costs will measure up against current & future costs of mining, transport & processing, … let alone the value of clean water otherwise affected by inefficient losses from animal excreta, leaching & runoff from non-point source agricultural production systems, & from point source discharges of urban & industrial treated effluent.

    I may indeed be an idealist, but when it comes to the future of waste water treatment & combustion discharges to air, I’m hopeful that we may soon see an end to the prevalence of the old adage :
    “The solution to pollution is dilution”
    I believe that this type of so-called “pollution-solution” may be an economically low cost option, but it has usually been at the expense of under-valued enviromental & social costs’

  20. Don-Lorax: “I’ve also read & heard about old-growth logs which are still being recovered from the Great Lakes & in smaller Canadian lakes, & even some in NZ South Island lakes. Apparently these logs are still quite mill able after more than 100 years, so it appears that in cold waters anaerobic decomposition is slow to act on heart wood. I don’t know what lake depths these logs have been recovered from.”

    As usual, there’s a range of depths. Underwater logging of submerged trees (mostly in British Columbia) is done by remote saw and the depth can be arbitrary. Here in the east, the recovery of sunken boomed logs which you describe is normally done with SCUBA or surface-supplied rigs in comparatively shallow water. A firm recovered logs a few years ago from the lake my cottage is on. I’d estimate that they were working in 10-15 metres depth. I’d be surprised if they went below 20 metres. The conditions wouldn’t change much below that. The thermocline never gets much below 10 metres in our lake (although it’s unusually deep for the area, and therefore slow to warm up and cool off), so those logs have been sitting in 4C water since they sank.

    The relevance of this is that you can probably dump wood into the middle of many lakes in Canada without seeing the carbon again for quite some time. No distillation of volatiles required. On the down side, the effect on the lake’s ecosystem will not necessarily be good and you’ll have trouble growing more trees if you continuously deep-six the fertilizer they need.

    Boreal forests are being recognized as a major carbon sink. We didn’t have a lot of topsoil in this part of the world after it was pushed south during the last ice age, but it’s been coming back since as trees die and build up the earth. Not all rotted wood goes back into atmospheric CO2. As an ignorant layman, I’m guessing that biochar isn’t the answer in this part of the world and underwater biomass sequestration isn’t the answer either. Just let the forest do its thing.

    1. CO2 Capture, Sequestration & Stabilization

      Southern Oregon Coast Mixing ­Nature, Tradition, and Economics for Sustainable Future – (

      “Located in the headwaters of the Port Orford Community Stewardship Area in Southern Oregon, Ocean Mountain Ranch overlooks the newly-designated Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve and the largest remaining old growth forest on the southern coast in Humbug Mountain State Park. OMR is planned to be developed pursuant to a forest stewardship management plan which has been approved by the Oregon Department of Forestry and Northwest Certified Forestry under the high standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).”

      Sustainable Land Development Goes Carbon Negative – ( )

      “Ocean Mountain Ranch is also serving as a pilot program and is expected to achieve carbon negative status through the utilization of low impact development practices, energy efficient buildings, renewable/clean energy systems, distributed waste management systems, biochar production, and other practices – with certification as a SLDI-Certified Sustainable Project.”

      Terry Mock
      Trustee, Ocean Mountain Ranch
      Executive Director, Sustainable Land Development International

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