Ten technologies to save the planet

by Bryan Walker on December 10, 2008

As the news on climate change becomes increasingly serious it is all the more important to affirm that the problem has solutions provided the world applies them soon enough.

Prominent UK environment writer Chris Goodall surveys some of those solutions in a well-researched fashion in his new book, Ten Technologies to Save the Planet.  In combination he shows them adequate to the deep reductions of global greenhouse gas emissions needed over the coming decades.

On the renewable electricity front he explores wind power, solar energy and the tides and waves of the oceans.  Where fossil fuel continues to be used for electricity he considers carbon capture and storage a viable technology and one which carries with it the additional possibility of extracting carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere for sequestration. Combined heat and power technologies through fuel cells and district heating plants using biomass offer significant emission reductions. House insulation and airtightness, including refurbishment of existing houses, are easy gains.  On transport, he points to the fast advances in technology for battery driven electric cars, and to the large number of companies working on developing biofuels from cellulose. Wood part-combusted to make charcoal and dug into the ground both sequesters carbon and in many soils improves fertility. Finally, he details various better treatments of soil, trees and plants to improve their carbon-sink properties.

All the technologies Goodall canvasses already have solid indications of technical feasibility. Some of them, such as wind power, are in substantial operation. Together they present a credible world in which we could live in reasonable comfort and in a great deal more safety than our current path offers. There are further technologies, such as nuclear energy, which Goodall discounts but for which others make a strong case.

Altogether there is good reason to feel encouraged. We can decarbonise our energy and our industry.  We are not doomed to destruction for lack of alternatives.

Why then, in view of the utter urgency of the need, isn’t the world in general and New Zealand in particular getting on with it?  Goodall feels obliged to evaluate the technologies in terms of their cost relative to fossil fuel. But why should competitiveness with fossil fuel matter as much as it still seems to? We now understand that the continued burning of fossil fuel is dangerous for the human future. The fact that it may be cheaper in economic terms doesn’t lessen that danger.

Within a market economy, Goodall urges measures to put a price on carbon either through direct tax or through capped emissions trading schemes.  He points out that a high carbon price (he suggests US$50 per tonne) would make almost all the technologies in his book competitive very soon.  Against those who say the economy would be crippled he argues that in fact the impact on GDP will not be large.

But even if it were large, governments cannot allow the burning of fossil fuels to continue unhindered.  The new technologies have to be adopted as rapidly as possible – by regulation and subsidy if market signals are not sufficient.

Unfortunately, many politicians remain scientifically ignorant and vulnerable to vested interests. Our own new government is still dithering, possibly even back-pedalling, on the modest measures adopted in the emissions trading scheme.

The recent calm and impressive statement of President-elect Obama may herald a new urgency. Announcing that he planned to reduce US 1990 emissions by 80% by 2050 through a cap and trade system and direct government investment in clean energy, he concluded: “Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high. The consequences, too serious.”

This column first appeared in the Waikato Times on 9 December 2008

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Barry Brook December 15, 2008 at 2:22 pm

Thanks for the heads up on this Gareth. But looking at the chapter list, Goodall doesn’t seem to discuss future nuclear developments:
1. Capturing the wind
2. Solar energy
3. Electricity from the oceans
4. Combined heat and power
5. Super-efficient homes
6. Electric cars
7. Motor fuels from cellulose
8. Capturing carbon
9. Biochar
10. Soil and forests

Yet it (IFR nuclear) is not something to dismiss and could end up being as (or more) important than any of the above. I discuss it in detail here:
Integral Fast Reactor nuclear power – Q and A

Bryan Walker December 15, 2008 at 3:20 pm

Barry, Goodall does discuss nuclear power in his epilogue, as one of the technologies he has left out, along with energy efficiency and geoengineering. He acknowledges that many of the arguments against nuclear power are weak, but his main reason for leaving it out at this stage is that the world is very poor at constructing nuclear power plants on time and on budget and stations have been getting more expensive as the technology matures, not less. He judges it to be far more costly than the competing technologies he has included in his list of ten.

However he acknowledges that Chinese experience, as they put into operation a plan to build large numbers of nuclear plants, may provide a test of whether the latest generation of atomic technology can create electricity safely and at a competitive price. Their published material suggests construction bills of little more than $2000 a kilowatt-hour, which is less than a quarter of the prospective costs for a new reactor in process of being built in Finland. If the Chinese figure turns out to be right he acknowledges Western countries which have turned against nuclear power will need to readdress their decisions.

He considers coal-fired stations with carbon capture will produce cheaper electricity than new nuclear plants. Others I have read consider carbon capture to be a pipe-dream because of the expense involved!

erich December 16, 2008 at 3:31 pm

Modern Pyrolysis of biomass is a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration,10X Lower Methane & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too.
Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration, Bio-Gas & Bio-oil fuels, so is a totally virtuous, carbon negative energy cycle.

Charles Mann (“1491″) in the Sept. National Geographic has a wonderful soils article which places Terra Preta / Biochar soils center stage.
I think Biochar has climbed the pinnacle, the Combined English and other language circulation of NGM is nearly nine million monthly with more than fifty million readers monthly!
We need to encourage more coverage now, to ride Mann’s coattails to public critical mass.

Please put this (soil) bug in your colleague’s ears. These issues need to gain traction among all the various disciplines who have an iron in this fire.
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/09/soil/mann-text

Biochar data base;
http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=node

I also have been trying to convince Michael Pollan ( NYT Food Columnist, Author ) to do a follow up story,

Since the NGM cover reads “WHERE FOOD BEGINS” , I thought this would be right down his alley and focus more attention on Mann’s work.

It’s what Mann hasn’t covered that I thought should interest any writer as a follow up article;

The Biochar provisions by Sen.Ken Salazar in the 07 & 08 farm bill,
http://www.biochar-international.org/newinformationevents/newlegislation.html

NASA’s Dr. James Hansen Global warming solutions paper and letter to the G-8 conference, placing Biochar / Land management the central technology for carbon negative energy systems.
http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0804/0804.1126.pdf

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

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

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

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

Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.

In a recent National Public Radio interview, Michael Pollan talks about how he was approached by a Democratic party staffer about his New York Times article, The”Farmer & Chief” article is an open letter to the next president concerning U.S. agriculture/energy policy. The staffer wanted Pollan to summarize the article into a page or two to get it into the hands of Barack Obama. Pollan declined, saying that if he could have said everything that needed to be said in two pages, he wouldn’t have written 8000 words.

Michael Pollan is well briefed about Biochar technology, but did not include it in his “Farmer & Chief” article to President Obama, (Which he did read & cited in a speech) but I’m sure Biochar will be his 8001th word to him.

Erich
540 289 9750

BREAKING NEWS:

At the Poznan UN Climate conference this week efforts to adopt biochar as a climate change mitigation technology by the recognition that biochar soils are tremendous carbon sinks and to include biochar in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and to revise the rules to account for biochar as a permanent means of carbon capture.
http://www.biochar-international.org/ibimaterialsforpress.html.

erich December 16, 2008 at 4:25 pm

Biochar, the modern version of an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice called Terra Preta (black earth), is gaining widespread credibility as a way to address world hunger, climate change, rural poverty, deforestation, and energy shortages… SIMULTANEOUSLY!

The IBI Announces Success in Having Biochar Considered as a Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Tool;
POZNAN, Poland, December 10, 2008 – The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) announces that the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has submitted a proposal to include biochar as a mitigation and adaptation technology to be considered in the post-2012-Copenhagen agenda of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A copy of the proposal is posted on the IBI website at
The International Biochar Initiative (IBI).

Modern Pyrolysis of biomass is a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration,10X Lower Methane & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too.
Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration, Bio-Gas & Bio-oil fuels, so is a totally virtuous, carbon negative energy cycle.

Charles Mann (“1491″) in the Sept. National Geographic has a wonderful soils article which places Terra Preta / Biochar soils center stage.
I think Biochar has climbed the pinnacle, the Combined English and other language circulation of NGM is nearly nine million monthly with more than fifty million readers monthly!
We need to encourage more coverage now, to ride Mann’s coattails to public critical mass.

Please put this (soil) bug in your colleague’s ears. These issues need to gain traction among all the various disciplines who have an iron in this fire.
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/09/soil/mann-text

I love the “MEGO” factor theme Mann built the story around. Lord… how I KNOW that reaction.

I like his characterization concerning the pot shards found in Terra Preta soils;

so filled with pottery – “It was as if the river’s first inhabitants had
thrown a huge, rowdy frat party, smashing every plate in sight, then
buried the evidence.”

Biochar data base;
http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=node

I also have been trying to convince Michael Pollan ( NYT Food Columnist, Author ) to do a follow up story, with pleading emails to him

Since the NGM cover reads “WHERE FOOD BEGINS” , I thought this would be right down his alley and focus more attention on Mann’s work.

I’ve admiried his ability since “Botany of Desire” to over come the “MEGO” factor (My Eyes Glaze Over) and make food & agriculture into page turners.

It’s what Mann hasn’t covered that I thought should interest any writer as a follow up article;

The Biochar provisions by Sen.Ken Salazar in the 07 & 08 farm bill,
http://www.biochar-international.org/newinformationevents/newlegislation.html

NASA’s Dr. James Hansen Global warming solutions paper and letter to the G-8 conference, placing Biochar / Land management the central technology for carbon negative energy systems.
http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0804/0804.1126.pdf

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

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

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

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

Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.

In a recent National Public Radio interview, Michael Pollan talks about how he was approached by a Democratic party staffer about his New York Times article, The”Farmer & Chief” article is an open letter to the next president concerning U.S. agriculture/energy policy. The staffer wanted Pollan to summarize the article into a page or two to get it into the hands of Barack Obama. Pollan declined, saying that if he could have said everything that needed to be said in two pages, he wouldn’t have written 8000 words.

Michael Pollan is well briefed about Biochar technology, but did not include it in his “Farmer & Chief” article to President Obama, (Which he did read & cited in a speech) but I’m sure Biochar will be his 8001th word to him.

Erich
540 289 9750

Bryan Walker December 16, 2008 at 7:24 pm

Thanks for your contribution Erich. The National Geographic article was a good read. Six weeks ago the Minister of Forestry opened a plant in Marlborough New Zealand which is using a patented microwave technology to make charcoal. Carbonscape’s main objective is to make charcoal from biomass for the sequestration of carbon. You can read all about it on their website http://carbonscape.com/ It fits well with what you have to say. One of the signs of hope.

erich December 16, 2008 at 8:11 pm

Sorry for the double post,

I have heard of the micro-wave folks a few months back, but don’t know how they are progressing.

Total CO2 Equivalence:
Once a commercial bagged soil amendment product, every suburban household can do it,
The label can tell them of their contribution, a 40# bag = 150# CO2 = 160 bags / year to cover my personal CO2 emissions. ( 20,000 #/yr , 1/2 Average )
http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/ind_calculator.html

But that is just the Carbon!
I have yet to find a total CO2 equivalent number taking consideration against some average field N2O & CH4 emissions. The New Zealand work shows 10X reductions.If biochar proves to be effective at reducing nutrient run-off from agricultural soils, then there will accordingly be a reduction in downstream N2O emissions.

This ACS study implicates soil structure as main connection to N2O soil emissions;
http://a-c-s.confex.com/crops/2008am/webprogram/Paper41955.html

biochar papers at the ACS Huston meeting see Ron Larson’s post http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/biochar/message/1852

Biochar Studies at ACS Huston meeting;

578-I: http://a-c-s.confex.com/crops/2008am/webprogram/Session4231.html

579-II http://a-c-s.confex.com/crops/2008am/webprogram/Session4496.html

665 – III. http://a-c-s.confex.com/crops/2008am/webprogram/Session4497.html

666-IV http://a-c-s.confex.com/crops/2008am/webprogram/Session4498.html

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

Company News & EU Certification

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

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

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

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

There is list of the additional beneficial effects of the 3R FORMULATED BIOCHAREU DOSSIER for permit administration and summary of the results from 4 different Authorities who executed different test programme is under construction
I suggest these independent and accredited EU relevant Authority permit field tests results will support the further development of the biochar application systems on international level, and providing case evidence, that properly made and formulated (plant and/or animal biomass based) biochars can meet the modern environmental – agricultural – human health inspection standards and norm, while supporting the knowledge based economical development.

We work further on to expand not only in the EU but in the USA as well. My Cincinnati large scale carbonization project is progressing, hopefully the first industrial scale 3R clean coal – carbon plant will be ready in 2009.

Sincerely yours: Edward Someus (environmental engineer)
HOMEPAGE 3R AGROCARBON: http://www.3ragrocarbon.com

http://www.terrenum.net
EMAIL 1: edward@terrenum.net
EMAIL 2: edward.someus@gmail.com

Also:

October 28, 2008

U.S. Department of Agriculture to Evaluate CQuestâ„¢ Biochar

Non-Funded Cooperative Agreement Signed

The objective of the biochar research is to quantify the effects of amending soils with CQuestâ„¢ Biochar on crop productivity, soil quality, carbon sequestration and water quality. Field trials will involve incorporation of biochar in replicated field plots and on-farm strip trials with monitoring of crop yields, soil quality, water quality, emissions of greenhouse gasses, and soil carbon sequestration. Laboratory studies will involve amending soils with biochar and quantifying changes in soil quality and microbial activity during incubations.

Biochar will be shipped from Dynamotive’s West Lorne facility to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) locations in Iowa, South Carolina, Idaho, Washington, and other ARS locations. Initial results are expected during the 2009 growing season.

http://www.dynamotive.com/en/biooil/biochar_tests.html

Waqar Hassan April 22, 2010 at 7:24 am

hello
I would add that these independent and accredited EU relevant Authority permit field tests results will support the further development of the biochar application systems on international level, and providing case evidence,(cissp) that properly made and formulated (plant and/or animal biomass based) biochars can meet the modern environmental – agricultural – human health inspection standards and norm, while supporting the knowledge based economical development.

brian88 May 25, 2010 at 7:00 am

The objective of the biochar research is to quantify the effects of amending soils with CQuest™ Biochar on crop productivity, soil quality, carbon sequestration and water quality. Field trials will involve incorporation of biochar in replicated field plots and on-farm strip trials with monitoring of crop yields, soil quality, water quality, emissions of greenhouse gasses, and soil carbon sequestration. Laboratory studies will involve amending soils with biochar and quantifying changes in soil quality and microbial activity during incubations.

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