December 23, 2008

Inadverent Biochar

I cleaned out my stove today and had some charcoal still in embers that I threw on to the manure pile (my bedding for the cows is old hay) along with the ash...after a walk down to the river to see its frozen expanse, watch the pheasants take flight from my intrusion and listen to Joni in my head singin "I wish I could skate away", I came back up to tuck in the cows. Well! My manure pile is smoldering and there is no stopping it. I piled on an icy snow cover...still smoldering...deep inside, like the peat bog fires that go on endlessly. I figure, oh well, its not my main compost; that is covered in its black gold agedness, all 13, handbombed, truck loads, and would never catch fire. So, perhaps I'm making biochar inadvertently. Its an interesting experiment.


Erich J. Knight said...

I thought these updates and endorsements may interest you,

Senator / Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has done the most to nurse this biofuels system in his Biochar provisions in the 07 & 08 farm bill,

Below are my current news & Links to major developments;

Erich J. Knight
540 289 9750

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.

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.

I also have been corresponding with 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;

Biochar data base;

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.

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

540 289 9750

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 )

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;

Biochar Studies at ACS Huston meeting;



665 - III.


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 3R AGROCARBON has 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)


October 28, 2008

U.S. Department of Agriculture to Evaluate CQuest™ Biochar

Non-Funded Cooperative Agreement Signed

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.

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.

anne said...

Oh my gawd Erich..I tried to edit your comment but don't know how to do that. I had no idea Biochar was being promoted as a biproduct of the biofuel process...this raises big red flags for me. How could it possibly be carbon negative (how will the sugar be produced? What do you mean this is the nanotechnology of the soil. It seems to me its a rather deviously clever attempt to further green and or distract from the unknowns and disruption of a new technology (making fuel with synthetic microbes from plant sugars on a starving planet)
I can't share your enthusiasm.

Erich J. Knight said...

Hi Anne,,

? sugars ? sugars are produced by photosynthesis ...most of which go to roots to feed fungi.... which act as extensions of the roots ( by 100 times).......feeding back water , nutrients and communication to the plant

Soil Nanotech; Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) is a major metric of soil fertility, and functions at the nano scale

No synthetic microbes involved, just a massive bloom of soil food web microbes, fungi and bugs, all the wee beasties

A New Look at "Ashes to Ashes...Dust to Dust"

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.

We all know we are carbon-centered life, we seldom think about the complex web of recycled bio-carbon which is the true center of life. A cradle to cradle, mutually co-evolved biosphere reaching into every crack and crevice on Earth.

It's hard for most to revere microbes and fungus, but from our toes to our gums (onward), their balanced ecology is our health. The greater earth and soils are just as dependent, at much longer time scales. Our farming for over 10,000 years has been responsible for 2/3rds of our excess greenhouse gases. This soil carbon, converted to carbon dioxide, Methane & Nitrous oxide began a slow stable warming that now accelerates with burning of fossil fuel.

Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon,
Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

I got poking around the American Chemical Society Joint meeting and certainly found an ally in this presentation by
Paul Hepperly, Rodale Inst.;

Food and Agriculture Offer World of Opportunity to Combat Global Greenhouse Gases.

I first spoke with Paul after a biochar article he did about two years ago, and recently sent him my field study proposals, and are in collaboration.

Rodale being the second oldest organic research center in the world should help certification fly by. The recent EU permits posted by Edward at 3RAgroCarbon
Should make US certification a slam dunk.

I hope this explanation will get you to strike your flag.

anne said...

Hi Erich, no, the flag is still well flapping in the questioning wind:
what, where, who, how will produce the plant stocks that supply the sugars.
I have read Rodale's excellent study of carbon negative farming practices and see no reference or need to convert plant materials to char therein. Please read and see comments in more recents posts...and please reference with links so your responses are shorter. Thanks

Erich J. Knight said...

Dr. Hepperly is very excited about the prospects of the exponential growth of soil organic matter biochar has been shown to support.

Yes , at least 1/3 of agricultural waste organic material should be left to feed the the wee beasties which create soil organic matter.

Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon, but not in time.
Corporate farming must come to building soil carbon for the speed and scale they can implement these protocols. Time is not on our side, as all the new climate research shows the old estimates of many climate change hall marks were understated.

Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living soil biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

The feedstocks for biochar is any biomass. Solid waste, sewage, manures, Ag waste, forest waste ( Instead of controlled burns), Alga, switch grass...........

The folks at BiofuelWatch are reassessing their critical remarks

There are no atmospheric / GHG benefits using traditional open burning to make biochar. Modern Retorts which burn off GHG are better, but Closed loop systems emit no GHG other than when the biofuel is burnt for (carbon neutral) power, heat or transport.

Several companies are building small mobile units that run farm to farm converting excess biomass & manure to heat farm buildings (or make electricity), run machinery, and produce char/fertilizers which leach ten time slower than manure spread on the fields.

anne said...

On reading Almuth Ernsting and Deepak Rughani, report updated in December 2008,
several of your claims seem unsubstantiated by the research:

"The farmers who, hundreds to thousands of years ago, created terra preta in Central
Amazonia succeeded in creating highly fertile soil which retained carbon and nutrients
over very long periods. The formation of terra preta may well have depended on a
combination of soil type, choice and diversity of biomass, climate, and it may have
taken many decades to establish. Modern biochar, made from the pyrolysis of
monoculture feedstock or from a small range of forestry and agricultural residues, has
not been shown to be comparable to terra preta. No conclusive evidence exists about
its potential for long-term carbon storage or its long-term impact on soil fertility.
Indeed, some of the findings on biochar and soil fertility show that biochar will not
have a positive impact, except in combination with other fertilisers and can, in some
circumstances, even reduce yields. Even if biochar can, in some combinations and
circumstances, increase yields, it may still not provide optimum conditions for plant
growth, as the field experiment comparing it to chicken manure shows. Farmers may
thus effectively be asked to trade high yields against potential carbon sequestration,
something not made clear by biochar lobbyists. Conversely, the longest running study
on biochar in Boreal forests indicates a significant risk of soil organic carbon loss as a
result of charcoal additions."

Erich J. Knight said...

Dear Anne,

Ron Larson ( past President of America Solar Energy Society) has posted a great rebuttal to the BFW paper that try's to cast biochar in a very negative light;

Rodale on Biochar;
link for a few non-commital comments by Dr. Hepperly on biochar (Thanks to Gary Frase - my new hero). Dr. Hepperly said (in full): " Dear Gary, Thank you for the interest in our work on Carbon sequestration. The use of biomass as a source of clean hydrogen and carbon rich soil amendment is very encouraging. I think we need to continue to keep this on our monitor and appreciate your interest in producing a new energy future which will also regenerate our climate and environment." (Note that Gary is emphasizing "biochar"; at least in September, Dr. Hepperly only uses the word "biomass")

In the second (and final) paragraph, Mr. Pope explicitly endorsed biochar (or at least came much closer than Rodale has), saying (in full): "This level of sequestration would be greatly enhanced if the newly emerging science of biochar, which suggests that by heating agricultural wastes or other organic material without oxygen we can convert up to half of the short-term carbon created by photosynthesis into long-lived biochar, which when added to the soil dramatically improves water retention and productivity. This could be an enormous, scalable way to increase both incomes and agricultural productivity in the Third World."

Also , This from Dr. Laird at ARS;

"Even switching from conventional tillage to no-till will only add carbon to soils for just a few years," Laird says. "After a few years the soil will reach a new equilibrium so the annual loss of carbon from the soil will equal the amount of new carbon added to the soil. Also, plowing up no-till ground releases most of the carbon stored in the soil from no-till. And if you harvest most of your corn stover for bioenergy, the amount of carbon in your soils will decrease even if you do use no-till."

Society has to figure a new paradigm for agriculture "where we put more carbon in the ground than what we remove," says Robert Brown, director of the Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State University. "Instead of simply minimizing the carbon loss, a new model for good land stewardship would gradually increase the amount of carbon in the soil. This is not impossible to do.

"It may not be enough to merely shut down coal plants to reduce greenhouse gases; we may need to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequester it. That's a big challenge," says Brown.

The answer to that challenge may be a modern-day biomass charcoal that restores nutrients to the soil, reduces greenhouse gases and yields low-cost energy. This answer began in part as an ancient fertilizer from Amazonia, which is now also turning up in Ecuador, Peru, Liberia and the savannahs of South Africa."

anne said...

Thanks Erich,

You fail to mention that Ron Larson is not an independent, unfettered voice as he is the president of Brown Industries making biodiesel from soybean. I look forward to a reponse from biofuel watch on the rebuttal.

In regard to Dr. Hepperly from Rodale. his response was to clarify a misplaced endorsement and "monitoring" a potentially encouraging approach is something different than endorsing. Your inclusion of Carl Pope's (Huffington Post) paragraph on the heels of Hepperly is misleading...those are not Hepperly's words.
Obviously we need more independent research that can show the actual effects of modern biochar as a sequestor and an honest appraisal of the process/consequences/carbon footprint of harvesting biomass for the process.
Can you claim an independence from the industry? I.E.: Are you being paid to lobby

Erich J. Knight said...

I believe you have the wrong Ron.
Ron Larson of Colorado has done much to coordinate efforts to get clean and efficient and cheap cook stove technology to developing countries in recent years.

I lobby for this technology because I feel It is the best hope for the planet.........
I have networked between companies , NGOs, government agencies and academic institutions,
The only remediation received is my person satisfaction in doing this important work.


anne said...

I'm glad to hear its a different Ron. Looking forward to actual research that addresses the problems with agroenergy monocultures as they are linked to deforestation, the impoverishment and dispossession of local communities, bio-diversity losses, human rights abuses, water and soil degradation and loss of and food security.