Windfarm would provide the island state with the largest percentage of renewable electricity of any country in the world.Read More
Biochar Fund has reported extremely encouraging first results from its field trials in South West Cameroon. Working with small groups of subsistence farmers around the town of Kumba, the Fund set up and managed a large-scale experiment to assess whether maize (corn) yields were improved by the addition of biochar to the soil. The biochar was made from local agricultural wastes and tree thinnings. The data from the trials strongly suggests that biochar adds greatly to food production. Some areas showed yield improvements of more than 250% over the control plots. The areas dosed with biochar also showed substantially increased production of crop biomass, including roots, stalks, and leaves.Read More
Biochar increases crop productivity in many tropical soils. The reasons probably include improved water retention, reduced leaching, and better availability of nutrients to plant roots. In temperate conditions, studies have been fewer in number and haven’t produced results that are as clear. A new study adds usefully to our knowledge.Read More
George Monbiot wrote about the carbonisation of organic matter in the Guardian last month ('Woodchips with everything. It's the Atkins plan of the low-carbon world', Tuesday 24 March 2009), saying it was yet another miracle cure for the climate problem. And, like previous miracle cures, he said ‘biochar’ would turn out to be a dangerous delusion. It would deflect attention from taking real action on climate change. Parts of the planet would be turned into vast forest plantations with limited biodiversity to provide feedstock for huge factories. Vital food-growing land would be lost to vast corporations farming wood for turning into biochar. It is a re-run of the biofuels disaster, he said.Read More
George Monbiot rightly observes that the earth's resources of biomass are limited and cannot be simultaneously claimed for multiple uses: liquid biofuels, fuel for heating, biogas, and biochar. This presentation looks at the globe's land and biomass production to assess how much space can be given over to non-food uses and how much energy this can generate. This is one of the crucial questions facing the world: how much energy can we use from biomass before this affects the ability of the world to provide enough food for nearly 7bn people, rising to at least 9bn by 2050?Read More
Elizabeth Kolbert looked at the Swiss 2,000-Watt Society project in the /New Yorker/ of 7 July. Her interviewees provided estimates of the energy use of the typical Swiss inhabitant. The figures added up to about 5,000 watts. To be clear, this means each person is responsible for about five kilowatts of continuous energy use. This includes home electricity and gas, personal transport, industry, and office. To keep us in the ease and comfort we have got used to we are consuming, directly and indirectly, enough energy to keep two electric kettles boiling continuously, or driving a fuel-efficient car four hours in every day. This article looks at the composition of energy demand in the UK. The figures are then broken down by sector and by fuel. The numbers are used in the introduction to /Ten Technologies to Save the Planet/ (Profile Books, November 2008), where I try to assess whether we are likely to be able to use technology to reduce fossil fuel demand substantially.Read More
Organic matter, such as agricultural waste, heated in the absence of oxygen splits into two types of material: a charcoal (biochar), and hydrocarbon gases and liquids. When added to soils, the charcoal can provide a powerful fertiliser. The hydrocarbons can be burnt, either to generate electricity or to power an internal combustion engine. Biochar is exciting growing attention around the world. Charcoal’s ability to improve soils can sometimes be spectacular. But more importantly from a climate change perspective, charcoal is almost pure carbon and is strangely stable in soils. It seems to persist for centuries. Charcoal can therefore offer substantial opportunities for long-term sequestration of carbon. The valuable fuels from the biogases and liquids are also carbon-neutral since they contain CO2 previously captured during photosynthesis. As a third major benefit, soils fertilised with charcoal seem to need less artificial fertiliser, thus saving fossil fuels. Fewer applications of fertiliser would reduce the level of emissions of nitrous oxide, a particularly dangerous greenhouse gas.
Biochar manufacture represents a way of productively storing large amounts of carbon. But the carbon in the charcoal could be burnt to generate electricity instead of being stored in soil. Current emissions trading schemes, such as the European ETS, do not allow sequestered carbon to be considered as equivalent to a reduction in greenhouse warming emissions. This is a mistake that will need to be rectified. It make more sense to use agricultural land to make biochar and biogases/bioliquids than to burn the biomass in power stations. Power stations burning wood benefit from buying fewer emissions certificates and from the renewable energy subsidy, but there is no comparable benefit from storing carbon in the soil. This is an anomaly that should be removed.Read More