Biochar: A Panacea for Global Warming Issues

By Cassie Ryan
Epoch Times Staff
Created: June 22, 2010 Last Updated: June 24, 2010
Related articles: Science » Earth & Environment
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Former U.S. President Bill Clinton holds up a variety of biochar, here a mixture of sawdust and wet paper which Haitians are using as a cheaper cooking alternative to charcoal.  (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton holds up a variety of biochar, here a mixture of sawdust and wet paper which Haitians are using as a cheaper cooking alternative to charcoal. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Haiti and other Latin American countries are benefiting from an ancient practice that converts waste into essential products and services. Biochar is a sustainable alternative to firewood and charcoal with the power to restore soil productivity, provide energy for domestic, agricultural and even industrial purposes, and mitigate climate change through carbon storage.

In Haiti, the proliferating population’s quest for firewood has deforested this mountainous country, regularly washed by flooding rain. As a result, nearly a third of topsoil has been lost and Haiti can no longer feed itself. The recent earthquake highlighted the fact that many Haitians were subsisting in the country’s cities, forced off the land by the poor soil fertility and the inability to grow food.

Nathaniel Mulcahy, the founder of non-profit organisation World Stove, is using biochar technology to help developing nations.

“Biochar-producing stoves save fuel, reduce both emissions of greenhouse gasses and indoor—and outdoor air pollution,” he said. “In this way, we improve soils, preserve forests and bring better health and economic independence to people.”

Many Benefits

Biochar can be produced from urban, agricultural and forestry residues or biomass – from sugar cane waste and coffee hulls to palm fronds and paper mill pulp. It removes the need to harvest trees for firewood and charcoal by generating syngas and bio-oil for cooking, heating and drying, and even electricity generation. Biochar’s co-product is applied to soils with many carbon sequestration benefits including increased bio-available water and organic matter, enhanced nutrient cycling, and reduced leaching. It can also be used to filter water.

The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) is aiming to store 2.2 gigatons of carbon annually by 2050. This process was used thousands of years ago in the Amazon Basin where, anthropologists speculate, nutrient rich “terra preta” or “dark earth” was created by Indigenous people using cooking fires and middens to deliberately add charcoal to the soil.

IBI is developing cost effective approaches for the widespread introduction of biochar, for example the cocoa industry in Belize, rehabilitation of desert areas in Chile, and increasing agricultural production and rural income in Costa Rica.

Maintaining Traditions

Mr. Mulcahy recently joined the Haitian “building back better” recovery effort by introducing his patented Lucia stove to help locals produce “biochar” pellets. Its unique design incorporates venturi holes for negative pressure plus a Fibonacci spiral-styled flame cap to keep oxygen out of the pyrolisis chamber.

By respecting and maintaining cooking traditions, Mr. Mulcahy says the stove is more readily accepted in different cultures. He believes it is vital the developed world offers the world’s poor a clean efficient stove that fits their needs, rather than the other way around. Allowing users to cook on a gas flame as in “modern” kitchens, they can maintain cooking customs without environmental damage.

Within two months, Mr. Mulcahy redesigned the stove for Haiti’s tools, materials and fuels, prioritising safety as children are often in charge of cooking since the quake.

Mr. Mulcahy has now trained locals to build stoves suitable for domestic use, schools, orphanages, hospitals and refugee camps. The next phase is to work with the Haitian Government, United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and the World Food Programme (WFP) to create stove-manufacturing hubs, thus providing locals with thousands of jobs making and distributing biochar pellets. So far 48 agricultural co-operatives have agreed to provide crop waste for pellet production with farmers receiving a proportionate return of biochar to build soils and increase production.

  • erichj

    WorldStove now has, soon to be manufactured, two residential
    pyrolytic pellet stoves for the developed world. They cost just $2000,
    incorporate Thermo electric generators for power production, they
    have full CE and UL approvals, with total, triple redundant fire safety
    systems making them secure from the abuses of “Harry home owners”. He
    has 10 of them install in homes and social service institutions in
    Massachusetts, which are eligible for the fuel assistance programs,
    which have suffered budget cuts. Some 200,000 homes face this shortfall
    in fuel assistance. Next year he plans to start small batch production of
    these units. (Note to self; figure out catchy name for these
    residential units). He has units designed for 1200 ft.² and 3000 ft.²
    homes. First world, second or third one has to love Nathaniel Mulcahy’s focus of always serving the needy.

    A for profit
    company, one of the few Biochar
    companies in the black and builds these profitable Enterprises across
    the globe. Programs have been conducted in Uganda, Kenya, Haiti, Malawi,
    Indonesia, Zaire and the Philippines. Currently, additional pilot
    programs are operating in Burkina Faso, Congo, Niger and Uganda. The World Bank assessed his business and
    franchisee in the high six figures. over the 11 years of WorldStove
    operations’ they have incurred no debts. WorldStove has produced a total

    250,000 Lucia, Biucci and Beaner stoves, 70% Lucia stoves. If all these
    stoves were fully utilize, without building a single new stove, over
    the next 10 years would be responsible for sequestering 1 billion tons
    of carbon from the atmosphere. I would not want to get into a
    no-stake’s Carbon Poker game with Nat, maybe in a year or two the
    executives at CoolPlanet will be able to take him on.

    Look up the definition of philanthropy, Nat is the very definition, in order to give, one must be successful.

    I landed the opening speakers slot at the third US Biochar conference, 2012 Sonoma Biochar Conference 2012 US Biochar Conference | Building Soil – Redirecting Carbon

    My talk is titled;
    Conservation for Home, Health, Energy & Climate

    If you are tantalized by the Biochar platform for biofuels, the cutting
    edge Big dog, Elephant in the room, at the Sonoma Biochar conference was CoolPlanet
    Energy Systems. In a nutshell, they have such control over carbon
    in their thermal conversion process, they can squeeze out 75 gallons of
    bio- gasoline and 1/3 ton of Biochar from one ton of biomass.Their
    tag line; “The more you Drive… The Cleaner the Atmosphere”. Their demo reactor is producing 50K gallons per year
    of bio – gasoline, the pilot scale reactor is under construction to
    produce 2,000,000 gallons per year, the assembly line for skid mounted
    farm scale reactors will be open next year with a planned production run
    of 100K units. They state
    their production cost at $1.25/gallon, they turn a dial and can produce
    $2/gallon jet fuel. I can hear you saying this is too good
    to be true, however Google, GE, BP and Conoco believe it is true.

    CoolPlanet Biofuel’s CEO Explains his energy cycle:

    all leaves me very optimistic, for the CEO and Google share the same
    ethos, farm scale skid mounted reactors will be the first to production
    next year. This farmer friendly, scalable reactor, they plan to deploy
    at the village scale in the Third World and at the farmer scale here.

    I believe this technology will allow the American public to have their carbon free energy lunch without paying a premium for it.





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