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Jim Hunt

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Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« on: May 02, 2013, 03:09:37 PM »
Laurent and I got into a discussion about Terra Preta on a thread about "Renewable Energy". I reckon the topic is worth a thread of its own, so here it is!

To set the ball rolling, here's the BBC Horizon programme that first introduced me to Terra Preta:

http://youtu.be/qqp_H95wjPE?t=29m

N.B. That YouTube link didn't work quite as anticipated. You may wish to skip to 29:00 or thereabouts to go straight to the Terra Preta part.

If you prefer browsing websites to watching TV programmes, here's Biochar Haiti:

http://biocharhaiti.wordpress.com/

and here's Biochar India:

http://www.biocharindia.com/



« Last Edit: May 02, 2013, 03:24:44 PM by Jim Hunt »
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Neven

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #1 on: May 02, 2013, 08:40:04 PM »
I'm very interested in this as well. A research paper came out last week that said that very little of the CO2 gets locked through biochar. I'll see if I can find it.
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Jim Hunt

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #2 on: May 02, 2013, 11:49:13 PM »
Here's some rather older research, funded by the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&Completed=0&ProjectID=16168

They reckon that:

Quote
Pyrolysis-biochar systems might abate approximately 7–30 t CO2eq ha-1 yr-1 using dedicated feedstocks compared with typical biofuel abatement of between 1–7 t CO2eq ha-1 yr-1. By each of these measures PBS appears to offer a more efficient way to abate carbon than alternative uses of biomass feedstock, or land to grow such feedstocks.
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Neven

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #3 on: May 03, 2013, 12:10:13 AM »
Found it, Jim: Soils Cannot Lock Away Black Carbon

Quote
Charcoal and other forms of black carbon do not, as previously thought, stay where they are buried

By Tim Radford and The Daily Climate

Environmentalists have argued that the use of biochar could slow and ultimately reduce global warming by taking carbon out of circulation.

LONDON – Climate scientists may have to rethink some of their old assumptions about carbon. US and European researchers have just established that black carbon, soot and biochar – the burnt remains from countless forest fires – doesn't stay in the soil indefinitely.

Around 27 million tons of the stuff gets dissolved in water and washed down the rivers into the oceans each year.

Black carbon or biochar has been hailed as one possible way of limiting greenhouse gas emissions, by taking carbon out of circulation. But this study, according to a report in the journal Science, "closes a major gap in the global charcoal budget and provides critical information in the context of geo-engineering."

That sucks, if true. I was hoping on experimenting with this stuff in 2-3 years.
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Jim Hunt

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2013, 01:20:38 AM »
Charcoal and other forms of black carbon do not, as previously thought, stay where they are buried.

That sucks, if true. I was hoping on experimenting with this stuff in 2-3 years.

Yet the Horizon documentary speaks of "very dark soil that covers tens of thousands of hectares" associated with "exquisite pottery, much of it that dates from the time of Christ". It doesn't seem as though everything's been washed away "in the heart of the rainforest", even over a millenium or two?
« Last Edit: May 03, 2013, 01:32:56 AM by Jim Hunt »
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Lewis C

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #5 on: May 03, 2013, 01:37:04 PM »
Jim - As far as I can see the paper's finding is of the charcoal content of waterways - without any distinction as to the charcoal's origin. It is not news that only a small fraction of the charcoal produced in wildfires will be taken into the soil and retained, with the rest decaying or being washed into the nearest watercourse.

As you say, the terra preta regions of the Amazon (which reportedly amount to an area equal to France & Spain) demonstrate the multi-millennia retention of charcoal once it is buried. There will of course be minor losses where serpentine rivers' slowly carve through treated former farmland, but these don't begin to justify Radford's interpretation of the paper as undermining Biochar's critical role in global Carbon recovery.

Monbiot wrote a despicable hatchet piece for the Guardian slagging the option as seeking to "Char the Earth" for carbon credit profits - which exemplified the bigoted blanket opposition to anything other an 'Emissions-Control-Only' approach that underlies much of the opposition to Biochar. In my view that outlook reflects a lack of understanding of the urgency of our predicament, which we demonstrably cannot get near resolving without rapid global deployment of both Carbon Recovery and Albedo Restoration alongside stringent Emissions Control.

Regards,

Lewis

Laurent

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #6 on: May 03, 2013, 09:47:31 PM »
After some search I think I got some idea on how to make terra preta :
You need to have some charcoal or biochar (we have seen that previously)
Secondly you need to have some "good bacterias" called EM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effective_microorganism
These EM (effective micro-organisme) can be found in the  sauerkraut (Choucroute pour les intimes), sourdough, kefir, kombucha, cheese ... The more you add some type of bacterias the more these bacterias would be able to thrive.
You mixed charcoal (some break the charcoal in dust) and EM for one day or two then you add the stuff in your soil ! (I did not try yet !!!) (just a speculation)

Jim Hunt

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2013, 11:02:10 AM »
My understanding of these matters is sadly purely theoretical.  I'm told that using charcoal on its own is not such a good idea. Mixed with urine:

http://www.re-char.com/2013/01/07/the-results-are-in-again/

or cattle slurry:

http://www.biochar.ac.uk/project.php?id=6&r=a

seems to work better. Maybe adding an exotic mix of carefully selected microorganisms is better still?
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GeoffBeacon

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Biochar good ... but smoke?
« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2013, 02:56:00 PM »
Jim

I interviewed a few years ago Johannes Lehman (http://www.css.cornell.edu/faculty/lehmann/) who said

Quote
Annually, 60 to 80 megatonnes of carbon cycles between the atmosphere, the plants and back to the atmosphere. Every 14 years or so, the entire atmosphere has been cycled through the plants and back again.

Human activity produces 7-9 megatonnes of carbon dioxide annually, so only a small proportion of carbon needs to be diverted from this cycle into a slower biochar cycle to have a significant effect.

I get the Digest from biochar@yahoogroups.com

What worries me is the effect of smoke (black carbon) that amateur efforts produce. See http://www.yaleclimatemediaforum.org/2010/07/black-carbons-grey-areas/
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GeoffBeacon

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Biochar capacity discussed
« Reply #9 on: May 04, 2013, 03:20:05 PM »
I  also discussed biochar with Simon Shackley of the UK Biochar Research Centre http://www.biochar.ac.uk/index.php.

I sent the earlier quote from Lehman and these:
Quote
5. One of the most exciting new strategies for restoring carbon to depleted soil is by using biochar. This is basically porous charcoal made by burning grass, corn and rice husk and other organic farming wastes that absorb CO2, like a charcoal filter in a cigarette absorbs
gases.

Widespread practice of biochar making could absorb 40 percent of annual CO2 emission!
http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=116215

Quote
At the global scale, early estimates by the International Biochar Initiative suggest that it is feasible to remove one gigatonne of CO2 [anually] by about 2030, which makes it as potentially important as other major carbon mitigation activities (CO2 Capture and Geological Storage (CCS), renewables, efficient vehicles, etc.).
http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&Completed=0&ProjectID=16168

Simon's reply
Quote
hello Geoff - hope you're well.

RE: the below. Yea the 1 gigatonnes is  annually. Johannes has previously published 5.5 to about 9 gigatonnes  but this was based upon large-scale energy crops + dedicated forestry. 

The more conservative number of 1 GT is still very ambitious and would  be hard to achieve, but doesn't rely upon energy crops + new  plantations - rather its an estimate of existing agricultural +  forestry residues and waste streams that would be suitable. all very  uncetain right now.

We've come up with estimates for UK situation -  defra will publish them early in 2010.

best for now,

simon

I noted the qualification "doesn't rely upon energy crops + new  plantations".

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GeoffBeacon

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Biochar as an alternative to ...
« Reply #10 on: May 04, 2013, 03:49:39 PM »
When discussing carbon footprints, of say beef (see http://nobeef.org.uk) I often ger the response. "The land on which cattle or sheep graze cannot be used for anything else. It would just go to ruin."

But let us stretch our imagination to the point that climate change is being taken as seriously as it diserves. OK, that is far-feched but if we did we would not let that land go to ruin. We would apply more effort to it and produce food and also sequester carbon.  This prompted me to write to Hiliary Benn, who was then Secretary of State to DEFRA. I refered to this in the email exchange with Simon Shackley:

Quote
Simon

Thanks.

Last year I pestered Hiliary Benn about biochar. I also asked him at what carbon price would it be economic for farmers to take  sheep off the hills and turn the increased biomass into biochar?

This question is more complicated than it first appeared to me. For example:

1) If you stop producing sheep on Scottish hills does that cut total sheep production worldwide? (Reducing worldwide production would have a large effect on climate forcing.)

2) In what circumstances would the carbon from the vegetation be  sequestered anyway - e.g. as peat?

Are these the sort of issue you are covering?  I think it  particularly important to give farmers the right incentives.

Best wishes

Geoff


There may be complications but I still think it a good idea to stop sheep farming and replace it by growing carbon crops and food crops. Food crops which are more efficient in their use of land than sheep.

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Laurent

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #11 on: May 04, 2013, 05:21:49 PM »
I think there is something wrong ! Too much energy is needed to make the charcoal and spread on the fields !

Well, if you want to do it, here is an other method

http://www.downsizer.net/Articles/Make_your_own/Charcoal_Making/

This site is full of other useful informations !!!

GeoffBeacon

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #12 on: May 04, 2013, 06:55:19 PM »
Laurent

Look at all that smoke being created by making biochar that way.

It may not be as bad as diesel fumes for climate change but probably very bad. Some of that will get to the Arctic and help melt the snow and ice.

They need a much better engineered solution. What about microwave ovens using the electricity from windfarms when it's being thrown away.

I had a similar suggestion for torrifaction which produces partly-baked biochar. See An idea for storing renewable energy  http://www.ccq.org.uk/?p=324.  I've been asking around to find if this was sensible.
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Laurent

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #13 on: May 04, 2013, 10:09:07 PM »
This idea of torefaction is interesting !
I wonder if that smoke/gas can be burn even at low temperature like 200/300 °C ?
I could add an other drum above the rocket mass heater and send the gaz in the second chamber like on this drawing (a little drawing is better...) (the added drum is the green stuff). Would it work without oxygene ?
Of course this is for a very small scale and for the period when the house will be heated !

I found that link very interesting :
http://www.greenyourhead.com/2013/04/terra-preta-sanitation-at-home.html
I am used to handle my poo !!! It's easy go get the habit, just stop using your drinking water to handle that !

Laurent

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #14 on: May 06, 2013, 01:59:38 PM »
Even monkeys know how to use biochar !

Laurent

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #15 on: May 06, 2013, 02:27:53 PM »
http://www.gekgasifier.com/
I did not think of that ! Making gaz with wood !
It does remind me there was some vehicules using gaz during ww2 !

Laurent

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #16 on: May 07, 2013, 08:53:02 PM »
« Last Edit: May 07, 2013, 09:02:17 PM by Laurent »

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #17 on: September 07, 2013, 09:39:43 PM »
Neven
That sucks, if true. I was hoping on experimenting with this stuff in 2-3 years.

Don't give up yet. Found this great no hype overview via Google Scholar.

Quote
the scientists who work in this field seem to agree on two things. First, biochar does indeed have potential to store carbon, boost soil fertility, generate energy, and mitigate pollution. But, second, there are a hundred caveats and unanswered questions. Biochar technology, it turns out, is both incredibly simple and, as yet, somewhat enigmatic.

Biochar has great 'potential' that needs to be researched and the limitations and uses determined.  There is a LOT of hype out there that is not backed up by research but at the same time it does look like many aspects of it will work out.  Many of its potential valuable uses have nothing to do with agriculture.

Quote
With the right feedstock and optimal pyrolysis, biochar retains half or more of the carbon in the original biomass. And, in the soil, that carbon is remarkably stable....
...In addition to long-term carbon sequestration—and associated reduction of carbon dioxide emissions—Spokas says biochar has demonstrated “marvelous suppression” of other greenhouse gas emissions from soil, especially nitrous oxide.

So the first thing many of its promoters need to do is stop making it themselves and trying to get others to do it as well.  One is likely to produce way to many pollutants otherwise (no sense making things worse) and they are wasting a huge amount of energy produced in the process that needs to be captured and used.   If this ends up being suitable for sequestering large amounts of carbon it will need to be done on a large industrial scale and under stringent controls in order not to worsen pollution, etc.  It is not suitable for home manufacturing.
Quote
Moreover, Lehmann calculates that the initial pyrolysis used to create biochar produces at least two to four times more energy than is used to make it, including the energy costs associated with biomass production, transport to the manufacturing site, the pyrolysis itself, and subsequent biochar soil application.

It has many potential benefits to farmers (but we do not know if it is suitable for use everywhere - chances are that it is not).  Two very good things...

Quote
Biochar can have an unusually high cation exchange capacity, but also appears able to adsorb phosphate, an anion (no one knows why).

One thing that bites both ways depending on where the farmer is and his soil moisture requirements. 
Quote
biochar also increases the soil’s water-holding capacity, sometimes dramatically so.
Retaining too much water might make biochar use impossible in some locations as saturated soil kills many plants and if the ground is too wet it cannot be worked either.  That being said if you live in a drought prone area...
Quote
Ippolito says biochar technology potentially could be a tremendous asset for farmers facing drought conditions; they could increase soil water-holding capacity for, say, a 10-year period and also reap extra plant benefits.

The below should be a very good feature but there will likely be limitations about this aspect that provide an optimal use pattern.

Some of the big unknowns are:
We do not know if the Terra Preta was man made or a naturally occurring substance (forest fires, etc.) though it was most likely made by man.
Biochar made from different materials (wood, manure, crop waste) has different properties and some may not be suitable for agriculture use.  Research needed.
Similar pyrolysis methods yield different propertied biochar.  Process control is critical.  Some materials require very different pyrolysis methods.
 
A BIG reason we need to study this a bit before jumping off into it is the following statement..
Quote
Spokas and colleagues reviewed more than four dozen biochar and black carbon studies dating from 1850 to 2011 to assess “agronomic impact beyond carbon sequestration.” Findings were inconclusive. Half of the studies reported positive effects on yield, 20% no effect, and 30% negative effects. The overall impact on yield ranged anywhere from +200% to –87%.

Quote
Large-scale biochar application would also require a compelling economic incentive for farmers. Currently, there is none.

“All the way back to the 1700s, there is literature saying that biochar would not produce the yield benefits to pay for itself,” says Spokas. “That’s a big problem.”

Regarding the above I would say that it might pay to use it on soils which are very depleted.  But if we really want to use biochar to sequester carbon then that is what you do and then you give it to the farmers for free to marginally increase yields and grow a little more food.  Everyone wins.

Quote
This practical, entrepreneurial approach coincides with the view from academia. Lehmann says biochar should be considered “a tool in the farm toolbox,” alongside composts, fertilizers, crop residues, and mulches. “Biochar has gained, for better or worse, some silver bullet attribute,” he says. “There is no silver bullet. There is a portfolio of options.”

The biggest users of biochar are
Quote
At the moment, most of Levine’s Biochar Solutions customers are interested in land reclamation: oil and gas producers, hard rock mining companies, and landfill owners. His second largest buying sector is the landscape services industry, and the third is split between water filtration and other industrial uses.

https://dl.sciencesocieties.org/publications/csa/articles/58/9/4
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Laurent

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #18 on: October 07, 2013, 10:41:33 AM »
Biochar - boon to soil health and crop production
http://www.academicjournals.org/aJaR/E-books/2013/3Oct/AJAR-%203October%202013%20Issue.pdf#page=45

Impact of addition of biochar along with Bacillus sp. on growth and yield of French beans
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304423813004111


Linking N2O emissions from biochar-amended soil to the structure and function of the N-cycling microbial community.
http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/24067258/reload=0;jsessionid=YFT4eftXsSVaJFpu14C4.38

Influence of buffalo manure, compost, vermicompost and biochar amendments on bacterial and viral communities in soil and adjacent aquatic systems
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0929139313002199

Agricultural soil and drilosphere as reservoirs of new and unusual assimilators of 2,4-dichlorophenol carbon
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1462-2920.12209/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false


Some others studies ... biochar or not biochar ?
« Last Edit: October 07, 2013, 10:46:50 AM by Laurent »


Laurent

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #20 on: October 08, 2013, 01:18:00 PM »
Wonder how to make biochar ?

JimD

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #21 on: October 09, 2013, 09:56:16 PM »
Laurent

That is the very kind of biochar production that scientists indicate should not be being done.  It produces far more pollution than an industrial process and does not capture the waste heat for further use.  Home production is not something any of us should want to be going on as it is likely a net climate negative if done in the backyard fashion.

Many people are ahead of the science on this subject.  We need to be much more programmatic or we are going to be making lots of mistakes.
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Laurent

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #22 on: October 09, 2013, 10:34:02 PM »
Jimd, you are certainly right on this !
I think my previous proposal (hypothetic) :
https://forum.arctic-sea-ice.net/index.php/topic,273.msg5157.html#msg5157
may be much better !
I am seeing biochar (terra preta) as being something that has to be use, with an infinitesimal fashion like biodynamie.
From what I am reading, there is no use of just spreading biochar only, his purpose is to host (because of the high porosity) some bacterias, mycorhises, water, nitrate... so it has to be charged with this stuff for a while at least 15 days in a mixture of compost tea, urine and mycorhises.

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #23 on: October 09, 2013, 11:11:46 PM »
Laurent

That is the very kind of biochar production that scientists indicate should not be being done.  It produces far more pollution than an industrial process and does not capture the waste heat for further use.  Home production is not something any of us should want to be going on as it is likely a net climate negative if done in the backyard fashion.

Many people are ahead of the science on this subject.  We need to be much more programmatic or we are going to be making lots of mistakes.

That process won't even yield 20% biochar and it burns up all the extra energy potential, making CO2 faster than the Earth does. There are low temperature pyrolysis processes that will yield 50% biochar or higher temperature processes producing mostly bio-oils, still making enough syngas to run the process and then some. The problems involve the specific biomass required. Let's say we want to make biochar to sequester carbon on a massive scale, which the world needs to do. I don't see how it can be done without deforestation and monoculture of forests. Making good biochar processes requires specific biomass. It's only logical that the specific chemistry relates to the materials used. 

Laurent

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #24 on: October 09, 2013, 11:25:50 PM »
If we really want to sequester biomass, wouldn't be more effective to cut the trees and bury them below 1 meter of earth where anaerobiose start (it is more 35 cm but let's say 1m) ?

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #25 on: October 10, 2013, 06:20:34 AM »
If we really want to sequester biomass, wouldn't be more effective to cut the trees and bury them below 1 meter of earth where anaerobiose start (it is more 35 cm but let's say 1m) ?

I assume you are talking about CO2 and not biomass, but it can be looked at both ways.

Many forests have roots below 1 meter and they don't last long after the forest is cut down. An actively growing forest will sequester CO2, while a mature or old growth forest has already done that work and reaches equilibrium. That said, there is no desire in my heart to destroy such biodiversified areas of our world. We've destroyed enough and it's time to rebuild.

I imagine it's possible to find the most CO2 sequestering per area plant on Earth, grow it and find a way to preserve it's carbon content, like convert it to carbon and sink it into an ocean trench subduction zone with concrete or similar booties.

A shallow burial of biomass on normal land will just make methane and there is even anaerobic bacteria at extreme ocean depths. Preserving carbon near the Earth's surface happens under acidic conditions that prevent decomposition, like in swamps. Much like the paper mills in valleys, it doesn't smell too good, because of the hydrogen sulfide produced. Acidic biomass could be added to swamps, but the caustic to originally make soap and candles came from particular wood chips converted to ash. An environmental impact study would be required for specific biomass added and a cost/benefit analysis.

These simple proposals are to imitate how the Earth sequesters carbon. The day may dawn when mankind doesn't just have to stop adding CO2 to the atmosphere, but remove the damage done. I'm not opposed to biochar, but see certain limitations, like there are only so many branches to trim from driveways and everyone doesn't live in central Florida, to be sarcastic. Mankind seems to be great at making algae from agricultural runoff and spreading invasive species like the water lily. I was looking for ways to collect and get rid of such biomass. They aren't wood chips, but even fine carbon can be compressed to imitate biochar, so it will be retained and assist soil. All biomass has potential fuel benefits liberating us from fossil fuels. I came across the mobile biochar units long ago, because I was examining the logistics involved in removing such biomass in a profitable way that was environmentally friendly. I'm thinking of making biochar in the sense of activated charcoal, that won't be leached from soil, because the pellet size is too big. I'm also thinking about it in the sense so it can be made from materials that aren't trees. What can I say, tree huggers just think that way? Biomass doesn't have to be plant material, so even jellyfish is a possiblity. There is nothing wrong with converting a curse to a blessing.   

wili

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #26 on: October 10, 2013, 03:37:57 PM »
Keep in mind that you will need to get pretty much all of your power for growing, cultivating, cutting, collecting, transporting, processing, and burying... any biomass from non-fossil "death" fuel sources in order for any of these schemes to have the remotest chance of working.

We are so accustomed to the enormous amounts of nearly free, dense energy that ff provides us that we tend to quite easily come up with "solutions" that are extremely energy intensive without thinking about the consequences of using all that energy and about where it will come from.
"A force de chercher de bonnes raisons, on en trouve; on les dit; et après on y tient, non pas tant parce qu'elles sont bonnes que pour ne pas se démentir." Choderlos de Laclos "You struggle to come up with some valid reasons, then cling to them, not because they're good, but just to not back down."

ggelsrinc

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #27 on: October 10, 2013, 06:20:57 PM »
Keep in mind that people don't use their fireplaces as air conditioners. Pyrolysis is an exothermic chemical reaction that creates more energy than it consumes.

Around mid January, '74, I was working for the largest producer of methanol. Methanol was $0.08 per gallon, acetone was $0.11 and gasoline was $0.32. Pyrolysis is one of the methods to make methanol. Less than 10 years ago, I was present in an oil refinery where they were cutting apart a large methanol unit and shipping it to Trinidad. The unit was mothballed once ethanol became available and it wasn't economical to make methanol from petroleum.

The logic of politics gets complicated, but the logic of chemistry and economics follows their unique paths. The fuels we have used were determined by the powers that be and not logic. 

wili

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #28 on: October 10, 2013, 07:37:04 PM »
"The fuels we have used were determined by the powers that be and not logic."

Well put.
"A force de chercher de bonnes raisons, on en trouve; on les dit; et après on y tient, non pas tant parce qu'elles sont bonnes que pour ne pas se démentir." Choderlos de Laclos "You struggle to come up with some valid reasons, then cling to them, not because they're good, but just to not back down."

ggelsrinc

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #29 on: October 10, 2013, 09:40:24 PM »
To my knowledge, no one has ever made activated charcoal for agricultural purposes the way my research has guided me, unless it's considered some ancient Amazonian civilization may have stumbled on it by their slash and burn methods. They also added broken pottery, which makes sense in sandy soil. Water levels in the Amazon basin rise and fall, so they built mounds and roads connecting various communities. I picture what they did as smart agricultural practices.

The science behind making activated charcoal is well understood. Activated charcoal requires regeneration and microbial regeneration is a well known method.

That said, with today's science, we should be able to figure out an environmentally friendly method to assist agriculture and sequester carbon while first ridding ourselves of some of the plagues we have created for ourselves. One biomass doesn't equal another, because they all have their unique chemical signatures. Processing jellyfish isn't the same as processing water lilies or pond scum algae or wood chips.

It's wise to regulate or govern anything mankind comes in contact with, so the process is sustainable. If an area of the world has a lot of kelp, for example, it isn't wise to harvest so much kelp that the environment can't replace what we do. Governments should focus on history and consider it an obligation to return things to what they were. The Earth didn't screw things up, we did.

wili

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #30 on: October 11, 2013, 05:03:40 AM »
Yes, yes.

Science and technology will always ride to our rescue at the last moment, for ever and ever amen.

Thank goodness that those two horsemen had absolutely no part in getting us in the utter sh!thole we are in today, or we wouldn't be able to trust them to get us out of it.

Thanks goodness.
"A force de chercher de bonnes raisons, on en trouve; on les dit; et après on y tient, non pas tant parce qu'elles sont bonnes que pour ne pas se démentir." Choderlos de Laclos "You struggle to come up with some valid reasons, then cling to them, not because they're good, but just to not back down."

ggelsrinc

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #31 on: October 11, 2013, 06:07:02 AM »
Yes, yes.

Science and technology will always ride to our rescue at the last moment, for ever and ever amen.

Thank goodness that those two horsemen had absolutely no part in getting us in the utter sh!thole we are in today, or we wouldn't be able to trust them to get us out of it.

Thanks goodness.

wili, that has nothing to do with:

Quote
Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice

Think about it!

Susan Anderson

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #32 on: November 07, 2013, 12:53:43 AM »
This is slightly off side but relevant to restoration and permaculture; it made an impression on my heart and mind a few years back, and I bring it up when I can, because it is such a bold and brave effort, and imho deserves to be promulgated.

"Greening the desert"


One of the pieces to the puzzle of the future for me is if, as I believe, we only have a decade or two of near normality to come, how I should live and plan.  I think about my youth when there was a big back-to-the-earth movement, and how much work it actually turned out to be to live that way.  It confirms the feeling I have at my core that things that do not involve caring for the earth and working as hard as it takes to do so is a huge mistake.  This kind of farming involved a level of love for the earth, study, and knowledge of how it works that is a vanishing art.

As such, it appears to have failed to be generally accepted and adopted, although it was the only thing that worked, because it didn't involve a lot of machines and manufactured materials, and was hard work.

ggelsrinc

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #33 on: November 07, 2013, 01:28:11 AM »
This is slightly off side but relevant to restoration and permaculture; it made an impression on my heart and mind a few years back, and I bring it up when I can, because it is such a bold and brave effort, and imho deserves to be promulgated.

"Greening the desert"


One of the pieces to the puzzle of the future for me is if, as I believe, we only have a decade or two of near normality to come, how I should live and plan.  I think about my youth when there was a big back-to-the-earth movement, and how much work it actually turned out to be to live that way.  It confirms the feeling I have at my core that things that do not involve caring for the earth and working as hard as it takes to do so is a huge mistake.  This kind of farming involved a level of love for the earth, study, and knowledge of how it works that is a vanishing art.

As such, it appears to have failed to be generally accepted and adopted, although it was the only thing that worked, because it didn't involve a lot of machines and manufactured materials, and was hard work.

Deserts exist on Earth in all climate extremes. Cold, glaciated times have the most deserts, but even a Hothouse Earth will have deserts. The only way to avoid deserts is to wake up and notice all the water that is available. Removing salt isn't that complicated, but some areas are far from the oceans. For now, I simply see mankind avoided those places and not using materials available to fix the problem of land lost to deserts. Just because an ocean is salty isn't really that big of a deal, it just requires an effort to change the reality in certain areas of our world. Even a desert has some value, if you think about it.

JimD

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #34 on: November 07, 2013, 04:12:44 PM »
Susan

Such stories are very inspiring and show what can be accomplished under the right circumstances and with the right resources.  But when the narrator states that "We can regreen any desert...we can desalt it....you can fix all the worlds problems in a garden...." one has to keep in mind that this is not literally true and that he is speaking in a philosophical sense as well as in a farming sense.

While much of the problems we have today are related to climate change and human ineptitude in agricultural practices there are still factors which no amount of reasonable effort can overcome.  For that word 'reasonable' is key as reclaiming unproductive land in many cases will require more resources than is justified by the effort.  Sort of an EROEI for agriculture yields.

Many of the areas of the middle east were at one time the most productive farm land on earth. Among the factors which key in that not being the case today are.  The naturally changing climate as we rose out of the last ice age and passed through the Holocene.  The middle east warmed and saw increased amounts of rain fall for a long period of time.  Eventually however the rain fall patterns moved on and the area became much drier.  While that was going on the human population grew and we saw the beginning of agriculture - with all of its bad side effects of tilling the soil, over grazing, and most of all the invention of irrigation systems.  And all of the above promoted a dramatic rise in population.  Eventually all the above factors resulted in the middle east we have today.  Ancient irrigations were very destructive in the long run and are responsible for much of the high levels of salt in the area where that video was shot.  This is the case all over that region of the world.  Their agricultural systems were chasing a changing climate while being pushed by over population to overuse the land.  Sounds familiar doesn't it.   

While the techniques certainly work, given sufficient resources, will they last?  Climate change projections for that region of the world would not make one optimistic.  By the end of the century that region of the world is projected to see much higher temperatures and far less rainfall than today.  This strongly implies that the farm shown in the video will once again look like it did before they started with their new form of irrigation (actually not new as it is a copy of what was used there 4000 years ago). 

In a static situation what they are doing would work at some undetermined scale.  Or even reasonably well if the rate of climate change were at a non-human influenced pace (changing over periods of thousands of years).  But we are in the Anthropocene now and we are changing the climate at unbelievable rates.  If a cost benefit analysis were performed, which took into account what the climate was going to be like in 2100, we would likely find that reclaiming the deserts of the middle east was not worth the effort as we will not be able to keep ahead of the changing climate in those regions (it is like trying to build sea walls to save many cities from rising sea levels - it is a waste of resources as it just will be overcome by events - just move somewhere else).  Those techniques shown will come in handy in places like the American mid-west and the steppes of Russia/Ukraine in the future though. 
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

wili

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #35 on: November 08, 2013, 01:45:02 AM »
Here's another approach that looks interesting:

Woody Agriculture: Badgersett’s 2013 MIT Climate CoLab Presentation



(Thanks to hank roberts at RC for the link.)

My only problem with this approach is that, inspired by a friends similar ideas, I bought a big bag of hazelnuts and started chowing them down. A few minutes later, I was in the emergency room with a pulse of 3-5 beats per minutes. The attendant asked my family to come in to have last words with me. Luckily I stabilized. But it just goes to show that noe one-note solutions are going to work for everyone. 
"A force de chercher de bonnes raisons, on en trouve; on les dit; et après on y tient, non pas tant parce qu'elles sont bonnes que pour ne pas se démentir." Choderlos de Laclos "You struggle to come up with some valid reasons, then cling to them, not because they're good, but just to not back down."

ggelsrinc

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #36 on: November 09, 2013, 04:46:45 PM »
Quote
At best, common renewable energy strategies can only offset fossil fuel emissions of CO2 – they cannot
reverse climate change. One promising approach to lowering CO2 in the atmosphere while producing
energy is biochar bio-energy, based on low-temperature pyrolysis. This technology relies on capturing the
off-gases from thermal decomposition of wood or grasses to produce heat, electricity, or biofuels. Biochar is
a major by-product of this pyrolysis, and has remarkable environmental properties. In soil, biochar was
shown to persist longer and to retain cations better than other forms of soil organic matter. The precise halflife
of biochar is still disputed, however, and this will have important implications for the value of the technology,
particularly in carbon trading. Furthermore, the cation retention of fresh biochar is relatively low
compared to aged biochar in soil, and it is not clear under what conditions, and over what period of time,
biochar develops its adsorbing properties. Research is still needed to maximize the favorable attributes of
biochar and to fully evaluate environmental risks, but this technology has the potential to provide an
important carbon sink and to reduce environmental pollution by fertilizers.

Quote
This means that pyrolysis produces
3–9 times more energy than is invested
in generating the energy.

Source: http://www.css.cornell.edu/faculty/lehmann/publ/FrontiersEcolEnv%205,%20381-387,%202007%20Lehmann.pdf





Quote
Geoglyphs on deforested land in the Amazon rainforest.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoglyph



The evidence shows mankind being in the Amazon basin at least by 11,200 years ago, geoglyphs indicative of a large human activity, terra preta indicating farming on soil not fit for farming and reports of a civilization along the Amazon River by Francisco de Orellana, the first European to travel it's length in 1542. Considering terra preta is often associated with broken pottery, I think it's reasonable to associate terra preta with an intentional agricultural purpose, even if it originated by accidental discovery, like adding charcoal to a latrine to absorb odors (which is just speculation on my part). High human density requires agriculture, but it's possible such activities could have been accomplished by people moving about and returning to previously known good locations. Further examination of geoglyphs and carbon dating of terra preta soil is required to paint a better picture along with further examination of roads and bridges.

I haven't heard anyone discussing a possible connection between biochar and sewage treatment (in the past or present), but I've only initially examined the similarities I saw. Pottery spells cooking with fire and large groups of people require sanitation. Clay to make pottery doesn't exist everywhere and the same can be said about wood suitable to make charcoal, which is lighter than wood, making it easier to transport. People learned to work smarter and not harder long before we did. 
« Last Edit: November 09, 2013, 05:11:23 PM by ggelsrinc »

Jim Hunt

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #37 on: August 14, 2014, 06:40:14 PM »
A number of videos from the British Biochar Foundation's recent conference have just been posted on YouTube. The audio isn't terribly good on most of them, but the music on this one is clear at least.

The Earth Systems "CharMaker" Mobile Pyrolysis Plant in action in Australia:

http://youtu.be/rrxNG4IKriI?list=UUzhFk1kBWzxdxCEVRsea1tg
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Michael Hauber

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #38 on: August 15, 2014, 12:11:57 PM »
I've been dabbling in a bit of biochar in my backyard. 

Does anyone know how the storage of carbon in the soil from burning wood for charcoal would compare with letting the wood rot near the surface of the soil and building humus?  I've recently read some interesting stuff about Hugelkultur - burrying logs whole as a slow long term composting method.
Climate change:  Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, expect the middle.

Jim Hunt

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #39 on: August 16, 2014, 09:36:16 PM »
Does anyone know how the storage of carbon in the soil from burning wood for charcoal would compare with letting the wood rot near the surface of the soil and building humus?

I feel sure any "char" enthusiast will assure you that "biochar" is far superior to letting wood rot. They will also tell you that the wood is "pyrolysed" and not "burned" when the charcoal is created.

You sound as though you will understand German better than me, so here's an introduction to some of the complexities of producing "helpful" biochar instead of "harmful" (in the short term at least):

http://www.ithaka-journal.net/wege-zu-terra-preta-aktivierung-von-biokohle?lang=en

With luck you might even be able to explain the gist of the comments to me?
« Last Edit: August 17, 2014, 06:48:52 PM by Jim Hunt »
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Michael Hauber

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #40 on: August 17, 2014, 12:01:35 AM »
My father is german, but my parents came to Australia when I was a baby and I know very little of the language.

I have found that soil humus does have a residence time measured in hundreds to 1000 or more years.  (source)

Also I have found an interesting scientific review which confirms that biochar does remain in soils for centuries to millenia, and highlights many issues with biochar that need further research.  The most significant for any home gardener being that it tends to raise soil ph - which can be a good thing or bad thing depending on current ph and what you want to grow.  A key uncertainty is that we don't understand fully what went into the terra preta soils of the amazon, and whether burning different feedstocks may make a difference, or whether other additives may be important to getting the same result.  Another thought that comes to my mind is that the original Terra Preta was probably built up over centuries.  Most scientific studies to date are only on the effects of biochar for a year or two.
Climate change:  Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, expect the middle.

Laurent

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #41 on: August 17, 2014, 08:59:12 AM »
If humus can stay for a long time, it can go very quickly also (seen a french study recenty). Especialy in area where you altern drought and flood (I am thinking Mississipi river area).
« Last Edit: August 18, 2014, 09:45:55 AM by Laurent »

morganism

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #42 on: August 17, 2014, 10:59:17 PM »
You might want to head over to Permies.com for info on hegelkulture and some biochar info.

Had some woodgas and rocketstove folks over there also.


My outlook on the ancient TP was that is was indeed a sanitation solution.

Waste goes into an unfired pot, then it is covered, and a top added like a vinegar crock.
Stack em in a low lying area just outside camp.

When you had farmed and gathered an area out, Or when it got too whif, you light a fire and leave for next encampment.
The locals still do this today. They find some dry wood, light the fire, then layer green branches over it to make reducing atmosphere

When you rotated back to that area, you would do the same thing. Slash back the jungle, burn it for a charcoal stockpile for the waste pots while you are there.
Then you go out with a 6 foot long log, and smash the old pots, and shovel sand over the shards and reduced human waste.

Also check out
Farmers for forty centuries. 
Account from 1800's on how Chinese farmers operated, with a big section on human waste reclamation

Laurent

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #43 on: January 14, 2015, 12:32:16 AM »
MAKING BIOCHAR: with Peter Hirst of New England Biochar


Biochar Potential or Pitfall? Carbon Storage vs Soil Quality
« Last Edit: January 14, 2015, 12:42:50 AM by Laurent »

Laurent

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #44 on: November 04, 2015, 10:17:19 AM »
This is an interesting link for making biochar and using the energy.
http://www.soil-carbon-regeneration.co.uk/biochar/instructions/

Did not try it yet, I will think of it.

Martin Gisser

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #45 on: November 04, 2015, 04:48:27 PM »
Wow! Somehow I missed this thread. I'm preaching biochar since many years, starting around 2005. My last garden (which Neven had visited, oh small planet) was one of the first biochar gardens in Germany: Started on sandy granite base with almost no humus. I used the embers of my garden fireplace (me pyromaniac) to fill the holes left by the boulders I plucked out. Then I had second thoughts. That's how I got a biochar fetishist.

Basic points:
1) If you burn wood you could as well leave 10-20% of the energy for char. The char needs to be well burnt out (not BBQ char) and optimally put into water while still glowing (boosts porosity and water holding capacity).
2) Before added to soil the char needs to be loaded with nutrients. (Otherwise it sucks them from surrounding soil.) 2.1) First, at least 1/2 year anaerobically e.g. in a closed barrel of urine. Alternatively, use it at the bottom of your bokashi bucket (then no complicated tinkering necessary to make such a bucket. Plus, the seepage is far less acidic.
2.2) Second, put it into compost for at least a year.
-- Then it is loaded, equilibrated, and much of the potentially bad stuff (e.g. polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, dioxins) decomposed.

I still have pots with soil made from 80%vol char. The growth is not phantastic, but good enough for this amount of char.

My theory is: The bacteria in the anaerobic deep pores can make mineralized phosphorus bio-available again (like what happens in sediment of eutrophicating lakes). This is a major boost for soil fertility, having some anaerobic pockets distributed. Furthermore, there's the anammox nitrogen cycle which also requires anaerobic conditions. This is perhaps one mechanism that reduces the leaching of nitrogen. Both things seem still missing in current research, e.g. in the new edition of THE BOOK:

J.Lehmann, S.Joseph (eds.), Biochar for Environmental Managementm 2nd ed. 2015

Ceterum censeo: The future of agriculture is biochar - if Homo S Sapiens is any interested in any future.

Laurent

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #46 on: November 04, 2015, 04:57:51 PM »
Do you have some youtube (flickr...) link of your garden or biochar stuffs ?

jai mitchell

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #47 on: November 04, 2015, 05:28:55 PM »
soon biochar will be produced on an industrial scale, possibly with hemp as a feedstock.  The production of biochar will involve the capture of volatile organic compound gasses for the production of syngas, which will be stored and used for electric power generation.

the biochar will be distributed as a soil amendment using regenerative agriculture methods where it will significantly reduce nitrate runoff and will remain buried in the soil since it won't be left on the top layer but buried under layer upon layer of compost.
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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #48 on: November 04, 2015, 08:46:44 PM »
Do you have some youtube (flickr...) link of your garden or biochar stuffs ?
The garden looks like any other garden. The pots look like any other pots.

I could dig out one spectacular foto from my camera: Mushroom mycelium surviving a massive drosophila attack in pyrolized pellets

In 2011 I did some experimental economics of biochar and found the "fossil fool's price" of 1 metric ton of pyrolized pellets to be -343€ (sic, minus) incl. VAT :-). But meanwhile the price of heating oil has fallen quite a bit. Here's the page:
http://www.azimuthproject.org/azimuth/show/Experiments+in+biochar
There I also suggest the "wood gas hybrid upgrade pack" for electric vehicles. That would be some serious 21st century German car engineering, for a change...
« Last Edit: November 04, 2015, 09:03:01 PM by Martin Gisser »

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Re: Terra Preta / Biochar - Theory and Practice
« Reply #49 on: February 03, 2019, 11:25:41 AM »
Martin, I have been thinking of you . I am going to build a small bio char plant.
I am afraid I am polluting this thread . Suggest another and I will follow you there.
Yes, time for such a thread. (First I need to fix my washing machine, having run out of clothes...) Best simple biochar oven: https://www.biochar-journal.org/en/ct/39
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