Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Cornell University student team wins award with pyrolytic cookstove design

The Cornell University student team project “Pyrolytic Cook Stoves and Biochar Production in Kenya: A Whole Systems Approach to Sustainable Energy, Environmental Health and Human Prosperity” has qualified to receive a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant of up to $90,000 to further develop their pyrolytic cookstove design, reports the Cornell Chronicle on July 1, 2013.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Biochar stove recharges cell phone

Julius Turyamwijuka and Robert Flanagan have developed a stove prototype that can utilize bamboo clippings or other agricultural waste to produce biochar.

The stoves are currently being tested in Uganda. The bamboo/biochar project’s primary focus is to introduce biochar and pyrolysis technologies at the household level with selected villages and districts.

Some stove models will be built with a thermo-electric generator that can convert heat energy into electricity. An adapter can be connected to the stove capable of charging a cell phone (see photo right, by Julius Turyamwijuka, added with permission). 

For more details, see the post at: 
Profile: Using bamboo for stoves in Uganda

Monday, February 11, 2013

Biochar plus urine results in highest yield

The results from adding biochar to test plots in Bungoma County, Western Kenya, have been published by Re-Char.
  • Plain soil (without chemical fertilizer or organic amendment) produced around 70 kg of dry sorghum per acre.
  • A 15% solution of sanitized urine and water added to soil gives a sorghum yield of 205 kg per acre.
  • Adding 50 kg of chemical fertilizer per acre– the Kenyan Government’s recommended quantity– can increase yield of sorghum to 420 kg per acre.
  • By applying 6,000 kg per acre of composted cow manure, farmers can produce 810 kg of dry sorghum per acre.
  • Applying the above urine treatment to soils amended with biochar (at a rate of 6,000 kg per acre) resulted in a sorghum yield of 533 kg per acre in season 1, and 1,025 kg per acre in season 2 without adding any additional biochar.
The data are presented below in an interactive graph (move mouse over bars to view data).
This highlights biochar's potential to help achieve higher crop yields than chemical fertilizers, while biochar has the additional benefit of helping combat climate change by avoiding emissions, such as of carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and soot. Moreover, adding biochar and olivine sand to the soil results in additional vegetation growth that takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, while safely storing carbon in soils.

Chemical fertilizers cause large nitrous oxide emissions and make farmers dependent on their continued supply, which can be hard given variations in farming income and in the price of the fossil fuel that is typically used to produce the chemical fertilizers. Long supply lines and extensive transportation and infrastructure requirements that are vulnerable to extreme weather events can significantly increase the cost of chemical fertilizers. By contrast, biochar and urine can be produced locally from waste products at little or no extra cost to local farmers.

Feebates are recommended as the best policy instruments to achieve the necessary changes, as part of a comprehensive and effective climate plan. The image below pictures feebates in agriculture, land use and construction. Fees are imposed on sales of Portland cement, with revenues used to fund rebates on clean construction methods that incorporate olivine sand. Similarly, fees are imposed on Portland cement, on nitrogen fertilizers and on livestock products, with revenues used to fund rebates on soil supplements containing olivine sand and biochar.

From:  President Obama, here's a climate plan!
Combined, biochar and olivine sand can help soils become more fertile. Applying olivine dust on top of biochar can also reduce the albedo impact of biochar, which can be substantial as described in a 2012 study by Meyer et al. Thus, biochar and olivine sand can complement each other in several ways, as discussed earlier in the post Towards a Sustainable Economy.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Turning forest waste into biochar

Too much biomass waste in tundra and boreal forests makes them prone to wildfires, especially when heatwaves strike. Furthermore, leaving biomass waste in the forest can cause a lot of methane emisions from decomposition.

In order to reduce such methane emissions and the risk of wildfires, it makes sense to reduce excess biomass waste in fields and forests. Until now, this was typically done by controlled burning of biomass, which also causes emissions, but far less than wildfires do. Avoiding wildfires is particularly important for the Arctic, which is vulnerable to soot deposits originating from wildfires in tundra and boreal forest. Such soot deposits cause more sunlight to be absorbed, accelerating the decline of snow and ice in the Arctic.

A team of scientists at University of Washington, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, has developed a way to remove woody biomass waste from forests without burning it in the traditional way. The team has developed a portable kiln that can be assembled around a heap of waste wood and convert it to biochar on the spot, while the biochar can also be burried in the soil on the spot.

Demonstration in Kerby, Oregon,
Nov. 6, 2012, 
 by Carbon Cultures
Marcus Kauffman at Flickr
The team initially started testing the effectiveness of a heat-resistant blanket thrown over woody debris.  The team then developed portable panels that are assembled in a kiln around a slash pile.

Students have set up a company, Carbon Cultures, to promote the technology and to sell biochar. CEO of Carbon Cultures is Jenny Knoth, also a Ph.D. candidate in environmental and forest sciences.

The kiln restricts the amount of oxygen that can reach the biomass, which is transformed by pyrolysis into biochar. The woody waste is heated up to temperatures of about 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (600 Celsius), as the kiln transforms some 800 pounds of wood into 200 pounds of biochar in less than two hours. “We also extinguish with water because it helps keep oxygen out and also activates the charcoal [making it more fertile in soil].”

Currently, the total costs of disposing of forest slash heaps (the collections of wood waste) approximate a billion dollars a year in the United States, according to Knoth.

And of course, adding biochar to the soil is a great way to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. “Biochar is proven to fix carbon for hundreds of thousands of years,” Knoth said.
Demonstration in Kerby, Oregon, November 6, 2012, organized by Carbon Cultures Credit: Marcus Kauffman at Flickr

As said, when biomass waste is left in the open air, methane emissions are produced during its decomposition. Moreover, such waste will fuel wildfires, which produce huge amounts of emissions. The traditional response therefore is to burn such waste. Pyrolyzing biomass produces even less greenhouse gases and less soot, compared to such controlled burning.

Biochar is produced in the process, which can be added to the soil on the spot. This will help soil retain moisture, nutrients and soil microbes, making forests more healthy, preventing erosion and thus reduces the risk of wildfires even further, in addition to the reduction already achieved by removal of surplus waste.

A healthy forest will retain more moist in its soil, in the air under its canopy, and in the air above the forest through expiration, resulting in more clouds that act as sunshades to keep the forest cool and return the moist to the forest through rainfall. Forests reinforce patterns of air pressure and humidity that result in long-distance air currents that bring moist air from the sea inland to be deposited onto the forest in the form of rain. Finally, clouds can reflect more sunlight back into space, thus reducing the chance of heatwaves.


Recycling wood waste - The Daily of the University of Washington
Helping Landowners with Waste Wood While Improving Agribusiness and Energy - National Science Foundation


- Biochar
- CU-Boulder gets into biochar