Posted by & filed under Conferences, Courses/Workshops, Fungi, Presentations/Demonstrations, Soil Biology, Soil Composition, Soil Rehabilitation, Structure.


Albert Bates talks about biochar at APC11 (Turangi, New Zealand)
Photo © Craig Mackintosh

I’m personally unsure about biochar. This is not because I have anything significant to say against it (at the small, localised scale, at least), but rather just because I find it hard to promote a technique I’ve never, myself, seen developed and applied in real-world circumstances. Albert Bates‘ presentation was very interesting, as you’ll see, and Albert is obviously well versed with the topic, but like most conference situations, it’s rather impossible to talk and also showcase the practical application — and this gap in my own knowledge and experience is one that I’d dearly love to see filled! It would be excellent to receive on-the-ground reports from Albert and others who are working with biochar systems and who have tangible data to share on its EROEI, its general impact and benefits — and, of course, on how to actually make the stuff! (Those interested in sharing their biochar experiences can send photos and text to me on editor (at) permaculturenews.org for potential publishing.)

I’m sure you’ll enjoy the talk below. Albert has a great deal of permaculture experience and wisdom to share. This wisdom comes out in the video, right up to the closing moments when he emphasises the need for biochar processes to be kept at small scale, and localised. As with many good ideas, there are always some entrepreneurial types who will market it as a silver bullet solution at a wholly inappropriate scale, and turn a potential solution into a problem….

26 Responses to “APC11 Presentation: Albert Bates on Biochar (Video)”

  1. Albert Bates

    The researcher who did the study on appropriate scale for biochar production, factoring in EROI from transportation, reactor size, source material and market, was Stephen Joseph in Australia. I said at 46 min in it was Stephen Lehman. My apologies. The study demonstrated that small and local production was best from a net C as well as energy basis.

    Reply
  2. Masuko

    Why don’t you just have a pit roast in rotation at various sites, like the Hawaiians and Mexicans? Follow the barbeque with a compost pile afterwards, why build a machine that uses energy to crush something when you have to turn and rotate it with a shovel anyways. While I am ranting, if you are going to create pyrolyzed wood, why don’t you put it all into a constructed wetland to filter black and grey water. better yet why not just create a chinampas system to burn tule or aquatic plant residue and just flood it to distribute it. Anyways, please find a way to brew a batch of beer and make biochar simultaneously.

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  3. Lloyd Zimmerman

    Great Stuff.. What I liked best was Albert’s Co-Generation emphasis “Waste not thy Heat” Our plans are to heat a community pool and Aquaponic project.

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  4. Daniel Halsey

    I am also quite skeptical of the biochar science. I have talked at length with a university researcher doing work for the US Dept of Agriculture. Biochar is unpredictable, difficult to create with consistent results, and in many situations quite toxic. Using South American Oxysol soils as an example for the miracles of biochar is unfounded. Gases from biochar can inhibit seed germination, exude nitrous oxide and many noxious gases.

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  5. Chris McLeod

    Hi Craig,

    I have mucked around with bio-char on the ground here at my farm which is in a cool temperate environment over the past few years.

    After a few years, my gut feel and observation – because I’m not a scientist – is that bio char is a solution for improving soils in warm temperate to tropical environments and not wholly appropriate in all situations.

    My reason for this + observation here is that I think that warmer to tropical soils are more sandy or better drained and as such they leach nutrients far quicker. What bio char does in these environments is act as a form of housing for all of the soil flora and fauna. In these environments, soil life and diversity aren’t usually a problem and life cycles are pretty quick for this lot so they multiply quickly to take advantage of the new available housing provided by bio char. This in turn benefits the plants that live above the ground and it is observable that fertility has been increased in line with the depth of top soil. Sweet.

    Here, the bio char looked pretty much the same after a couple of years. I think the reason for this is that the diversity of soil flora and fauna is not as great as warm temperate to tropical areas, so there are more problems in the natural forest than just housing shortages for soil flora and fauna.

    I have had far better success with mulch, compost and green manures.

    Incidentally, in the untouched forested areas on my block you can still find many charred fallen logs from the Ash Wednesday bushfires which came through here in February 1983. Out of interest I have cut into some of these logs with a chainsaw and they are almost perfectly preserved which is not what you would expect from a tree that has fallen in a healthy eco system almost 30 years after later.

    Chris.

    Reply
  6. Caelan MacIntyre

    I’ll watch the video later, and maybe return, but in the interim…

    My intuition keeps kicking me about biochar– that wrong feeling one gets about something even though they don’t know why.

    While my intuition may be wrong, ostensibly, we’ve been doing agriculture wrong for roughly 8000 years.

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  7. Brent

    I have been reading a lot about the practices of the native americans in the amazon and the creation of “terra preta” (the original biochar) appears to be a combination of trash middens (compost piles) and burnt plant and tree matter. And it didn’t take thousands of years, the soil is improved in a short amount of time, according to the scientists researching these in natives still using these practices.

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  8. Caelan MacIntyre

    “…Sorry, not charcoal. We don’t call it that any more. Now we say biochar.
    This miracle solution has suckered people who ought to know better… At the UN climate negotiations beginning in Bonn on Sunday, several national governments will demand that biochar is eligible for carbon credits, providing the
    financial stimulus required to turn this into a global industry. Their proposal boils down to this: we must destroy the biosphere in order to save it…”
    ~ George Monbiot

    “Groups have been warning for years that the biochar techno-fix will mean land-grabbing on a vast scale. Time and time again, biochar advocates have misled the public with claims that we can produce vast amounts of charcoal from residues alone. Now they are showing their true colours: Large-scale biochar means large-scale land grabs.”
    ~ Anne Maina

    “Authors of the study couch their vast land-grabbing plans in terms like ‘conservative’, ‘small scale’ and ‘sustainable’ and try to hide those plans in obscure supplementary notes and tables… This must be a wakeup call.”
    ~ Raquel Nunez

    “By using terms like ‘agroforestry’ or ‘silvo-pastoral systems’, the authors mask large plantation plans which in no way resemble the sustainable practices used by small farmers and pastoralists around the world.”
    ~ Helena Paul

    “An international declaration was today launched by 147 organisations opposing the growing hype and political support for Biochar… The groups further assert that, ‘the biochar initiative fails to address the root causes of climate change.’ Those issuing this warning range from small farmers associations and forest protection groups to international environmental networks and human rights advocates…”
    ~ http://www.etcgroup.org

    “Including biochar and agricultural soil in carbon markets would turn soils into a commodity that could be sold to offset pollution elsewhere. It would endanger smallholder farmers and indigenous peoples who cannot compete with governments and large companies and who are at risk of being displaced if the ground is literally sold out from under their feet.”
    ~ Helena Paul

    The idea that charcoal will rescue a burning planet is absurd. Some biochar proponents call for quantities of charcoal which would require over 500 million hectares of industrial tree and crop plantations. We know already that industrial agriculture and tree plantations are a major contributor to climate change and displace people and biodiversity. We need to protect ecosystems, not grow vast new monocultures and burn them! This is a farce.”
    ~ Stella Semino

    “Large-scale support for biochar is premature and dangerous. Claims that biochar is retained permanently in soils and increases fertility are based on Terra Preta soils in Amazonia, which were made by indigenous peoples hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Those farmers used biodiverse organic residues and compost, as well as charcoal. Modern biochar is not the same. Some companies are making biochar out of municipal waste and tyres, others promote using biochar to scrub flue gases from coal burners and then using this combination as a fertilizer. Some plan to use giant microwave ovens to char trees – justifying this by pointing to ancient Amazonian soils is absurd.”
    ~ Almuth Ernsting

    “The highly influential International Biochar Initiative, which seeks funding via the Clean Development Mechanism, is a hybrid of academics and industry. Biochar [is] essentially charcoal from burning plant material under low oxygen conditions, is being touted as a new way to sequester carbon in soil.
    Indeed, the draft negotiating texts for the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December already include support for biochar. ‘Even if biochar did sequester carbon effectively, which is far from clear, to contribute to mitigating climate change, we would need to char vast quantities of wood and plant matter, a demand that threatens the earth’s remaining biodiversity as well as communities living on so-called marginal lands… Biochar, like other forms of black carbon, actually contributes to warming when it becomes airborne. In one recent Quebec field test, 30% of the biochar dust blew away during transport and as it was being spread over the fields and tilled into the soil. This hasn’t been thought through at all.”
    ~ Almuth Ernsting

    “Given geoengineering’s potential for unilateral execution and unpredictable impacts, civil society groups need to demand clear answers from their governments. Peasant farmers, indigenous peoples, countries and communities who will be hardest hit by the climate crisis have the absolute right to participate in decision-making about what technologies get funded and deployed… In the absence of basic democratic processes and multilateral debate, geoengineering is nothing short of geo-piracy.”
    ~ Pat Mooney

    All charred roads seem to lead not only to ruin, but to the ‘corporatocratic nation-state oligarchy’ and its interests in large-scale centralization and control, etc..

    “To empower the powerless and create ‘a million villages’ to replace nation-states is the only safe future for the preservation of the biosphere. Let interdependence and personal responsibility be our aims.”
    ~ Bill Mollison

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  9. Caelan MacIntyre

    Soils need living carbon as humus

    “Burning trees and biomass has ironically emerged as a ‘solution’ to climate change.

    Following the false solution of industrial bio fuels we now have the waste left from production of bio fuels as the next magic bullet. The process used is pyrolysis… The waste is a solid residue containing carbon and ash. This waste has now been given the elegant name ‘biochar’. It is being wrongly treated as the same as ‘Terra Preta de Indio’ — the black soils created by the indigenous people of the Amazon by burying charcoal over hundreds of years. Charcoal in every soil and every ecosystem can prove to be an ecological disaster.

    ‘Biochar’ is basically the next new trick of global investors to make money on the global market of carbon trading. As the biochar website http://www.biochar.org clearly states ‘A prerequisite for the above mentioned management practices is access to the global carbon trade.’ …this is what is driving ‘biochar’ — not love for the soil, nor the wisdom of indigenous people.

    The collapse of Wall Street in 2008 should be enough reason for governments and people to be cautious about the charcoal solution. We cannot afford to have an economics of greed and fraud drive false solutions to climate change.

    But there are many other reasons for not falling into the biochar trap. It is based on a scientific fraud…

    In total ignorance of the living soil and its complex ecological processes, the ‘biochar’ proponents are proposing a solution based on killing and burning trees and turning living carbon into dead carbon.

    On the basis of their blindness and false assumptions they state that ‘The drawback of carbon enrichment with conventional (referring to organic) methods is that carbon levels drop rapidly again as soon as a required careful management is not sustained.’

    This is a ridiculous argument. Good organic farming is a way of life, not a one time fad.

    The biochar promoters are also wrong in lumping together all systems of agriculture. Good farming can create agro ecosystems as permanent as natural ecosystems…

    Biochar is another expression of arrogant ignorance which assumes nature got it wrong. It is a blind and reductionist solution which reduces both climate and soil to carbon, forgetting the millions of soil micro-organisms that make a living soil and the trace elements and micronutrients what give life and health to plants and humus. This is carbon reductionism, not ecology.

    Biofuel waste as biochar /charcoal is dead carbon. What we need to increase is living carbon in plants and in humus. An anti-life world view cannot protect life…”

    ~ Vandana Shiva
    Rest of article via, http://web.archive.org/web/20090411002645/http://www.tribuneindia.com/2009/20090410/science.htm#1

    Since this is an offsite archive of the article, which seems missing from its parent site, making copies of full article for personal use and reference is recommended.

    Reply
  10. Caelan MacIntyre

    “Biochar is not what it is hyped up to be, and implementing the biochar initiative could be dangerous, basically because saving the climate turns out to be not just about curbing the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere that can be achieved by burying carbon in the soil, it is also about keeping oxygen (O2) levels up. Keeping O2 levels up is what only green plants on land and phytoplankton at sea can do, by splitting water to regenerate O2 while fixing CO2 to feed the rest of the biosphere (Living with Oxygen, SiS 43).

    Climate scientists have only discovered within the past decade that O2 is depleting faster than the rise in CO2, both on land and in the sea (O2 Dropping Faster than CO2 Rising, and Warming Oceans Starved of Oxygen, SiS 44). Furthermore, the acceleration of deforestation spurred by the biofuels boom since 2003 appears to coincide with a substantial steepening of the O2 decline. Turning trees into charcoal in a hurry could be the surest way to precipitate an oxygen crisis from which we may never recover.”
    ~ http://current.com/1jna64c

    “One obvious geological signal of human activity is increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) content. During the glacial–interglacial cycles of the past million years, natural processes have varied CO2 by approximately 100 ppm (from 180 ppm to 280 ppm). As of 2011, anthropogenic net emissions of CO2 have increased its atmospheric concentration by a comparable amount from 280 ppm (Holocene or pre-industrial “equilibrium”) to about 390 ppm. This signal in the Earth’s climate system is especially significant because it is occurring much faster, and to an enormously greater extent, than previous, similar changes.”
    ~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropocene#Climate

    “Oceanic anoxic events or anoxic events occur when the Earth’s oceans become completely depleted of oxygen (O2) below the surface levels. Although anoxic events have not happened for millions of years, the geological record shows that they happened many times in the past. Anoxic events may have caused mass extinctions. These mass extinctions were so characteristic, they include some that geobiologists use as time markers in biostratigraphic dating. It is believed oceanic anoxic events are strongly linked to lapses in key oceanic current circulations, to climate warming and greenhouse gases.”
    ~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anoxic_event

    See also (videos):

    - David Wasdel; Planet Earth We Have a Problem:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKV7VfAQhs0
    - James Hansen; Why I must speak out about climate change:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWInyaMWBY8
    - David Wasdel; Feedback Mechanisms & Catastrophic Climate Change:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_aMbM20mbg

    Reply
  11. Geoff Thomas

    Interesting to read the anti-Biochar rantings above, all seemed to rest on dubious premises, – like that biochar is to be made from burning live trees, – why would you waste heat on wet wood? – most do not understand that approximately 100 billion tons of carbon circulates between the atmosphere and the approximately 750 billion-ton reservoir in land plants, it is that carbon going back into the atmosphere that we need to work with, not the trees still sequestering it in their structure. That organic material breaks down and returns to the atmosphere is part of life, however in the distant past much organic material was trapped and buried very deeply, forming coal and oil among other things.
    Now we are digging up that ancient organic material and throwing it up into the atmosphere where it stays for a very long time, so the concentration is increasing, leading to an increase in the natural greenhouse affect that traps the suns energy so the planet is warming. Ice cores and tree rings indicate that it would not be possible for human beings to survive at the time the coal and oil was laid down, should we be re-creating that ancient situation if it will kill us?
    By turning a percentage of the decaying organic material into non-decaying carbon, – bio-char, we are returning to the earth what was put there aeons ago and is now being imprudently burnt, and with Bio-char, used in the right way and prepared as was the Incan Terra Preta, soil, (mixed with sewage and buried in their fields) that returned carbon also increases soil fertility, particularly in wet tropical areas sometimes immensely.
    Another argument, that Bio-char is evil because people can make money from it, ignores the reality that at this time the world economy, the doing part of human activity, is mainly run by money.
    Fine, change that if you can, but lets not condemn 5 billion people to death because you can’t change the worlds economy, – such selfish egotism, “do it my way or die”. I personally use compost for my organic garden, living in tropical north Australia with high rainfall, I find it lasts at best 6 months in the ground, often only a couple of weeks, doesn’t make much difference how much you put in.
    I also use some bio-char, primed as did the ancients, and it lasts.
    Using just compost, I require many times my growing area, to grow the compost, – that I buy much as mulch from peanut farms etc does not take away the fact that it is grown somewhere. I grow Taros, Beans, Corn, Cucumbers, Cassava, Pit pit, Yams, Sweet potato, etc, after every crop the soil is virgin clean, one starts again with the composting, big time.
    The way my garden, (app. .5 acre) will become self sufficient – not bringing in compost from other folks’ farms – is through Bio Char, and as a Steward of the Earth, I will have drawn down at least some of the CO2 recklessly thrown into the atmosphere by others. For that large part of humanity currently using wood dung etc to cook, using a gasifier cook stove saves 30% of the wood, and leaves a residue of charcoal, – if those 2 app. billion folk were paid to bury that charcoal in their garden, not only would they be better able to feed and educate their children, but their gardens would become more fertile and less dependant on bought fertilisers. Win for the planet, Win for them. Lets not argue to the ridiculous every different idea but look at what can help where, sure, be balanced about it but not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Cheers.

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  12. Geoff Thomas

    Apologies, line 40 of my article above, 2 app. billion (folk using wood, dung, etc to cook) should read app. 2 Billion. G

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  13. Caelan MacIntyre

    You can find more of my sentiments about biochar here

    I think it is crucial to test the water before throwing any babies into it, otherwise we may find that throwing the baby out with the bathwater becomes the least of our concerns.

    As far as I can tell, biochar is controversial at best, at worst, catastrophic. There are just too many doubts and at a 7-billion-and-counting population, we no longer have the luxury for error at our scale.

    For another, and for example, biochar is apparently NOT terra preta, and seems to need to be burned in a particular (low oxygen?) fashion, and I can see where this will often be done improperly.

    Lastly, what with the corporations and governments ostensibly getting in on this bandwagon, and their unquestioned legitimacy in the eyes of many, I wouldn’t put it past a biochar campaign of sorts that insidiously attracts far too many people with far too little thought about it.

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  14. John D. Wheeler

    I am cautiously enthusiastic about biochar. I think it is a wonderful tool in the Permaculture kit, especially on poor or worn-out soils. I make my own in a very primitive manner from prunings, deadfalls, and other woody debris on my property. I have yet to do quantitative testing, but I seem to be getting the best results at about 10-20% biochar. After all, nature does make biochar all the time and adds it to the soil, so we are just enhancing a natural process.

    That said, I am extremely leery of schemes to do biochar at the plantation/industrial scale. EROEI is completely irrelevant for the scale I do, the only fossil fuels used were in making my pruners and saws. At the industrial scale, they are talking about moving huge quantities thousands of miles. I seriously wonder how much of the carbon sequestration benefit is lost that way.

    Another point that bothers me is what if we are wrong about the climate? What if all the extra CO2 has done is pushed back a new ice age a few decades? The carbon locked up in biochar mixed into the soil will be pretty much impossible to extract should we need it.

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  15. Barry

    If anyone wants to see 7-8 years of Biochar used in an organic permaculture system you are more than welcome to visit my farm and talk one on one.

    Barry Batchelor
    barry.batchelor at biochar dot net
    75 Browns Road
    Kurwongbah 4503
    Queensland
    Australia

    I am also happy to debate in person or in a public place, anyone who has issues with biochar production, biomass sources and the effects on soils. I have to say the greenwash above is a little heavy for my liking.

    I am a proud permaculturist, I understand the engineering and soil science (with in reason) I work with many of the world’s leading soil scientists and engineers working with in the field of Biochar research. I have given over 16 public presentations on Biochar including permaculture groups like Noosa Permaculture.

    I run a small business supplying Biochar produced from waste streams like poultry litter and clean pine off cuts from plantation timbers.

    I have developed an open source system so people can make their own Biochars. It’s called a Fatboy Gasifier, the plans and project are available on my blog http://www.biochar.net

    I have started a thread on the PRI forum as I would like to help answer many of the misconceptions presented above.

    http://forums.permaculturenews.org/showthread.php?13325-Questions-about-Biochar

    Reply
  16. Caelan MacIntyre

    Barry, you seem to have established a bit of a vested interest in biochar, and it is suspected that you use the term, ‘greenwash’, incorrectly.

    With regard to this ‘charcoal’, I would like to mention a bit of a discussion I’ve been having over here about it.

    Obviously, I’m not without hopefully-unfounded concerns that the permaculture community, and human population, with its out-of-scale size and industries will take up, en masse, this practice of burning living organic matter and mixing its mixed-results-charcoal with the soil to the ongoing detriment, over time, of the planet and the human footprint on it.

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  17. john D. Wheeler

    Quite frankly, the whole questions appears moot. Cool Planet has figured out how to make gasoline from wood at a projected cost of $1.50 a gallon, with biochar as a side product. This pretty much ensures industrial scale production of biochar, regardless of whether it is a good idea or not.

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  18. Geoff Thomas

    Many of those such as Caelan ‘concerned’ about Biochar are proposing a Straw Man, that being that Biochar is to be made at the expense of living trees and plants, that the forests of the world are to be clear felled all at once or some outrageous claim in that direction.
    Using a Straw Man in discussion is dishonest and is intended to take people away from the real discussion, in this situation we should look at the Straw Man and see if he is real, not act as if he is real and use him as a club to beat Biochar with because of some personal agenda on the human race.
    I have never met anyone into Biochar suggesting using wet wood, let alone living plant material, – Approximately 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide circulates between the atmosphere and the approximately 750 billion-ton reserve in land plants, it is sequestering some of that 100 billion going back up that is the real goal of Biochar, not killing the golden goose by destroying the forests. – Can we leave Straw Man arguments out of discussions please, it is bad enough seeing so many in the Global Warming denier camp.

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  19. MaiTai

    pyrolize waste… use biochar in agriculture and horticulture where prudent… burry the rest so deep that it cannot oxidize. put the carbon back where it came from… it seems like a no brainer. i live in the dessert where water retention, nutrient retention, habitat for microbes are very attractive attributes when considering tools for creating fertile soils. i see biochar as a positive technoledgy. i would like to see even more done with it. for instance, could biochar be used to absorb methane and then buried deeply. could it be used to absorb gases eeking out of landfills? unfortunately, as with anything with great potential, there is the danger of misuse. and of course, biochar is not a silver bullet. there are no silver bullets. stop looking for miracle cures. start implementing as many positive small scale strategies as possible and keep looking for more. Also, go outside, walk over to your neighbors house, introduce yourself if need be, and start talking about change. Do the same with everyone you encounter.

    As i write this my four year old son is sleeping next to me. I teach him good habits. If you ask him what is the most important thing he will respond “to respect and love everyone and every thing.”. i explain to him that we have a climate problem. I have no idea how to explain to him that many people are to thickheaded and selfishly motivated to understand that simple idea, much less to figure out how to work together to solve the worlds problems. Instead i teach him to follow, and to lead, and to use and promote teamwork. I hope that he will grow up into a world of collaborative positive effort. Many of the comments above and seem as polarized as the broader public discourse. There is a middle ground. We must find it.

    Reply
  20. Caelan MacIntyre

    @john D. Wheeler:

    That just adds to concerns. Also

    “Sonhouse: …The title is a bit misleading. If the bio fuel is made for $1.50 a gallon, that only reduces the price of the total fuel by a couple percent…

    Dug: Yesterday algae and terrestrial biofuels were outed by the National Research Counsel – as being unsustainable and dependent on petroleum (petroleum/fertilizer industry being the primary beneficiary of biofuel development) derived NPK – more than half of which is presently imported by the US. Sad part is that all of the mass balance studies have been saying this for years.

    Shakescene21: The article does not state and no one above asks what the ‘magic’ biofuel actually is? At a max of 5%, and from the feedstock mentioned, it would have to be methanol? Corrosive stuff in vehicle fuel systems, necessitating the 5% limit…”

    @Geoff Thomas:
    There are plenty of concerns, shared by many, surrounding biochar beyond just your cherry-pick. If Permaculture is about care of earth and people, questionably steamrolling or fast-tracking some things through, despite people’s concerns, even if you disagree, seems counterproductive.

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  21. Caelan MacIntyre

    @john D. Wheeler:

    That just adds to concerns. Also

    “Sonhouse: …The title is a bit misleading. If the bio fuel is made for .50 a gallon, that only reduces the price of the total fuel by a couple percent…

    Dug: Yesterday algae and terrestrial biofuels were outed by the National Research Counsel – as being unsustainable and dependent on petroleum (petroleum/fertilizer industry being the primary beneficiary of biofuel development) derived NPK – more than half of which is presently imported by the US. Sad part is that all of the mass balance studies have been saying this for years.

    Shakescene21: The article does not state and no one above asks what the ‘magic’ biofuel actually is? At a max of 5%, and from the feedstock mentioned, it would have to be methanol? Corrosive stuff in vehicle fuel systems, necessitating the 5% limit…”

    @Geoff Thomas:
    There are plenty of concerns, shared by many, surrounding biochar beyond just your cherry-pick. If Permaculture is about care of earth and people, questionably steamrolling or fast-tracking some things through, despite people’s concerns, even if you disagree, seems counterproductive.

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  22. Caelan MacIntyre

    “….pyrolize waste… use biochar… burry the rest so deep that it cannot oxidize. put the carbon back where it came from… it seems like a no brainer.” ~ MaiTai

    What is ‘waste’ exactly? (Hint: Is it waste?) And why do you suggest ‘pyrolizing’ it? What happens when this happens, such as to other elements/nutrients within? How deep do you bury it? Too deep for soil/microorganisms/etc. to make proper use of it? Etcetera?

    Could one problem with a ‘no-brainer’ be that thinking is left out?

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  23. christopher

    Caelan,

    You quote Vandana Shiva as being an opponent of biochar. Its worth pointing out that she wrote the forward to Albert Bates book, “The Biochar Solution” Apparently she had a change of mind on the subject. Read Alberts book. You might change your mind, too.

    I wrote an article about a biochar stove we made here in Belize. It uses wood, rice hulls, cacao pods, coconut husks and small diameter fuel wood. ALL of my neighbors cook with firewood. We are seeeing dramatic results in cacao we have planted with a compost made from pig manure, rice hulls, sugar cane and biochar. You can read about it here: http://permaculturenews.org/2012/06/06/maya-mountain-research-farm-update-pigs-and-biochar/

    Best wishes,

    Christopher

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  24. Caelan MacIntyre

    Christopher,

    Practically anyone can write (or suggest) a book. I assume you’ve read Shiva’s entry? Well I did and it’s one of the most, say, curious, “endorsements” I’ve read. Here’s the part I’m talking about:

    “I would also like to sound a word of caution.

    By shifting our concern from growing the green mantle of the earth to making charcoal, biochar solutions risk repeating the mistakes of industrial agriculture. The reductionist NPK mentality is replaced by a reductionist carbon mentality. The false assumption that soil fertility comes from factories is maintained. Earlier it focused on factories producing NPK, now it focuses on industrial production of biochar.

    Just as industrial agriculture and the green revolution forgot about life, the biochar solutions are ignoring life with their carbon preoccupation, an example of what I have called the ‘Monocultures of the Mind’.

    We need to remember that calcium and magnesium, iron and copper, the Mychorrizae and the earthworm are also part of the soil’s life, not just carbon. Above all we need to remember that carbon is fixed by the chlorophyll molecule in the green leaf of plants, not during the pyrolysis used to produce biochar.

    The future cannot be built on the basis of knowledge that comes from a reductionist, fragmented, mechanistic world view. It cannot be built on the external input model of industrial agriculture.

    To cultivate the future, we need to cultivate life in the soil. We need to cultivate the humility that the soil makes us, we do not make the soil, and we can only serve her processes of making life.”
    ~ Dr. Vandana Shiva, Sept. 2010

    An endorsement for one’s interest in a ‘world evolving towards a garden’ is one thing, but the methods by which one gets there are yet another.

    ( The term, ‘follow the money’ would also seem apt:
    The Koch Brothers & Their Amazing Climate Change Denial Machine:
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=IaKm89eVhoE )

    Slathering things in positive/happy/green-wash doesn’t make them so, nor does ignoring important, relevant issues and concerns that are pointed at through the holes under the peeling green happyface wallpaper. That seems willfully ignorant and undemocratic.

    Permaculture’s about care of earth & people.

    Biochar appears as a large-scale disaster over time, trying to camouflage/shoehorn itself in the mean time within a historical, native, local, resilient, sustainable, ecological, permaculture, etc. narrative…

    ‘All the world’s problems can be solved in a garden with biochar.’

    The “green” revolution was(/is still?) seen by some as good idea, and look where that’s gone… And one might imagine how, in another time or place, something like permaculture might have integrated it in its bag of tricks.

    Like the green revolution, it might take awhile to figure out where some heads are/were, but, if we haven’t joined the current extinction event by then, mother earth will likely be giving us good kicks thereabouts. Unfortunately, we’re all stuck on this spaceship, so we’ll all be suffering from the same knock-ons.

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  25. christopher

    Caelan, Read Alberts book. Then tell me your thoughts. Or, publicly debate Barry, and record it, so that we can watch.
    For people who cook with fuel wood, and for people who want to increase habitat for soil with the byproduct of their cooking, putting small diameter charcoal, made from rice hulls or shredded coconut husks, for example, is a good way to go.
    Read Alberts book and look for the weak spots in his research. I couldn’t find any.

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