Biofuels & biochar - Mar 25
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Monbiot blasts biochar
George Monbiot, Guardian
Woodchips with everything. It's the Atkins plan of the low-carbon world
The latest miracle mass fuel cure, biochar, does not stand up; yet many who should know better have been suckered into it
Whenever you hear the word miracle, you know there's trouble just around the corner. But no matter many times they lead to disappointment or disaster, the newspapers never tire of promoting miracle cures, miracle crops, miracle fuels and miracle financial instruments. We have a limitless ability to disregard the laws of economics, biology and thermodynamics when we encounter a simple solution to complex problems. So welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the new miracle. It's a low-carbon regime for the planet that makes the Atkins diet look healthy: woodchips with everything.
Biomass is suddenly the universal answer to our climate and energy problems. Its advocates claim that it will become the primary source of the world's heating fuel, electricity, road transport fuel (cellulosic ethanol) and aviation fuel (biokerosene). Few people stop to wonder how the planet can accommodate these demands and still produce food and preserve wild places. Now an even crazier use of woodchips is being promoted everywhere (including in the Guardian). The great green miracle works like this: we turn the planet's surface into charcoal.
Sorry, not charcoal. We don't call it that any more. Now we say biochar. The idea is that wood and crop wastes are cooked to release the volatile components (which can be used as fuel), then the residue - the charcoal - is buried in the soil. According to the magical thinkers who promote it, the new miracle stops climate breakdown, replaces gas and petroleum, improves the fertility of the soil, reduces deforestation, cuts labour, creates employment, prevents respiratory disease and ensures that when you drop your toast it always lands butter side up. (I invented the last one, but give them time).
(24 March 2009)
Reply from James Lovelock
Reply from Chris Goodall
'Biochar' goes industrial with giant microwaves to lock carbon in charcoal
Experts agree giant, razor-clawed bioengineered crabs pose no threat (Satirical video from The Onion about miraculous technical solutionss).
Lovelock replies to Monbiot on biochar
James Lovelock, Guardian
Biochar: let the Earth remove CO2 for us
What we have to do is turn a portion of all the waste of agriculture into charcoal and bury it
I usually agree with George Monbiot and love the way he says it but this time – with his assertion that the latest miracle mass fuel cure, biochar, does not stand up – he has got it only half right.
Yes, it is silly to rename charcoal as biochar and yes, it would be wrong to plant anything specifically to make charcoal. So I agree, George, it would be wrong to have plantations in the tropics just to make charcoal.
I said in my recent book that perhaps the only tool we had to bring carbon dioxide back to pre-industrial levels was to let the biosphere pump it from the air for us. It currently removes 550bn tons a year, about 18 times more than we emit, but 99.9% of the carbon captured this way goes back to the air as CO2 when things are eat eaten.
What we have to do is turn a portion of all the waste of agriculture into charcoal and bury it. Consider grain like wheat or rice; most of the plant mass is in the stems, stalks and roots and we only eat the seeds. So instead of just ploughing in the stalks or turning them into cardboard, make it into charcoal and bury it or sink it in the ocean. We don't need plantations or crops planted for biochar, what we need is a charcoal maker on every farm so the farmer can turn his waste into carbon. Charcoal making might even work instead of landfill for waste paper and plastic.
(24 March 2009)
Economic Recovery May Rekindle Food/Fuel Debate
Karl Plume, Reuters via Planet Ark
The steep drop in energy prices from last year's peaks has cooled the food-versus-fuel debate for the moment, but the battle may be rekindled by an eventual global economic recovery or energy price rebound.
The push to produce more biofuels like corn-based ethanol or biodiesel made from soybean oil or palm oil helped drive prices of raw food commodities to record highs last year, prompting double-digit food price inflation in some countries.
It also set off a debate over the morality of using food crops to make fuel while millions around the world go hungry.
Now, initiatives to expand the production and use of renewable fuels in the name of national security, domestic job growth or to combat climate change may further fan the controversy, according to several food and agriculture company executives and industry analysts speaking at the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit in Chicago and elsewhere.
(23 March 2009)
Shell Dialogues webchat - biofuels
On April 7th, Dr Graeme Sweeney, Executive VP, Future Fuels and CO2, will host the first Shell Dialogues webchat of 2009. Graeme will discuss the topic of “How do we make biofuels sustainable?”
Can biofuels genuinely reduce CO2 emissions from transport? Doesn’t biofuel production compete with food supplies and lead to deforestation? Should governments be mandating targets for biofuels? Apart from biofuels, what are the other options for low carbon transport? These are just some of the questions that Graeme and his colleagues will answer on the day.
Please visit www.shell.com/dialogues for more information and to register to participate in the event. While you are there, please watch Graeme’s introductory video which explores the issues. You can also choose which of the two webchat sessions you would like to attend on the day, and pose a question to Graeme and colleagues in advance.
To participate in the online dialogue, please return to the site at your chosen time on April 7th. All questions are welcomed, and the team will do its best to answer as many as possible.
(24 March 2009)