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Gee-Whiz Geoengineering

Filed under: — raypierre @ 25 October 2007

Just about two years ago, Chemistry Nobelist, and atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen opened a huge can of worms by suggesting that, since the world doesn’t seem to be getting its act together to significantly reduce CO2 emissions, it would be prudent to think about emergency measures in which we engineer ourselves out of the crisis by monkeying directly with the Earth’s solar radiation input instead of dealing with the CO2 content of the atmosphere. The specific proposal was to inject chemicals into the stratosphere that would form sulfate aerosols and hence block sunlight. Crude estimates suggest that the aerosol fix (if it is indeed a fix and doesn’t create more problem than it solves) is more technologically feasible than sci-fi dreams of sunshades at the Lagrange point. Not to say technologically feasible, necessarily, but not so far out as the other schemes. Crutzen’s idea, and related geoengineering proposals, have been discussed here on RealClimate. The subject is once more in the news, thanks to this chipper little op-ed by Ken Caldeira, which appeared in the New York Times this week.

Update: I just noticed that our original RealClimate piece was done before Crutzen’s article was published. You’ll find his article here (subscription not required).

The attraction of the proposal is that we are already conducting an uncontrolled experiment on aerosol-based geoengineering, through the sulfate aerosols injected into the troposphere by dirty coal plants. Along with a lot of nasty health and environmental consequences, this has had some inadvertent benefits in restraining some aspects of global warming. As coal plants get cleaned up in the future some of the cooling aspect of the tropospheric aerosols will be lost. Since aerosols last much longer in the stratosphere than they do in the rainy troposphere, the amount of aerosol-forming substance that would need to be injected into the stratosphere annually is far less than what would be needed to give a similar cooling effect in the troposphere, though so far as the stratospheric aerosol burden goes, it would still be a bit like making the Earth a permanently volcanic planet (think of a Pinatubo or two a year, forever). It might make sense to take a small portion of the aerosol that would have been dumped into the troposphere by retired dirty coal plants, and inject that directly into the stratosphere where it will restore the lost cooling effect while (hopefully) doing less harm than the old stuff dumped into the lower atmosphere. To go farther, though, and count on offsetting the entire unrestrained CO2 production of the coming century with engineered aerosols is fraught with peril.

Scientists just love to think about this kind of stuff, and I’m no different.Harvard is hosting a small workshop on aerosol-based geoengineering, and I have to say I’m looking forward to it. It’s like having a shiny new toy, and the chance that you might actually get to use it to play around with the real Earth and see what happens has a certain fatal attraction to it. Then, too, science thrives on a spirit of free inquiry, and it would be anathema to say that there are some things that just shouldn’t be thought about (though there are certainly some things that, once thought about, shouldn’t be built). But, there’s a real danger of jumping the gun and giving the impression that we already know we have a way out if things get too bad. Ken Caldeira’s Op-Ed is a case in point. “Which is the more environmentally sensitive thing to do: let the Greenland ice sheet collapse, or throw a little sulfate in the stratosphere?” is the way he frames the issue. To be sure, Ken only gets 400 words to make his case (which seems to be that the folks who work on this sort of stuff ought to get some more money), but those 400 words leave little room to explain the vast array of problems that need to be resolved before we can even begin to think of this as an out. Caldeira’s Op-Ed makes it seem like a slam-dunk, needing maybe only a diversion of 1% of climate research funds in order to do the trick.

Here are a few of the problems that need to be worked out: There’s the issue of the effect of the aerosols on stratospheric chemistry (think how unanticipated the chemistry of the Ozone Hole was), and the question of just where the aerosols would go once injected. There’s the question of the effect of the aerosols as cloud-condensation nuclei if they work their way into the tropical upper troposphere — an increase in high cirrus clouds could well lead to warming. Then, there’s the full range of possible effects on the atmospheric circulation. Held and collaborators (PNAS 2006) have implicated the joint effect of aerosols and greenhouse gases in the trend towards Sahel drought, and generally there are issues in what inhomogeneous aerosol forcing might do to things like the North Atlantic Oscillation. Also, a planet with a dim Sun and high CO2 is not the same thermodynamically as a planet with brighter Sun and lower CO2, because the reduced sunlight at the surface is not able to sustain as much evaporation, which has consequences for global rainfall. In a recent essay in Le Monde, Edouard Bard has pointed out additional problems with geoengineering.

In my mind, the most serious peril of sulfate geoengineering is one that stems from a problem that is not at all in dispute: the fact that the lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere is centuries to millennia, whereas the lifetime of aerosols in the stratosphere is at best a few years. That means committing the future generations to continue the aerosol injection basically every year more or less forever. We’re banking a lot on confidence in future stability and prosperity of the world here. A patrician in the glory days of the Roman Empire might well have expected the Pax Romana to go on forever, but really nobody expects a Dark Age.

One also has to wonder whether the international treaties and organizations needed to agree on and execute a geoengineering scheme are significantly easier to realize than the agreements needed to decarbonize the energy future, which would offer safer and more durable climate protection. And once you open the Pandora’s box of geoengineered climate, what do you do if nations disagree about what kind of climate they want, or if some poor nation objects to suffering drought in order to cancel heat waves in Chicago? Great fodder for science fiction novels about climate wars, but I’d prefer not to have to think about it happening for real.

The problem is that geoengineering a sunshade is being sold as insurance long before anybody has any idea whether it would work and what the unintended consequences would be. It’s not really insurance. It’s more like building a lifeboat, but a lifeboat based on a design that has never been used before which has to work more or less perfectly the first time the panicked passengers are loaded into it. The problem is that by the time we know enough to have any confidence at all in this lifeboat, CO2 may have risen to the point where the lifeboat becomes not just a backup, but a necessity. Would diverting 1% of the world’s climate research funds into this problem clarify the issues in time? I doubt it. Would devoting 10% a year to the problem be worth it? I doubt that, too, in comparison to more pressing research needs.

Now, can we please get back to the serious business of trying to figure out how to economically reduce global CO2 emissions?

213 Responses to “Gee-Whiz Geoengineering”

  1. 151
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #147,

    [To convince me otherwise, someone is going to have to show me with some certainty how real progress is going to be made on reducing emissions. To date, I am unconvinced.]

    You nailed the problem on the head.

    As long as people put forward seemingly serious suggestions that we can seed the stratosphere and tune the temperature (with no collateral ill effects), not only will people line up to believe it, they will bet on it. Why? Because it permits them to continue to change nothing. The path of least resistance.

    Thus, would-be geo-engineers actually contribute to the lethargic pace of change. We can keep on dreaming that we won’t have to.

  2. 152
    Almuth Ernsting says:

    Ray (under comment 16) suggests that burning biomass and sequestering the carbon might be a more benign approach than pumping masses of sulphates into the atmosphere. I have no doubt that trying to re-engineer the atmosphere could make matters worse, but I also fear that plans to use bioenergy with C&C on such a large scale as to theoretically reduce atmospheric CO2 could very quickly lead to biological collapse.

    Lermit and Read are two of the proponents of such ‘geo-engineering’ with biomass. They speak of using 500 million hectares of land by 2030 (by comparison, India has 329 million hectares). With a population which by then could be above 7 billion, with climate change, desertification and water shortages already reducing the amount of arable land worldwide, that will leave virtually no space for ecosystems and for biodiversity (and almost certainly too little land for food for everybody). Ecosystems play an essential role in helping to regulate the carbon cycle, rainfall patterns, for maintaining soil and the hydrological cycle. Do we really think that we can survive by transforming most of our planet into virtually sterile monocultures? That we can get away with replacing our biodiverse natural forests with short-rotation timber plantations, without depleting soil and groundwater? Surely, if we want to have any chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, we need to drastically reduce fossil fuel emissions AND protect our remaining ecosystems, whilst undoing some of the harm already done to natural forests, wetlands and grasslands!

  3. 153
    AK says:

    I found an interesting document, Magnitude and Significance of Carbon Burial in Lakes, reserviors, and Northern Peatlands, dating from 1999. I couldn’t find a later version and don’t know if the info is still considered accurate, but here are some interesting quotes:

    Wetlands that accumulate more than 30 cm of organic peat are called peatlands (Gorham, 1991). In Europe, they are called mires. Peatlands are concentrated in northern Russia, the Baltic States, Fennoscandia, Canada, and the Northern United States (particularly in Alaska) where they make up 9.7 percent of the total land surface (Gorham, 1995). It is estimated that the total area of unmined northern peatlands is 3.3×10^12 m^2 (Gorham, 1991). The estimated present average rate of OC accumulation in northern peatlands is 29 g/m^2/yr (Gorham, 1991). Using this rate for all northern peatlands, their total OC burial amounts to 96 Tg/yr (table 1).

    Globally, continental margins only amount to 12 percent of the area of the world oceans, but they are estimated to account for 44 percent of the present burial of OC in the oceans (Emerson and Hedges, 1988). Very little OC accumulates in the deep ocean basins, mainly because any organic matter produced in surface waters decomposes before it gets to the bottom. Estimates of OC burial in all oceans of the world vary, but tend to be about 100 Tg/yr (table 1).


    The total annual OC accumulation in lakes (54 Tg), reservoirs (265 Tg), and northern peatlands (96 Tg) is 415 Tg (table 1). Despite the total area of these three carbon sinks being only about 2 percent of the world ocean’s surface area, they bury more than four times more carbon than the oceans (table 1).

    It should be noted that the drainage of peatlands for forestry and agriculture, and use of peat as fuel, is releasing carbon to the atmosphere. Gorham (1991) estimated that such processes release about 35 Tg/yr from northern peatlands, and more southerly regions may actually be releasing more carbon from drained peatlends than is fixed in undrained sites. On the other hand, cultural eutrophication may have increased lake sedimentation of OC four- to five-fold in small lakes, an increase of 23-32 Tg/yr.

  4. 154
    David B. Benson says:

    Almuth Ernsting (152) — There are people who study such issues and the results are often reported in

    Roughly, about 400 exajoules of bioenergy can be put into production without heroic measures and without competing with the production of food and animal feeds. Some portion of the biomass for that could be used to produce biocoal for sequestration in abandoned mines or carbon landfills. I consider this the only long-range solution, at least so far.

    Since any biomass will do, there isn’t a need for monocultures, necessarily. For example, the natural tall grass prairie may well be more productive than even monoculture corn or switchgrass.

    I agree with your last sentence.

  5. 155
    Hank Roberts says:

    > biomass

    —- excerpt follows, see link for the full text, recommended —–

    … this entire discussion is not taking place reasonably- it’s highly emotional, with a careful avoidance of rational dissection.

    “Here are the multiple reasons, in order of intractability, in modest but not complete detail. And for those of you not aware, this IS an area where some consider me an “expert” – I’ve been asked to speak at multiple conferences, including one specifically on “cellulosic ethanol”.

    Barrier #1) Fire.
    … Will such fields always burn? Of course not. Will they burn often enough to make the whole proposition uneconomic? YES. … Any switchgrass growing region will be uninhabitable. ….

    Other cellulosic feedstocks will have similar fire problems, even hybrid willow. In order to be economic, these intrinsically flammable materials have to be grown in the highest density possible- increasing the fire hazard. ….

    Barrier #2) Storage.
    … We’re talking here about setting up a large scale industry. All the pieces have to fit together…..

    … Ever see a dead tree suddenly turn liquid? That’s what they’re saying they’ll be able to do, in 5 years. Believe me, the fungi and bacteria would do it now, if they could. … Turns out the cellulose in there is just really hard to get at.

    My plea is for hard, hard thinking, before we commit our hope and precious resources to blind fantasies. We don’t have time or resources to waste. We need more discipline in our projections for the future. Does this work? Does this fit in place? What happens next? And next?….

    —— end excerpt —— See link for full text

  6. 156
    Alvia Gaskill says:

    Limbaugh Says NAS Gambled on Geoengineering

    The link was too long, so you may have to paste it in to get to it.

    The Big Man has chimed in about Ken’s NY Times article. But as usual, the facts seem to not quite get in the way of a good story.

    Limbaugh’s transcript does not completely mirror the actual words in the article, although the most egregious divergence from the truth may be, could be, probably is some kind of error in transcription. You be the judge.


    Global Warming Update

    October 29, 2007

    Here’s another idea on how to cool the globe. This is a guy, Ken Caldeira, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology. Folks, this was in the New York Times. This is an op-ed. It is not a spoof. It is not satire. “Despite growing interest in clean energy technology it looks as if we’re not going to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide any time soon. The amount in the atmosphere today exceeds the most pessimistic forecasts made just a few years ago. It’s increasing faster than anybody had foreseen.” Yeah, and the temperature rise is negligible! That’s for another moment. “Even if we could stop adding the greenhouse gases tomorrow, the earth would continue warming for decades and remain hot for centuries. We would still face the threat of water from melting glaciers lapping at our doorsteps.

    “What can be done? One idea is to counteract warming by tossing small particles into the atmosphere above where the jets fly. This strategy may sound far-fetched, but it has the potential to cool the earth within months. Mount Pinatubo, a volcano in the Philippines that blew up in 1991, shows how this works. The eruption resulted in sulfate particles in the stratosphere that reflected the sun’s rays back to space and as a consequence the earth briefly cooled. If we could pour a five-gallon bucket’s worth of sulfate particles per second into the stratosphere it, might be enough to keep the earth from warming for 50 years. Tossing twice as much sulfate up there could protect us into the next century. A 1992 lottery for the National Academy of Sciences suggests that naval artillery, rockets, and aircraft exhaust could all be used to send the particles up. The least expensive option might be to use a fire hose suspended from a series of balloons. Scientists have yet to analyze the engineering involved but the hurdles appear surmountable.” So we’re going to pollute our way out of it! This is what I said way back when. Pollution is what cools the earth. Mt. Pinatubo was pollution. This guy has resorted to this. They’re getting desperate. Hoses, fire hoses attached to balloons? That’s a huge hose, and how many hoses are you going to need? Hoses! Sorry.


    Now NAS may eventually weigh in again on geoengineering, but I kinda doubt they will use a lottery to pick the winners. The original article, which he does link to, uses the word “report” instead of lottery. But I can just see some of the lazier news outlets, especially the lockstep right wing ones seizing on the lottery thing, so I wanted to set the record straight and of course, beat up on old Rush.

    Prof. Limbaugh also shares his wisdom about the paleoclimate, climate sensitivity and hurricanes. And need I remind everyone, millions of people listen to and believe this guy.

    His characterization of the aerosol as pollution has also been used here and elsewhere in articles, blogs, etc. It would not be considered pollution in that the chemical is a product performing a task. You could call the eventual rainout of the aerosol pollution, but if the levels are low enough, EPA would say the levels are de minimis, i.e., so far below regulatory levels as to be of no risk.

    [Response: I like the idea of running a lottery, since it would make it impossible to ignore what a gamble geoengineering schemes are. Why. you could even fund the system by selling the lottery tickets! People could place bets on who will suffer drought, what parts of the world will be too cold, what parts would remain too warm, changes in hurricanes, etc. Many possibilities there. –raypierre]

  7. 157
    Alvia Gaskill says:

    Workshop Report on Managing Solar Radiation

    I finally found this report today. It was published in April, but only released October 4, 2007 and is a summary of the Moffett Field meeting last November. I’m not sure when it was posted, but it had to be very recently.

    The aerosol, marine cloud and L1 point sunshade were the focus of the discussions.

    Many of the same issues that have been discussed here were covered. There was little attention paid to implementation and more to potential impacts. More questions were raised than answered.

    I’m not sure that the meeting at Harvard will be able to cover any more ground than at this meeting, since many of the unanswered questions require research as yet not undertaken and there have only been a few papers published since that are relevant.

    A general recommendation was to standardize the assumptions made in modeling so results from different studies could be compared.

    All told, very interesting reading, quite appropriate for Halloween!!

  8. 158
    Almuth Ernsting says:

    Re 154: Biopact appears to be a website run by industry (Equator Energies, a biofuel consultancy company), which poses as a citizens’ group (see:

    You say that 400 exajoules can be gained from bioenergy without displacing food or animal feed. I’ve read a few of the studies about the global potential for bioenergy and the optimistic forecasts all assume that there will be no climate change between now and 2050 and that agricultural yields will continue to rise year on year. Desertification and freshwater depletion are being ignored in those forecasts, too. Those assumptions are clearly questionable. You also say that bioenergy does not have to come from monocultures. That’s true, as far as heat and power is concerned (though monocultures tend to be the reality). However, we can’t assume that constantly removing vast amounts of biomass is sustainable. The idea behind ‘biomass for geo-engineering’ is that we can effectively speed up the terrestrial carbon cycle without triggering some form of ecological collapse. There’s no evidence that we can. A healthy ecosystem in a stable climate has approximately ZERO net primary productivity – that’s confirmed by the IPCC. With current carbon dioxide fertiilsation ecosystems have some primary productivity – but that is limited and new evidence suggests it may be shrinking. And a recent paper by Helmut Haberl and others ( finds that humans already use 23.8% of the net primary productivity of the terrestrial biosphere resulting in severe ecosystem degradation and bio-geochemical changes, and that large-scale biomass expansion would greatly increase those pressures. The idea that we can exploit ever more of the biosphere for fuel and now for geo-engineering without having to pay a price for it seems quite dangerous to me.

  9. 159
    Walt Bennett says:

    Well here’s another layman’s contribution to the discussion: the energy of the future will not involve combustion. Turbines for large generation supplemented with alternative sources such as wind and solar, especially at the super-local level. The turbines can be powered by dams or by natural sources of steam.

    Vehicles will run on pure electricity taken off of the grid, or a combination of electricity and hydrogen fuel cells of some sort.

    Two step approach: clean up the grid, and get vehicle electricity from the grid. Putting our minds to it, we can get there in 20 to 30 years.

    Coal must be abandoned as soon as possible. All this chatter about it being a ‘natural resource’, ‘nature’s gift to man’ and so on is almost laughable. It is a form of rock that contains high amounts of carbon, and so it burns. Lots of things burn. These are nature’s gift to man? Nature seems to think it’s actually the airborne release of particles it had seen fit to store in the earth. Hmm.

    “Clean coal” is a fantasy taught by coal producers. Coal is inherently dirty, and it is so dawggone expensive to clean it that the energy companies really don’t want to do it. They have managed to trap some particulates at some plants but nowhere near all, and many don’t trap anything at all. As for sequestering CO2, now we are back in the geoengineering camp.

    Biomass is another fantasy, but as has been pointed out, it has huge problems before it even gets off the drawing board.

    Sustainable energy that does not involve burning something – is man smart enough? The sun provides enormous energy to the earth, most of which we do not use. When will our concerted efforts to tap that free, clean, renewable resource get serious?

  10. 160
    Robert Edele says:

    Bringing up bottom water has two major issues which I have not seen addressed here:

    1 – Bottom water contains a lot of dissolved carbon. This carbon will be released when it is brought to the surface.

    2 – The coldness of the bottom water is a reservoir, not a permanent sink, for heat. It is refilled by the coldness of the poles, and artificial pumping, which will increase poleward warm currents (by mechanical pushing), will warm the arctic by pushing more warm equatorial water towards the poles.

  11. 161
    Hank Roberts says:

    Almuth, thanks for the pointer. Sad to know, good to know.

    As my friend linked above
    pointed out, it makes people very, very unhappy to hear. But false hope hurts other people worse later.

    Did you find IP numbers for the consultant and for the website? It’d be interesting to check if the consultancy has been blogflogging their business pretending to be grassroots people.

    Astroturf biofuel. Feh.

  12. 162
    David B. Benson says:

    Hank Roberts (155) — Nothing new there. Following Biopact makes it clear that ethanol from corn is an expensive way to trade one for one. Etc.

    Almuth Ernsting (158) — Biopact states their goals quite clearly on their site. Consultancy is one of these. There is no ‘posing’.

    Constantly removing biomass is going to have to be sustainable until we have put enough of the excess carbon in the active carbon cycle back underground. About 350 gigatonnes ought to do it. Since we have already sped up the carbon cycle by increasing CO2, we ought to slow it back down. What makes you think the current ecosystem is healthy?

    I am sure that a price will be paid, one way or another. However, I don’t see anything better on the horizon.

  13. 163
    Hank Roberts says:

    David, what’s new there is the whole list.

    — the assessment of the size and unavoidable consequences of the fire risk — for corn, for switchgrass, or any other large scale farmed fuel.
    — the lack of actual success creating enzymes that will break down cellulose, then break down lignin, and the problem of controlling such an enzyme given that bacteria and fungi live by breaking down these plant products now, and are good at transducing genes.

    Biopact says their staff is volunteer; but they’re also a private consulting firm. How does this work? Can you point to more information, or name anyone else who works for either company that could explain more?

  14. 164
    David B. Benson says:

    Walt Bennett (159) — Biomass is not a fantasy as billions of dollars are currently being invested in it. Only in the United States (and Canada, somewhat) is the approach bizzare, to say the least.

    Almuth Ernsting (158) — Let’s see: in Inner Mongolia sand willow is being planted to control the desertification. This willow makes a fine bio-degradable packaging material, so the peasants improve their income by planting and cutting, part-time. Seems a win-win to me. Much the same ought to be done in the Sahel to slow or stop desertification.

    Much of the soil on the island of Madagascar has been severely degraded by slash-and-burn agriculture. Those currently unproductive areas are instead being turned into biofuels plantations. Looks positive to me in that people will now be interested in improving the soils and have the income to do so. And on and on…

    The optimistic bioenergy projections are on the order of 1200 exajoules. To accomplish this would require massive investments as well as changes in the practice of agriculture, world-wide. However, the readily obtainable 400 exajoules is considered to be half the energy requirement for 2050. The remainder will have to come from other, less renewable, sources such as wind and solar. Less renewable in the sense that eventually all the metal ores will be gone.

    The world is going to change. The question is in what way? I propose some biocoal sequestration as far less risky and less expensive than sequestering carbon dioxide (which also affects the active carbon cycle). But either is better than maintaining that merely becoming carbon-neutral is going to suffice.

  15. 165
    David B. Benson says:

    Hank Roberts (163) — By following Biopact daily, none of those problems are news to me, except that I hadn’t thought about fire risk. However, even that can be avoided by using the wet biomass processes, hydrothermal liquification for biodiesel or microbial fuel-cells for electricity, for example. The former has a pilot plant running now on some of Amsterdam’s clarifcation sludge (sewage). Another is being built in New England, to run on forestry wastes. The microbial fuel-cells, while promising, are still in a research stage.

    At the top of the Biopact site there are virtual buttons to click. I know nothing more than is obtainable there, but I guess that

    is a volunteer effort by the same people who do the consulting. In principle the consultancy does not have to make all of the information they collect publically available, although I suppose this might help to create future consulting opportunities as well.

    While I read what they put up, and often follow their links, that does not mean I agree with them on every particular. Having said that, they are both knowledgable and thoughtful. I respect their judgements, in the main.

  16. 166
    Hank Roberts says:

    David, the fire problem is primary.

    The fact that it’s being ignored is the whole point of that site — it’s fundamental, it’s not an economic approach because of fire risk. The consultants are hyping the idea and enrolling volunteer members to push a business model there and it’s basically flawed.

    There simply isn’t enough primary productivity on the planet from sunlight — via biological growth and burning — to make up for human fossil fuel use.

    The writer at ‘Little Blog’ is right about this. You’ve got to show the downside of solutions or you lead people into wasting time and money. Some profit. We all lose. The numbers don’t work on this.

  17. 167
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #163,

    [Walt Bennett (159) — Biomass is not a fantasy as billions of dollars are currently being invested in it. Only in the United States (and Canada, somewhat) is the approach bizzare, to say the least.]

    I am reading that biomass will not replace fossil fuels based on the scale and economics involved.

    Am I right or wrong on this?

  18. 168
    Hank Roberts says:

    Walt, this may help:
    “;… The Ecological Footprint (EF) has received considerable attention as a useful indicator in the context of sustainable development. So far, it has mostly been applied as a static indicator. Here, we have derived a set of long-term EF scenarios for 17 world regions using the IMAGE 2.2 implementation of the IPCCs SRES scenarios….”

    There will certainly be some opportunities.
    The link I posted above is to a biologist/farmer who’s consulted on this sort of thing for decades and recently blogged on the cautions you don’t see addressed by enthusiasts in the business.

    — switchgrass burns, like any potential biofuel that’s grown dry.
    Harvested and stored, it’s flammable. Stored damp, it’s spontaneously combustible. That sort of consideration has to be calculated, and spelled out.

  19. 169
    David B. Benson says:

    Hank Roberts (166) and Walt Bennett (167) — Ever since 1970 I’be lived here, surrounded by the wheat fields of the Palouse. Every year the wheat matures and is left to dry in the fields. Every year the wheat is harvested when completely dry. Ever year there are a few few fires during harvest or the subsequent stubble cutting operations. Every year the volunteer rural fire department runs their tanker truck to some field to extinguiish the fire. Some years even when the wind is blowing.

    It is a known and insurable risk. And for bioenergy, simply cut the biomass while still green and moist.

    There is enough biomass potential to completely replace the entire (current) fossil fuel consumption of the world, recently estimated to be 388 exajoules worth. Several different studies have been conducted and 400 exajoules from biomass is not a high estimate.

    Biomass is currently replacing fossil oil in many countries because they can grow the biomass and produce biodiesel or even ethanol for less than the current prices for petroleum products.

    The PRC is investing over one billion (US$) in DR Congo for biofuel production. I doubt they read Biopact. They certainly did not consult with the associated consultancy first.

    So you are both just simply wrong to doubt that it is economic to produce biofuels. Brazilians make a good living from it. Do not use the United States Government’s misbegotten approach as indicating economic or even environmental good sense.

  20. 170
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #169,

    [Biomass is currently replacing fossil oil in many countries because they can grow the biomass and produce biodiesel or even ethanol for less than the current prices for petroleum products.]

    Cab you cite sources for this?

    Regarding fire, would it be reasonable to assume that we are anticipating dedicating more acreage to farming than we now do? And that this land will grow this type of crop, and probably existing acreage will switch over to it as well, based on market conditions. In other words, I don’t know what the multiple would be, but whatever it is, that is the increased chance of such a fire. Now, can you also multiply the number of people and equipment available to fight these fires?

    Logic tells me that would be a difficult leap in assumptions to make.

    Aside from all other concerns, when was the last time man took a giant technological leap backward? Isn’t human history marked by gains in efficiency?

    If biomass is somehow a more efficient way to fuel mankind than fossil fuels are, I must be missing something.

  21. 171
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Having traveled a fair amount in Brazil, I can speak somewhat to the effectiveness of an ethanol for gasoline switch. Brazil has managed to do it pretty effectively, much to the relief of its balance of payments. The thing is that at some level, the success of Brazil’s ethanol program depends on the productivity of its sugar plantations and on the availability of cheap (almost slave) labor. Sugar cane is inherently more viable for ethanol production than is, say, corn. However, harvesting sugar cane is labor intensive and brutally difficult work. Even so, the alcohol boom has brought a measure of growth back to Brazil’s Northeast, and the massive underemployed workforce is glad for the work.
    Unfortunately, the expansion of the cane plantations has impacted environmental quality, and in order to meet future energy demands further expansion into wilderness areas will be needed.
    Celulosic alcohol production could significantly increase production as these operations produce a lot of celulosic waste.

    Other promising developments I’ve heard about are use of algae to create biodiesel and even aviation fuel. Algae tend to be more efficient at turning sunlight into calories, but this is still a decade or two from viability. Moreover, the fact of the matter is that plants just aren’t that efficient at turning sunlight into energy. The main advantage is that you can use plants to generate substitutes for petroleum distillates, and our economic infrastructure is biased toward use of these distillates.

  22. 172
    Hank Roberts says:

    > cut the biomass while green and moist

    You didn’t read “storage and spontaneous combustion” — you can’t store that stuff wet. Nobody does.

    > Palouse

    Humans can’t see rates of change that destroy environments.

    This is the same advice I give myself: Look at where you live, that you consider a good example of what you think wise for others to do.

    In the Palouse, you’re living on very recent soil, mostly windblown silt dropped ten thousand years ago at the end of the previous glaciation, being eroded very fast by agriculture. Transient!


    “… today virtually all of the Palouse Prairie is planted in agricultural crops. The native prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States …. Once abundant birds and small mammals are few. The intensive roadbed-to-roadbed farming practiced today across the Palouse leaves few fences and fewer fencerows. Many once intermittent streams are farmed; many perennial streams with large wet meadows adjacent to them are now intermittent or deeply incised…. Agriculture has changed the hydrograph increasing peak runoff flows and shortening the length of runoff. The result is more intense erosion and loss of perennial prairie streams. As early as the 1930s soil scientists were noting significant downcutting of regional rivers (Victor 1935) and expansion of channel width. Higher faster runoff caused steams to downcut quickly, effectively lowering the water table in immediately adjacent meadows. On the South Palouse River, this process was so efficient that by 1900 farming was possible where it had been too wet previously (Victor 1935). Replacement of perennial grasses with annual crops resulted in more overland flow and less infiltration, which translates at a watershed level to higher peak flows that subside more quickly than in the past. Once perennial prairie streams are now often dry by mid-summer….
    ————–end excerpt————

    Look, all of us live in areas where human activity is degrading the environment. Without looking for baseline information all of us will mistake the transient situation we live in for healthy normal conditions that can be sustained. Not so.

  23. 173
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #171


    All true. However, our economic infrastructure was not geared toward petroleum distillates until the internal combustion engine came along.

    What I foresee is a more efficient engine which produces more power with less fuel, and that fuel, whatever it is, is plentiful, cheap to refine and safe to use. It will also either be low emission or will be easy to clean before release.

    I still believe that engine and fuel system will involve water. If I knew how, I’d go off and make my fortune.

    The implication that we will invent a solution which is based on sustaining the petroleum industry is, as I have said before, shortsighted and pessimistic. We can do better than to enslave masses of the population in reaping grass for ethanol.

    By the way, what about the plants which will need to be built to process the grass into ethanol? How clean will they be? How many will be needed? And what of the fact that ethanol cannot be transported in the same way as gasoline?

    I see real problems with the concept of biomass for fuel, and you raised several of them yourself.

    I think my point was valid: human history is marked by advances in efficiency, and I believe that the solution to this issue will be marked similarly.

  24. 174
    David B. Benson says:

    Walt Bennett (170) — Follow

    and you will discover many reviews of articles about this conversion. As Eli Rabett points out, breakthoughs in energy are rare. Greater efficiency is unlikely. Ethanol is largely a poor idea, there are better possible biofuels. All the the different processing techniques to convert biomass into biofuels are much cleaner, to put it mildly, than petroleum processing plants.

    Hank Roberts (172) — The biomass goes immediately into the processing unit. Isn’t stored in the usual manner.

    As for the Palouse, several decades ago there was considerable soil loss. Changed argicultural practices have significantly reduced soil loss. And no, it doesn’t look like the orginal Palouse prairie any more than Iowa looks like the original tall grass prairie.

    To put the problem of sequestering carbon in perspective, TNYT of 2007 Oct 26, page C1, states words to the effect that cement production accounts for 5% of the carbon added to the active carbon cycle. That’s 420 megatonness of caron per year. To offset that would require producing about 470 megatonnes of bioanthracite to be sequestered in carbon landfills, by weight almost one-half of the coal production in the United States.

  25. 175
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #174

    [As Eli Rabett points out, breakthoughs in energy are rare. Greater efficiency is unlikely.]

    Hence the term “breakthrough”, eh? :-)

    They do happen. And they mark the advancement of man.

    The question is not, in my mind, is biofuel useful on a small scale?

    The question is, can biomass replace fossil fuels? the issues I’ve seen raised have not been adequately addressed and pose real issues of scale.

    I stand by my assertion that man does not take giant technological leaps backward.

    Am I confused? Is biomass a more efficient process than fossil fuel?

  26. 176
    Ray Ladbury says:

    David, I have no doubt that the problem of a sustainable economy is one that can be solved. I am sure biofuels is a part of the solution. I have very little faith that we wil in fact solve the problems facing us. The automobile/fossil fuel economy has been problematic from the beginning, and probably hasn’t made political or economic sense since the mid ’70s. Yet it persists because there are lots of powerful interests whose wealth depends on it. Corn-based ethanol will probably grow tremendously in the US not because of its technical merits, but because of the agriculture (not farm) lobby. Sugar-based ethanol is here for the foreseeable future in Brazil because it solves a lot of political and economic problems in Brazil’s underdeveloped Northeast.
    Scientists will call for an economic fix, while economists and businesses will hold out for a technical fix. Neither will happen. For all the praises we humans heap on the bulge of neurons at the top of our spinal chord, I see no evidence that it has conferred upon us any evolutionary advantage over, say, yeast. We still consume and multiply until we render our environment uninhabitable, and then we die back.

  27. 177
    Hank Roberts says:

    > biomass goes immediately into the processing unit …

    But this really does require geoengineering:

    — mobile processing units following the harvest?
    — year-round growing seasons and the planting staggered so there is always just the right amount of material being harvested to keep the processing unit working?
    — transportation for the output from the processing unit?

    That’s why the fellow I linked to is pointing to this as just one of the many problems he lists — as an example, the “ethanol glut” in the Midwest now — they can’t store or ship more so they can’t use what they’ve got, and they can’t store what they can’t use, so they don’t buy what they can’t store, so the price to the farmer has collapsed.

    Without a thorough plan for an entire new industry, you have idle capacity, or flammable product, just sitting there.

    You could do an excellent “due diligence” investment worksheet for such an industry (as for any bioengineering idea) — the kind of complete study of problems and down sides that aren’t showing up at the PR sites.

    This is where we’re really going to need those skeptical accounting types — as the wave of new ideas starts being marketed. Because at least the old industries do know fairly well what their economics are. The new ideas don’t.

  28. 178
    Richard LaRosa says:

    Re#160 “bottom water contains a lot of dissolved carbon” I’m checking Sarmiento and Gruber “Ocean Biogeochemical Dynamics” and it will take me a while to be sure I have a correct understanding. Without upwelling in the tropical ocean the phytoplankton use up the N, P, and Fe in the sunlit layer and these nutrients are not replaced from below because of thermal stratification. All I want to do is replace the nutrients in the surface layer. If by dissolved carbon you mean dissolved organic matter, this is particulate organic matter where the particles are so small that they don’t sink. Their concentration is greatest at the surface and on the way down the organic matter is remineralized. That is, the photosynthesis process is reversed and the organic matter is changed back to nitrate and phosphate ions and the carbon is in the form of CO2. I have to check the book, but I think the CO2 gets to the surface even without the pumped upwelling. However, we need to pump up the 1000-m water to get the nutrients to the surface in order for phytoplankton to convert the CO2 back into organic matter. So I think the pumped upwelling just increases the production in the food chainand doesn’t increase the CO2 in the atmosphere

    Your second comment: Yes, the cold water is finite, but there is an awful lot of it down there and our pumping rate of one million cubic meters per second is quite feeble, so it will last long enough for us to figure out some other way to cool the surface and bring up nutrients so we can feed ourselves. If the pumping stations are moored in the Caribbean, the cold water that they bring up will be added to the current that eventually becomes the Gulf stream, so the atmosphere and the surface water gets cooled, and a bit less heat reaches the Arctic. I don’t think this “pushes” any warm water north, but it does add cold water to the current. I see that this might increase the flow through the Gulf of Mexico, which brings up the idea of using turbines in the Antilles passages tocreate some back pressure that diverts some of the Equatorial current water around the Caribbean Sea and directly into the Gulf Stream. The upwelling and the Antilles turbines work together.

  29. 179
    Wacko says:

    In response to this comment in #116 that states:
    “— c.f the fact that it does nothing for ocean acidification, and also the implications of the mismatch in time scale between aerosols and CO2. –raypierre]”

    Indeed, that particular potential solution does nothing for ocean acidification. Another engineering or social solution is required to address the acidification issue. But you obviously think that a single geoengineering solution has to be solve-it-all problem aka “a silver bullet”. I got news for you: there is NO such thing as a “silver bullet”! Several, not one, geoengineering projects are required to counteract the dangerous global warming negative feedback. No geoengineering projects = adios, humanity by year 2100.

    Reducing global warming requires several geoengineering efforts and massive social changes. It is extremely dumb, naive, and luddite-like to think that NO geoengineering project is needed to combat global warming. I repeat, it will take BOTH geoengineering and massive change in society’s behavior(ie. swtich to public transportation, slower-paced lifestyle, cycling as the norm, get local produce, end mindless consumerism, shutdown/outlaw all coal plants, switch to alternative energy, etc.).

    Back to that comment about “the implications of the mismatch in time scale between aerosols and CO2.” Can you care to explain what it is? No wonder scientists still can’t communicate to the public effectively. I wished we still have Carl Sagan alive today but instead we have “media-unfriendly” scientists who still haven’t a clue on how to effectively communicate scientific results/process to the public.

    [Response: Carbon dioxide stays up there for 1000 years. Sulfate aerosols stay up there for one or two years. So, to cancel out the effect of carbon dioxide by aerosols, even assuming everything else works fine, you have to assume that humanity will stay rich enough and organized enough to put up some new aerosols every year for the next thousand years. Maybe more. You dig? That clear enough for you? I’m just repeating what I said in the original post, but I hope you’ll be able to understand it this time. I don’t think Carl Sagan could have done any better, “billions and billions” notwithstanding. –raypierre]

  30. 180
    David B. Benson says:

    Hank Roberts (177) — I’ll let you do your own research on all of this. Biopact is only one place to start. Suffice it to say that ethanol production in Brazil and India works fine, producing incomes for rather poor people who otherwise would not have employment. It doesn’t work (well) in the U.S. because of the heavy hand of the federal govenment subsidies using the wrong feedstock.

    Nonetheless, the general concept of biofuels is a workable, economic, and carbon-neutral concept. Let the (regulated) economy determine what proportion of energy is produced by photosynthesis and what proportion by other sustainable methods.

    I’ll estimate that by 2050 (if we still have a civilization then) about 25-50% will be produced from biomass.

    My central point remains that some portion needs to be turned into biocoal for sequestration. lowering the amount of carbon in the active carbon cycle.

  31. 181
  32. 182
    Hank Roberts says:

    Good cautions to potential biofuels investors here, about thermodynamics and how little MBAs understand this:

  33. 183
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. #180, David B. Benson:

    biofuels is a workable, economic, and carbon-neutral concept

    It would only be carbon neutral if no fertilizers were being used in biofuel crop farms, if no forests were being cleared to make way for biofuel crop farms, if the conversion of crops to biofuel only used renewable energy, and if the fuel was being transported in a carbon-neutral way. As things stand, there is little sign that these conditions are being met, for the most part.

  34. 184
    David B. Benson says:

    Dave Rado (181) — I agree all of that is required to actually become fully carbon-neutral, except the bits about fertilizers and conversion. Fertilizers, when required (which is not often in the tropics), can also be produced entirely via biofuels. In the U.S. too much nitrogen fertilizer is used and this is bad from the standpoint of global warming, but this is a separate issue from the production of biofuels. Finally, the conversion can either use biofuels or else is exothermic.

    The only forests in question are the tropical rain forests in Southeast Asia, cleared for oil palms. This clearing is quite a bad idea from the standpoint of carbon cycle inputs, although does provide a cash income to the people living there. Biopact passed along the suggestion that environmental organizations could buy their own oil palm plantation and use the profits to purchase and protect some segments of tropical rain forest.

    Transport by ocean vessel does not use much energy. However, with over 90,000 vessels in the world’s ocean vessel fleet, this segment of the world economy produces about 2.7% of the carbon being added to the active carbon cycle. That is 227 million tonnes of carbon per year and considered to be more than averagely harmful because of the black carbon (soot) component. Of course, with enough production of biodiesel and bio-bunker oil, all of this transport sector could become carbon-neutral as well.

    Finally, both train engines and truck engines will perform well using biodiesel. It is simply a matter of making enough of it in a carbon-neutral manner.

    Still, these concerns are ones which you may care to raise in the comment sections of Biopact:

  35. 185
    Hank Roberts says:

    Equator Energy (Equator Oils?), Agrooils, and Gruppo Jatropha

    “Agroils Srl is the first Italian biofuels consulting company…”

    “Equator Energy brings together a variety of specific competences … This unique blend makes Equator Energy an ideal mediator between investors …”

    Gruppo Jatropha
    Leo Dartelaan 20, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium
    ABSTRACT: Conceptual analysis of a village-based biofuel and energy production system ….

  36. 186
    Alvia Gaskill says:

    RE: 179 Raypierre, you must not give Roger Angel, Klaus Lackner, David Keith and other scientists/engineers as yet unidentified/unborn any credit for being able to make progress in finding ways to block sunlight by other means or reduce emissions and atmospheric CO2 levels.

    Certainly, if the aerosol strategy were to be adopted as a partial or total delaying tactic, it would require a time commitment of some number of decades, but not likely 1000 years. Only some of the CO2 from an emission source today would remain in the air 1000 years from now, so the real time frame is probably a couple of hundred years. In the absence of any other progress, this would require such an effort to be sustained and that could be rather onerous, but it isn’t a realistic way to look at the issue.

    Also, what kind of scenario prevents a low tech low cost tactic like this from being employed? WWIII? A global economic depression? If you are assuming the collapse of human civilization from some other cause, then I suppose we don’t have to worry about climate change anyway.

  37. 187
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re Raypierre’s response in 179

    Minor quibble.

    Sagan never said “billions and billions”.

    It was Johnny Carson.

    [Response: Yeah, I guess I knew that. I just couldn’t help myself. “Billions and Billions,…” it just rolls off the tongue so nicely. I am a great admirer of Carl Sagan. –raypierre]

    From: “Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millenium” Chpt 1:

    “I never said it. Oh, I said there are maybe 100 billion galaxies and 10 billion trillion stars. It’s hard to talk about the Cosmos without using big numbers, I said “billion” many times on the Cosmos television series, which was seen by a great many people. But I never said “billions and billions.” For one thing, it’s too imprecise. How many billion are “billions and billions?” …

    “But Johnny Carson – on whose TONIGHT SHOW I’d appeared almost thirty times over the years – said it. He’d dress up in a corduroy jacket, a turtleneck sweater, and something like a mop for a wig. He had created a rough imitation of me, a kind of Doppelganger, that went around saying “billions and billions” on late-night television. … (Despite the “disguise”, Carson – a serious amateur astronomer – would often make my imitation talk real science.)”

  38. 188
    Darrel says:

    Any geo-engineering option would have at least the following two consequences:
    1) unforeseen negative consequences on the environment/climate
    2) a reduced effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

    When something “unnatural” is put into nature (or an unnatural amount of a natural substance), negative consequences are almost inevitable. DDT, asbestos, CFC’s, etc. The risks of such a massive undertaking as pumping huge amounts of sulfate aerosol into the stratosphere are huge. Also the climatic risks. I’ve heard about calculations that show that such a stratospheric sulfate layer could very well create local warming in the Arctic, just an example of creating more problems that you’re trying to solve.
    The lobby-groups that now argue so strongly against mitigation, they would jump at the idea of geo-engineering. It gives them the perfect argument against mitigation. If those lobby groups are already so influential today with their dis-information campaigns, how much more influence would their line of thinking become when geo-engineering is a serious candidate?

  39. 189
    Hank Roberts says:

    David, you’ve posted the biopact link over 50 times at RC. Biopact overlaps addresses and people with Agrioils, Equator Oils, Equator Energy, and Gruppo Jatropa. Do you know how to find out about this group’s organization, nonprofit status, or who’s on its paid staff? I find overlaps but nothing specific identifying how it’s put together and it’s very perplexing to me from outside. Who works for who?

  40. 190
    David B. Benson says:

    Hank Roberts (189) — I don’t know and can only surmise. However, Biopact has a contact us link which you could use to ask.

    I find it to be a useful source of quite reliable information. They are perhaps not sufficently negative regarding ethanol-from-corn or biodiesel-from-rapeseed, but they certainly are (properly) negative regarding the feasibility of using algae as part of a solution anytime soon. In general they simply report developments without overly editorializing about them.

    Yes, I provide the link for people who appear to be interested in learning more about biofuels, which I am convinced will have to be part of any economic solution to our current dilemma.

  41. 191
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Biopact … about

    As of February 2007, they plan to become a nonprofit and publish their finances, so we can hope to see information eventually.
    … soon our finances will be publicly available, as we are registering the group as a non-profit.
    Please allow us to quickly sketch the context in which Biopact came into existence. It might take away some of the suspicion.
    Biopact was created in late 2005 by a group of young academics in Belgium ….Biopact Team (a list of our ‘members’ will be available soon) by Biopact at 6:49 AM on 26 Feb 2007
    ——–end excerpt——

    I find there’s nothing new about my questions, so I’ll wait and see if Grist’s thread gets updated at some point with answers.

  42. 192
    David B. Benson says:

    Here is a link providing access to reports (testimony) regarding black carbon. Professor Jacobson’s paper makes it quite clear that biodiesel is no better than fossil diesel in this regard:

  43. 193

    Here’s James Lovelock talking about the justification for his geo-engineering plan which was published in Nature Lovelock & Rapley ‘Ocean pipes could help the Earth to cure itself’ Nature 449, 403 (27 September 2007) | doi:10.1038/449403a.

    See the Realtime webcast at:

  44. 194
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 187

    Yeah, I guess I knew that. I just couldn’t help myself. “Billions and Billions,…” it just rolls off the tongue so nicely. I am a great admirer of Carl Sagan. –raypierre

    As were many of us. I miss him still, and read his books and pull out my disks of Cosmos from time to time just to listen to him speak. He came along at the right time, was in the right place, and was able to do something about it.

    But this got me to thinking about the complaint re “no more Sagans”. We’re that it were so simple. It is not easy to get in front of hundreds and thousands of people and discuss science extemporaneously with the ease, wit and ability to take large ideas and make them palatable to the average person with no real science background. You never, ever got the sense he was talking down to his audience, or that he felt some things were just too difficult to discuss. If anything, he was too good; he made it seem almost romantic to the exclusion of the hard and tedious work involved with scientific research.

    Most important, perhaps, was the singular sense you got that he believed in people, in humanity, that we had it in ourselves to do great things.

    But what Wacko doesn’t understand is that for all the reasons I outlined above, finding a new Sagan is no easy thing. It isn’t that scientists are media unfriendly or can’t communicate scientific concepts. To the contrary; we see plenty of good examples in a number of media, from magazines to books to programs we see on PBS. (There are dogs out there, as well, but that is not the point,) And understanding science for laypeople (such as myself) requires hard work, a willingness to push the brain cells a little bit.

    What Sagan brought to the table wasn’t just the science; it was why the science mattered, why it was important. He was able to show how it affects us, how it influenced our world, what it tells us about ourselves and the possibilities it opens for our future. At the core of everything he was doing, he connected the dots. That was his true genius.

    And genius like that doesn’t get manufactured.

  45. 195
    Walt Bennett says:

    I nominate Dr. Hansen as the new Sagan.

    I already feel that way about him.

    Let Dr. Hansen host a series of public television programs, explaining AGW theory and helping laypeople understand how robust it is.

    (Of course his critics will no doubt pick apart the program’s funding, but all that matters is what the viewing public chooses to believe.)

  46. 196
    Erich J. Knight says:

    I thought the current news and links on Terra Preta (TP)soils and closed-loop pyrolysis of Biomass would interest you. Carbon to the soil for a really long time

    This technology represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.Terra Preta Soils a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too.
    SCIAM Article May 15 07;

    After many years of reviewing solutions to anthropogenic global warming (AGW) I believe this technology can manage Carbon for the greatest collective benefit at the lowest economic price, on vast scales. It just needs to be seen by ethical globally minded companies.

    Could you please consider looking for a champion for this orphaned Terra Preta Carbon Soil Technology.

    The main hurtle now is to change the current perspective held by the IPCC that the soil carbon cycle is a wash, to one in which soil can be used as a massive and ubiquitous Carbon sink via Charcoal. Below are the first concrete steps in that direction;

    S.1884 – The Salazar Harvesting Energy Act of 2007

    A Summary of Biochar Provisions in S.1884:

    Carbon-Negative Biomass Energy and Soil Quality Initiative

    for the 2007 Farm Bill

    (…PLEASE!!……….Contact your Senators & Repps in Support of S.1884……..NOW!!…)

    Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.

    Potential Carbon Emissions Reductions from Biomass by 2030by Ralph P. Overend, Ph.D. and Anelia Milbrandt
    National Renewable Energy Laboratory

    The organization 25×25 (see 25x’25 – Home) released it’s (first-ever, 55-page )”Action Plan” ; see; http://www.25××25/documents/IP%20Documents/ActionPlanFinalWEB_04-19-07.pdf
    On page 29 , as one of four foci for recommended RD&D, the plan lists: “The development of biochar, animal agriculture residues and other non-fossil fuel based fertilizers, toward the end of integrating energy production with enhanced soil quality and carbon sequestration.”
    and on p 32, recommended as part of an expanded database aspect of infrastructure: “Information on the application of carbon as fertilizer and existing carbon credit trading systems.”

    I feel 25×25 is now the premier US advocacy organization for all forms of renewable energy, but way out in front on biomass topics.

    There are 24 billion tons of carbon controlled by man in his agriculture and waste stream, all that farm & cellulose waste which is now dumped to rot or digested or combusted and ultimately returned to the atmosphere as GHG should be returned to the Soil.

    Even with all the big corporations coming to the GHG negotiation table, like Exxon, Alcoa, .etc, we still need to keep watch as the Democrats/Enviromentalist try to influence how carbon management is legislated in the USA. Carbon must have a fair price, that fair price and the changes in the view of how the soil carbon cycle now can be used as a massive sink verses it now being viewed as a wash, will be of particular value to farmers and a global cool breath of fresh air for us all.

    If you have any other questions please feel free to call me or visit the TP web site I’ve been drafted to co-administer.

    It has been immensely gratifying to see all the major players join the mail list , Cornell folks, T. Beer of Kings Ford Charcoal (Clorox), Novozyne the M-Roots guys(fungus), chemical engineers, Dr. Danny Day of EPRIDA , Dr. Antal of U. of H., Virginia Tech folks and probably many others who’s back round I don’t know have joined.

    Also Here is the Latest BIG Terra Preta Soil news;

    The Honolulu Advertiser: “The nation’s leading manufacturer of charcoal has licensed a University of Hawai’i process for turning green waste into barbecue briquets.”


    ConocoPhillips Establishes $22.5 Million Pyrolysis Program at Iowa State 04/10/07

    Glomalin, the recently discovered soil protien, may be the secret to to TP soils productivity;

    Here is my current Terra Preta posting which condenses the most important stories and links;

    Terra Preta Soils Technology To Master the Carbon Cycle

    Man has been controlling the carbon cycle , and there for the weather, since the invention of agriculture, all be it was as unintentional, as our current airliner contrails are in affecting global dimming. This unintentional warm stability in climate has over 10,000 years, allowed us to develop to the point that now we know what we did,………… and that now……… we are over doing it.

    The prehistoric and historic records gives a logical thrust for soil carbon sequestration.
    I wonder what the soil biome carbon concentration was REALLY like before the cutting and burning of the world’s forest, my guess is that now we see a severely diminished community, and that only very recent Ag practices like no-till and reforestation have started to help rebuild it. It makes implementing Terra Preta soil technology like an act of penitence, a returning of the misplaced carbon to where it belongs.

    On the Scale of CO2 remediation:

    It is my understanding that atmospheric CO2 stands at 379 PPM, to stabilize the climate we need to reduce it to 350 PPM by the removal of 230 Billion tons of carbon.

    The best estimates I’ve found are that the total loss of forest and soil carbon (combined
    pre-industrial and industrial) has been about 200-240 billion tons. Of
    that, the soils are estimated to account for about 1/3, and the vegetation
    the other 2/3.

    Since man controls 24 billion tons in his agriculture then it seems we have plenty to work with in sequestering our fossil fuel CO2 emissions as stable charcoal in the soil.

    As Dr. Lehmann at Cornell points out, “Closed-Loop Pyrolysis systems such as Dr. Danny Day’s are the only way to make a fuel that is actually carbon negative”. and that ” a strategy combining biochar with biofuels could ultimately offset 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year-an amount equal to the total current fossil fuel emissions! ”

    Terra Preta Soils Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X FertilityToo

    This some what orphaned new soil technology speaks to so many different interests and disciplines that it has not been embraced fully by any. I’m sure you will see both the potential of this system and the convergence needed for it’s implementation.

    The integrated energy strategy offered by Charcoal based Terra Preta Soil technology may
    provide the only path to sustain our agricultural and fossil fueled power
    structure without climate degradation, other than nuclear power.

    The economics look good, and truly great if we had CO2 cap & trade or a Carbon tax in place.

    .Nature article, Aug 06: Putting the carbon back Black is the new green:

    Here’s the Cornell page for an over view:

    University of Beyreuth TP Program, Germany

    This Earth Science Forum thread on these soils contains further links, and has been viewed by 19,000 self-selected folks. ( I post everything I find on Amazon Dark Soils, ADS here):

    There is an ecology going on in these soils that is not completely understood, and if replicated and applied at scale would have multiple benefits for farmers and environmentalist.

    Terra Preta creates a terrestrial carbon reef at a microscopic level. These nanoscale structures provide safe haven to the microbes and fungus that facilitate fertile soil creation, while sequestering carbon for many hundred if not thousands of years. The combination of these two forms of sequestration would also increase the growth rate and natural sequestration effort of growing plants.

    The reason TP has elicited such interest on the Agricultural/horticultural side of it’s benefits is this one static:

    One gram of charcoal cooked to 650 C Has a surface area of 400 m2 (for soil microbes & fungus to live on), now for conversion fun:

    One ton of charcoal has a surface area of 400,000 Acres!! which is equal to 625 square miles!! Rockingham Co. VA. , where I live, is only 851 Sq. miles

    Now at a middle of the road application rate of 2 lbs/sq ft (which equals 1000 sqft/ton) or 43 tons/acre yields 26,000 Sq miles of surface area per Acre. VA is 39,594 Sq miles.

    What this suggest to me is a potential of sequestering virgin forest amounts of carbon just in the soil alone, without counting the forest on top.

    To take just one fairly representative example, in the classic Rothampstead experiments in England where arable land was allowed to revert to deciduous temperate woodland, soil organic carbon increased 300-400% from around 20 t/ha to 60-80 t/ha (or about 20-40 tons per acre) in less than a century (Jenkinson & Rayner 1977). The rapidity with which organic carbon can build up in soils is also indicated by examples of buried steppe soils formed during short-lived interstadial phases in Russia and Ukraine. Even though such warm, relatively moist phases usually lasted only a few hundred years, and started out from the skeletal loess desert/semi-desert soils of glacial conditions (with which they are inter-leaved), these buried steppe soils have all the rich organic content of a present-day chernozem soil that has had many thousands of years to build up its carbon (E. Zelikson, Russian Academy of Sciences, pers. comm., May 1994).

    All the Bio-Char Companies and equipment manufactures I’ve found:

    Carbon Diversion

    Eprida: Sustainable Solutions for Global Concerns

    BEST Pyrolysis, Inc. | Slow Pyrolysis – Biomass – Clean Energy – Renewable Ene

    Dynamotive Energy Systems | The Evolution of Energy

    Ensyn – Environmentally Friendly Energy and Chemicals

    Agri-Therm, developing bio oils from agricultural waste

    Advanced BioRefinery Inc.

    Technology Review: Turning Slash into Cash

    The International Agrichar Initiative (IAI) conference held at Terrigal, NSW, Australia in 2007. ( ) ( The papers from this conference are now being posted at their home page)

    If pre-Columbian Kayopo Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 15% of the Amazon basin using “Slash & CHAR” verses “Slash & Burn”, it seems that our energy and agricultural industries could also product them at scale.

    Harnessing the work of this vast number of microbes and fungi changes the whole equation of energy return over energy input (EROEI) for food and Bio fuels. I see this as the only sustainable agricultural strategy if we no longer have cheap fossil fuels for fertilizer.

    We need this super community of wee beasties to work in concert with us by populating them into their proper Soil horizon Carbon Condos.

    Erich J. Knight
    Shenandoah Gardens
    1047 Dave Berry Rd.
    McGaheysville, VA. 22840
    (540) 289-9750

  47. 197
    Hank Roberts says:

    This is yet another proposal for a process to remove CO2 from the atmosphere much faster than natural weathering. There are a whole lot of these, varying in detail considerably. If any of them actually produces a salable material in the end rather than a waste product to be disposed of, it’d be much more attractive economically.

  48. 198
    David B. Benson says:

    Erich J. Knight (196) — I generally agree. However, the usual estimate of the additional carbon anthropogenically added to the active carbon cycle is about 500 billion tonnes (Gt) with the current concentraion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere being 385 ppm, much higher than the pre-industrial figure of about 280 ppm. Removing 350 Gt would take the radiative forcing due to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere back to about that of 1950, 315 ppm.

  49. 199
    David B. Benson says:

    Potential problems with BECS (Bioenergy with carbon sequestration)

    (which includes a bit more about Biopact for Hank Roberts and others)

  50. 200
    AK says:

    I posted this link in the Carbon Sink thread, but I’ll cross post it here for anybody not interested in the carbon sink:

    Giving Climate Change a Kick

    CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS–Top climate scientists have cautiously endorsed the need to study schemes to reverse global warming that involve directly tinkering with Earth’s climate. Their position on geoengineering, which will likely be controversial, was staked out at an invitation-only meeting that ended here today. It’s based on a growing concern about the rapid pace of global change and continued anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.

    via Chris C. Mooney.