Time to Master the Carbon Cycle


Time to Master the Carbon Cycle
Erich J. Knight, January 16, 2007

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 virgin 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.

Energy, the carbon cycle and greenhouse gas management

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.

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 charcoal.

As Dr. Lehmann at Cornell points out, "Closed-Loop Pyrolysis systems such as 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! "

Carbon Negative Bio fuels and Fertility Too

This 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 in place:

These are processes where you can have your Bio-fuels, Carbon sequestration and fertility too.

'Terra Preta' soils I feel has great possibilities to revolutionize sustainable agriculture into a major CO2 sequestration strategy.
I thought, I first read about these soils in " Botany of Desire " or "Guns,Germs,&Steel" but I could not find reference to them. I finely found the reference in Charles Mann's "1491", but I did not realize their potential .

I have heard that National Geographic is preparing a big Terra Preta (TP) article.

Nature article: Putting the carbon backBlack is the new green: Black is the New Green courtesy Best Pyrolysis.

Here's the Cornell page for an over view:

This Earth Science Forum thread on these soils contains further links, and has been viewed by 13,000 folks. ( I post everything I find on Amazon Dark Soils, ADS here):

The Georgia Inst. of Technology page:

Bio-char seems to have another interesting property: it seems to "stimulate" AMF.

The idea that the application of charcoal stimulates indigenous arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) in soil and thus promotes plant growth is relatively well-known in Japan, although the actual application of charcoal is limited due to its high cost. The concept originated in the work of M. Ogawa, a former soil microbiologist in the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute in Tsukuba. He and his colleagues applied charcoal around the roots of pine trees growing by the seashore, and found that Japanese truffles became plentiful. He also tested the application of charcoal to soybean with a small quantity of applied fertilizer, and demonstrated the stimulation of plant growth and nodule formation (Ogawa 1983). His findings with regard to legumes were taken up for further study by the National Grassland Research Institute (Nishio and Okano 1991).
That implies that rhizobia as well as AMF benefit.

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.

Here is a great article that high lights this pyrolysis process , ( http://www.eprida.com/hydro/ ) which could use existing infrastructure to provide Charcoal sustainable Agriculture , Syn-Fuels, and a variation of this process would also work as well for H2 , Charcoal-Fertilizer, while sequestering CO2 from Coal fired plants to build soils at large scales , be sure to read the "See an initial analysis NEW" link of this technology to clean up Coal fired power plants.
Soil erosion, energy scarcity, excess greenhouse gas all answered through regenerative carbon management http://www.newfarm.org/columns/research_paul/2006/0106/charcoal.shtml

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 Energy

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

International K&K Enterprise Others

The upcoming International Agrichar Initiative (IAI) conference to be held at Terrigal, NSW, Australia in 2007. ( http://iaiconference.org/home.html).

If pre-Columbian Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 20% of the Amazon basin 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 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.

I feel Terra Preta soil technology is the greatest of Ironies.
That is: an invention of pre-Columbian American culture, destroyed by western disease, may well be the savior of industrial western society.


Erich J. Knight
Shenandoah Gardens
E-mail: shengar at aol.com
(540) 289-9750