Costing CO2 abatement - renewables, geothermal and biochar

"The World is running out of time but there is still hope that reason, science and rational risk management will prevail."
Before the global recession hit (and reduced the soaring price of fossil fuels), the “market cost†of the best renewables had become similar to that of coal burning-based power (see “Hope: best renewables cost same as coal power. “One Day Pathétique†Symphony paintingâ€).

However an Ontario, Canada Government commissioned analysis has revealed that when you take environmental and human mortality impacts into account the “true cost†of coal burning-based power was 4-5 times greater than the “market cost†– this making the best renewables and geothermal much cheaper than the “true cost†of coal burning-based power (see “Ontario study identifies social costs of coal-fired power plantsâ€).

Another way of seeing this is that it can be estimated (from arithmetic projection from the Canada study) that about 5,000 Australians die every year from the effects of deadly pollutants from coal burning (heavy metals, carbon monoxide, radioactivity, soot, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide) i.e. Australia sacrifices 5,000 lives each year on the altar of heavily-subsidized coal burning-based power (see “How many people die from Carbon Burning and Climate Change each year?â€).

For the Text and Power Point Slide Presentation of a superb recent public lecture by Dr Peter Seligman (Bionic Ear engineer, Cochlear and Monash University, Melbourne, Australia) entitled "The Bang for Buck Approach to CO2 Abatement" here is the link on the Yarra Valley Climate Action Group website. This link gives the Text of a public lecture by Dr Peter Seligman; for the extremely effective Power Point Presentation accompanying this lecture scroll down to see the Attachment at the end of the lecture text. Dr Seligman discussed where you can invest your money most effectively to reduce your Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions (e.g. roof top solar PV, solar/gas hot water, wind farms etc) - some of our favourite solutions do not bear up under his analysis. [in the following summary of his analysis, I have included but personally discounted nuclear power because, in addition to major security issues and costs, nuclear power introduction in a carbon-based economy carries a huge CO2 pollution component in the overall fuel cycle from the mining and processing to waste disposal and de-commissioning (see “The truth about greenhouse and nuclear powerâ€)].

Thus, according to Dr Seligman the “cost of energy abatement including the cost of energy saved†in units of “A$/tonne CO2†ranged from a marvellous -$500 (Mornington, WA remote area solar PV), -$141 (Compact fluorescent lamp used 24 hrs/day continuously), -$139 (large geothermal), -$139 (IRIS sealed nuclear reactor), -$134 (Georgia USA nuclear power), -$130 (Portland wind farm), -$121 (Birdsville geothermal), -$118 (Hepburn Co-op wind farm), $111 (Cloncurry thermal solar), $93 (LED fluorescent tube replacement), $92 (Mildura power solar power) and -$90 (domestic gas/solar hot water service, HWS) to the very costly +$7 (Gorgon CO2 injection project), +$30 (Carbon Capture and Sequestration, CCS Otway basin trial), +$36 (More efficient fridge), + $269 (hybrid car extra cost), $417 (Fairview coal bed methane), +$458 (Rooftop grid connect solar PV system), +$682 (Solar/gas HWS holiday house, 10% occupation) and +$2,000 (shredding money). [i would discount the nuclear option for the reasons given above].

Not considered in Dr Seligman’s excellent analysis is conversion to biochar (charcoal) of waste biomass (from crop straw, grasslands and forest waste biomass), this product being useful in CO2 abatement through return of carbon to the soil and also through helping create “terra preta†soil with increased fertility (see “Biochar†and “Forest biomass-derived Biochar can profitably reduce global warming and bushfire riskâ€). [Other improved agricultural practices such as minimum tillage cropping are also significant ].

Biochar expert Professor Johannes Lehmann of Cornell University calculates that it is realistically possible to fix 9.5 billion tonnes of carbon per year using biochar, noting that global annual production of carbon from fossil fuels is 8.5 billion tonnes (see: Alok Jha, "Biochar’ goes industrial with giant microwaves to lock carbon in charcoal", Guardian (13 March 2009) and Johannes Lehmann, Biochar for mitigating climate change: "carbon sequestration in the blackâ€).

In an Australian context, Crucible Carbon is developing high efficiency, low O2 pyrolysis technology for the mass production of biochar. According to Inside Waste Weekly: “Managing director Matthew Warnken says … potential carbon abatement of 100-200 million tonnes annually is “extremely reasonable and would be very achievableâ€â€¦ first commercial demonstration plant, with construction to begin at a site in regional NSW early next year. That plant will process around 20,000-40,000 tonnes of feedstock annually, producing electricity and a biochar product that would be used to improve degraded soils … assuming realistic prices for the value of the biochar and energy outputs of the plant, a value of A$20-30 per tonne of carbon sequestered would allow commercial biochar plants to be built with a three-year payback period†(see Opposition throws support behind biochar, Inside Waste Weekly (27 January 2009)).

Professor Lovelock FRS has given a recent assessment in which he discards nuclear (“It is a way for the UK to solve its energy problems, but it is not a global cure for climate change. It is too late for emissions reduction measuresâ€) and plumps for biochar, stating: ““There is one way we could save ourselves and that is through the massive burial of charcoal. It would mean farmers turning all their agricultural waste - which contains carbon that the plants have spent the summer sequestering - into non-biodegradable charcoal, and burying it in the soil. Then you can start shifting really hefty quantities of carbon out of the system and pull the CO2 down quite fast … The biosphere pumps out 550 gigatonnes [550 billion tonnes] of carbon [carbon dioxide, CO2] yearly; we put in only 30 gigatonnes [CO2]. Ninety-nine per cent of the carbon that is fixed by plants is released back into the atmosphere within a year or so by consumers like bacteria, nematodes and worms. What we can do is cheat those consumers by getting farmers to burn their crop waste at very low oxygen levels to turn it into charcoal, which the farmer then ploughs into the field. A little CO2 is released but the bulk of it gets converted to carbon. You get a few per cent of biofuel as a by-product of the combustion process, which the farmer can sell. This scheme would need no subsidy: the farmer would make a profit. This is the one thing we can do that will make a difference, but I bet they won't do it†(see Gaia Vince (2009), “One last chance to save mankind“, New Scientist, 23 January 2009: and http://biocharfund.com/.../20c02.pdf).

The World is running out of time but there is still hope that reason, science and rational risk management will prevail.


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Dr Gideon Polya
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Another interesting post! What I found most surprising was James Lovelock's comment about nuclear energy: "It is a way for the UK to solve its energy problems, but it is not a global cure for climate change. It is too late for emissions reduction measures." George Monbiot has also written about charcoal aka biochar: Woodchips with everything. It's the Atkins plan of the low-carbon world and Charleaders must cool enthusiasm for settting fire to the planet

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Guest Erich J. Knight

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One aspect of Biochar systems are Cheep, clean biomass stoves that produce biochar and no respiratory disease. At scale, the health benifits are greater than ending Malaria. A great example; http://www.unccd.int/publicinfo/poznanclimatetalks/docs/Natural%20Draft%20Stove.pdf Also , I would like the BioFuelWatch folks to read the petition of 1500 Cameroon Farmers; The Biochar Fund http://biocharfund.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=40&Itemid=60 The USDA-ARS have dozens of studies happening now to ferrt out the reasons for char affinity with MYC fungi and microbes, but this synergy is solidly shown by the Japanese work, literaly showing 1+1=4 This is what I try to get across to Farmers, as to how I feel about the act of returning carbon to the soil. An act of pertinence and thankfulness for the civilization we have created. Farmers are the Soil Sink Bankers, once carbon has a price, they will be laughing all the way to it. Biotic Carbon, the carbon transformed by life, should never be combusted, oxidized and destroyed. It deserves more respect, reverence even, and understanding to use it back to the soil where 2/3 of excess atmospheric carbon originally came from. We all know we are carbon-centered life, we seldom think about the complex web of recycled bio-carbon which is the true center of life. A cradle to cradle, mutually co-evolved biosphere reaching into every crack and crevice on Earth. It’s hard for most to revere microbes and fungus, but from our toes to our gums (onward), their balanced ecology is our health. The greater earth and soils are just as dependent, at much longer time scales. Our farming for over 10,000 years has been responsible for 2/3rds of our excess greenhouse gases. This soil carbon, converted to carbon dioxide, Methane & Nitrous oxide began a slow stable warming that now accelerates with burning of fossil fuel. Biochar viewed as soil Infrastructure; The old saw; “Feed the Soil Not the Plants†becomes; “Feed, Cloth and House the Soil, utilities included !â€. Free Carbon Condominiums with carboxyl group fats in the pantry and hydroxyl alcohol in the mini bar., build it and the Wee-Beasties will come. As one microbiologist said on the Biochar list; “Microbes like to sit down when they eatâ€. By setting this table we expand husbandry to whole new orders of life. Thanks for your attentions, Erich J. Knight Shenandoah Gardens

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Guest Medela

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I had an argument about global warming the other night with a couple of friends. I achnowleged that the world was warming somewhat and some of that was due to man, but said that any rational estimate of future warming due to man’s efforts yielded forecasts far below the catastrophic levels espoused by Al Gore (and for which he will apparently win the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday). Their response, which I have found to be typical, was 1) it doesn’t matter how much the warming is, it is bad to change the earth at all and 2) we need to aggresively fight CO2 "just in case" there is some catastrophic tipping point lurking out there.

The problem is that the costs of abating CO2 to any levels that might make a difference are both enormous and certain (vs. global warming costs which may or may not be large and are uncertain). Since fossil fuel production is intrinsic to economic growth, at least at current technology levels, large cuts in fossil fuel productions mean large cuts in world economic growth. A reduction, for example, in economic growth by must 1 percentage point a year would reduce the size of the global economy by 2.5 times in a century. And a one percentage point reduction is surely less than the true effect of the levels of CO2 cuts that catastrophists are petitioning for.

In particular, what is seldom mentioned, is that CO2 cuts of the kind suggested in Kyoto-type protocols are likely to lock over a billion people into poverty, just at the time when they are beginning to get their first experiences with prosperity.

In 2007, human beings will consume roughly 15 terawatts of energy worldwide. That level of energy use will rise rapidly over the next 100 years due to population growth and increasing living standards, especially among the global poor. By the year 2100, humankind will need to produce and consume roughly 60 terawatts of energy if every human on earth is to reach the level of prosperity enjoyed today by the world’s wealthiest one billion people. Even if economies were to become much more efficient, the total terawatts needed to bring all of humankind out of poverty would still need to roughly double by 2050 and triple by century’s end.

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Guest Michael Garjian

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Not all charcoal is biochar. True biochar is the result of heating biomass in an emission free pyrolysis reactor devoid of oxygen. Biochar has been shown to be a very effective soil amendment in numerous studies in South America and Japan. It is becoming popularized enough in the US that Biochar Xtra is now even being sold on Ebay. Others are using the bio-oils derived from biochar production to replace fossil fuels. Some folks are alarmed at the possibility of vast tracts of land being denuded to produce biochar. This is not a valid concern because, due to its very low density of from 20 to 35 pounds per cubic foot, the transport of biochar over long distances is not economically feasible.

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Guest Michael Garjian

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Not all charcoal is biochar. True biochar is the result of heating biomass in an emission free pyrolysis reactor devoid of oxygen. Biochar has been shown to be a very effective soil amendment in numerous studies in South America and Japan. It is becoming popularized enough in the US that Biochar Xtra is now even being sold on Ebay. Others are using the bio-oils derived from biochar production to replace fossil fuels. Some folks are alarmed at the possibility of vast tracts of land being denuded to produce biochar. This is not a valid concern because, due to its very low density of from 20 to 35 pounds per cubic foot, the transport of biochar over long distances is not economically feasible.

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Guest Michael Garjian

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Not all charcoal is biochar. True biochar is the result of heating biomass in an emission free pyrolysis reactor devoid of oxygen. Biochar has been shown to be a very effective soil amendment in numerous studies in South America and Japan. It is becoming popularized enough in the US that Biochar Xtra is now even being sold on Ebay. Others are using the bio-oils derived from biochar production to replace fossil fuels. Some folks are alarmed at the possibility of vast tracts of land being denuded to produce biochar. This is not a valid concern because, due to its very low density of from 20 to 35 pounds per cubic foot, the transport of biochar over long distances is not economically feasible.

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Guest Michael Garjian

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Not all charcoal is biochar. True biochar is the result of heating biomass in an emission free pyrolysis reactor devoid of oxygen. Biochar has been shown to be a very effective soil amendment in numerous studies in South America and Japan. It is becoming popularized enough in the US that Biochar Xtra is now even being sold on Ebay. Others are using the bio-oils derived from biochar production to replace fossil fuels. Some folks are alarmed at the possibility of vast tracts of land being denuded to produce biochar. This is not a valid concern because, due to its very low density of from 20 to 35 pounds per cubic foot, the transport of biochar over long distances is not economically feasible.

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You want to know all the secrets about biochar ? This book will help ! http://www.biochar-books.com Here practice and theory merge under a single cover of "The Biochar Revolution" and reveals hidden secrets of science called Biochar

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Guest Greg Mills

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Can it be better? No, defiantly not, this website delivers! Never found so much information in one place before. Thank You Owners! Visit us at http://www.surjo.com/ and  http://www.surjo.com/tech/

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Guest Jessica Forester

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After 6 months of offering stem cell therapy in combination with the venous angioplasty liberation procedure, patients of CCSVI Clinic have reported excellent health outcomes. Ms. Kasma Gianopoulos of Athens Greece, who was diagnosed with the Relapsing/Remitting form of MS in 1997 called the combination of treatments a “cureâ€. “I feel I am completely cured†says Ms. Gianopoulos, “my symptoms have disappeared and I have a recovery of many functions, notably my balance and my muscle strength is all coming (back). Even after six months, I feel like there are good changes happening almost every day. Before, my biggest fear was that the changes wouldn’t (hold). I don’t even worry about having a relapse anymore. I’m looking forward to a normal life with my family. I think I would call that a miracle.â€Other recent MS patients who have had Autologous Stem Cell Transplantation (ASCT), or stem cell therapy have posted videos and comments on YouTube. www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFQr2eqm3Cg.Dr. Avneesh Gupte, the Neurosurgeon at Noble Hospital performing the procedure has been encouraged by results in Cerebral Palsy patients as well. “We are fortunate to be able to offer the treatment because not every hospital is able to perform these types of transplants. You must have the specialized medical equipment and specially trained doctors and nursesâ€.  With regard to MS patients, “We are cautious, but nevertheless excited by what patients are telling us. Suffice to say that the few patients who have had the therapy through us are noticing recovery of neuro deficits beyond what the venous angioplasty only should account forâ€.Dr. Unmesh of Noble continues: “These are early days and certainly all evidence that the combination of liberation and stem cell therapies working together at this point is anecdotal. However I am not aware of other medical facilities in the world that offer the synthesis of both to MS patients on an approved basis and it is indeed a rare opportunity for MS patients to take advantage of a treatment that is quite possibly unique in the worldâ€.Autologous stem cell transplantation is a procedure by which blood-forming stem cells are removed, and later injected back into the patient. All stem cells are taken from the patient themselves and cultured for later injection. In the case of a bone marrow transplant, the HSC are typically removed from the Pelvis through a large needle that can reach into the bone. The technique is referred to as a bone marrow harvest and is performed under a general anesthesia. The incidence of patients experiencing rejection is rare due to the donor and recipient being the same individual.This remains the only approved method of the SCT therapy.

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