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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Biochar "one of the only ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere"

Cornell University's Professor Johannes Lehmann explains that biochar -- sequestering carbon in soils -- is one of the only low-cost ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The expert in soil fertility management and soil biogeochemistry calls for the launch of pilot projects that will allow us to study the real potential for scaling up the technique. Lehmann also warns that the biochar community must avoid making the mistakes shown in other renewable energy sectors.

There are very few alternatives for removing CO2 from the atmosphere. There is the idea to capture carbon from biomass power plants and to geosequester it. But geosequestration is expected to be costly and would take at least a decade or more to become technically feasible.

Other 'geo-engineering' methods to capture atmospheric CO2 or to counter climate change in a strong way, are all either very risky or extremely costly. The concept of introducing sulphur particles into the stratosphere so as to emulate the effect of the cooling blanket generated by a massive volcanic eruption, has been dismissed because the acid rain that would result from it is a serious threat to agriculture and fresh water supplies. It would also destroy the ozone layer. Iron-seeding the oceans so as to induce algae blooms has been rejected by marine ecologists and the international community: the effects of the intervention on marine biodiversity are unknown. Launching billions of tiny mirrors into space so that they form a cloud that can reflect sunlight back, away from Earth, is one of the most costly options. Finally, building large oceangoing vessels which spew salt particles into clouds so as to make them more reflective has some technical barriers to overcome.

One lower-risk strategy to capture CO2 is to erect plenty of 'synthetic trees', which withdraw the greenhouse gas from the air and store it deep into the ground. However, the method is not only very costly, it also doesn't overcome the objections raised against geosequestration.

In light of this list of difficult options, biochar seems to be the most elegant, low-cost and safe strategy. Plants are used as natural CO2 sponges. Once they have trapped the climate-destructive gas, man transforms the biomass into a stable form: biochar. This carbon-rich material is then sequestered into problem soils (like nutrient-poor tropical soils), where it has been found that adding char can improve the fertility of these soils. The char can stay locked up in the soils for very significant periods of time.
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