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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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Friday, June 06, 2008

Carbon-negative bioenergy making headway, at last

So far, Biopact has been the only organisation to spread the word about the concept of carbon-negative energy, which allows societies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere while generating energy. We have frequently discussed the two most obvious pathways to do so: (1) capturing CO2 from biomass fueled power plants and geosequestering the greenhouse gas, and (2) pyrolysing biomass to store biochar in soils while capturing and using the energy that is released during the pyrolysis process. Carbon-negative bioenergy is the most radically green energy concept, because all other renewable technologies are carbon-neutral at best, slightly carbon-positive in practise.

Biopact has always been surprised to see that other organisations, claiming to take the climate fight serious, have not heard of the concept or haven't been willing to take it serious. This is now changing, at last.

The reason for this change is a recent paper [*.pdf] by NASA's James Hansen, who is perhaps the most authoritative voice on where humanity should aim with its GHG reduction efforts. In the paper, Hansen says we do not merely need to 'reduce' our emissions (which we can do with improving energy efficiency, conservation, investments in wind, solar, etc). No, we have to go much further and actively withdraw CO2 from the atmosphere to achieve levels of 350ppm. Currently, atmospheric CO2 levels stand at 387ppm and if we merely invest in classic renewables, we will only keep adding CO2 to the atmosphere. This is not an option.

Geo-engineering techniques to capture atmospheric CO2 are not feasible because too risky or too costly. Hansen therefor lists four broad alternative priorities that should be implemented simultaneously to achieve the 350ppm target. Two of those are the production of 'negative emissions energy': (1) a moratorium on coal without CCS, (2) reforestation in the tropics and avoiding new deforestation, (3) coupling biomass to CCS (something Biopact has been advocating for a long time), and (4) initiating biochar projects on a large scale, possibly beginning with a transition from slash-and-burn to slash-and-char.

In short, Hansen has given Biopact's advocacy on carbon-negative energy strong backing. The effect is obvious: other climate organisations are now beginning to take note of the concept.

Norway's Bellona Foundation today released a report titled "How to combat global warming: the Bellona scenario," in which it gives carbon-negative bioenergy a central place. It seems the organisation has not yet heard of the relatively new concept of biochar and soil carbon sequestration, so it limits itself to analysing the idea of coupling bioenergy to CCS, describing the effect of this technology as follows:
Whether you were watching TV, vacuuming the house, or driving your electric car to visit friends and family, you would be removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
The Bellona Foundation refers to our 'strange world of carbon-negative energy', especially the example of the electric car powered by carbon-negative bioenergy. The more you were to drive such a car, the more you would be cleaning up the atmosphere and fighting climate change.

The organisation sees biomass coupled to CCS as the single most important technology to reduce emissions in the most drastic way. Its (conservative) estimate is that it can contribute 18 per cent to a scenario that consists of reducing emissions by 85 per cent by 2050. All other renewables (wind, solar, etc) combined can only contribute 13 per cent, CCS coupled to coal 13 per cent, non-CO2 reductions of GHGs 11 per cent, management of land-use changes 11 per cent, and lifestyle changes 10 per cent (graph, clik to enlarge).

Other organisations taking carbon-negative bioenergy serious are 'Beyond Zero Emissions', an Australian non-profit climate organisation, and 350.org, which was created recently around Hansen's priorities:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
As the name implies, 'Beyond Zero Emissions' aims not merely to reduce emissions from energy use to zero, it wants us to achieve 'negative emissions' - going way below zero. Therefor the organisation has been focusing heavily on carbon-negative bioenergy, more in particular on the concept of soil carbon sequestration via biochar (also known as agrichar or 'terra preta') and the pyrolysis and gasification technologies needed to make this work (schematic, click to enlarge).

'Beyond Zero Emissions' recently produced highly informative interviews (podcasts) with the leading researchers in this field: Cornell University's Professor Johannes Lehmann, who has studied terra preta soils and has been analysing biochar in all its aspects, especially its effects on soil biology, physics and chemistry.

Professor Tim Flannery, green icon and 'Australian of the Year 2007', discusses why biochar can become perhaps the most interesting concept in the climate fight, because of its multiple simultaneous benefits - restoring soils and making them fertile again, sequestering carbon permanently and in a safe and easy manner, and reducing important non-CO2 emissions from agriculture, such as methane and nitrous oxide.

In another highly interesting interview, Dr Lucas Van Zwieten discusses results from extensive field experiments. One type of trials, with biochar in pasture, showed very strong reductions of N2O emissions and a doubling of biomass yield. Nitrous oxide is an extremely potent greenhouse gas. The trials showed five- to ten-fold reductions of emissions of this gas from the soil. In short, biochar additions can alter agriculture radically by reducing its heavy N2O footprint. Another trial, with maize and biochar, showed a doubling of biomass production.

The organisation also interviewed Adrianna Downie from Best Energies, a highly innovative green tech company developing a slow pyrolysis technology capable of generating biochar and electricity simultaneously in a highly optimal way. Downie describes the process and refers to biochar trials in soils.

Last but not least, 'Beyond Zero Emissions' succeeded in talking with Dr James Hansen himself. Hansen describes the reasons why we must absolutely aim for 350ppm.

Recently a new organisation was created around Hansen's scenario and his description of carbon-negative bioenergy technologies. 350.org hopes to become a widely recognised climate 'logo'. The organisation wants to spread Hansen's message in all possible manners, and hopes ordinary citizens help in doing so:
350 is the red line for human beings, the most important number on the planet. The most recent science tells us that unless we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, we will cause huge and irreversible damage to the earth.

We’re planning an international campaign to unite the world around the number 350, and we need your help. We need to make sure that the solutions the world proposes to climate change are to scale with the level of crisis that this number represents. Everyone on earth, from the smallest village to the cushiest corner office, needs to know what 350 means. The movement to spread that number needs to be beautiful, creative, and unstoppable.

What we need most right now are on-the-ground examples for how to take the number 350 and drive it home: in art, in music, in political demonstrations, in any other way you can imagine. We hope this project will grow tremendously in the months to come, and it helps all the more if people can see the great things others are doing already. We will connect actions all around the world and make them add up to more than the sum of their parts-but we don’t have all the ideas and all the inspiration. We need you to act on yours.

Now it is time for larger organisations to wake up and take carbon-negative energy serious. The reason why Greenpeace, WWF, the WorldWatch Institute or Friends of the Earth haven't catched up with the latest climate technologies, concepts and science yet, is perhaps due to their large bureaucratic structures, which make these organisations slow to take up new views.

We are confident however, that small organisations like Beyond Zero Emissions, 350.org or Biopact are capable of creating a 'bottom up' movement to get the message across. The fact that a large and important NGO like the Bellona Foundation has now taken up carbon-negative energy as the key technology in its view of the climate fight, proves this.

James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Pushker Kharecha, David Beerling, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Mark Pagani, Maureen Raymo, Dana L. Royer, James C. Zachos, "Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?", March 2008, in press [but widely distributed on the net].

Bellona Foundation: It is fully possible to reduce emissions by 85 percent - June 5, 2008.

On bioenergy with carbon storage:
H. Audus and P. Freund, "Climate Change Mitigation by Biomass Gasificiation Combined with CO2 Capture and Storage", IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme.

James S. Rhodesa and David W. Keithb, "Engineering economic analysis of biomass IGCC with carbon capture and storage", Biomass and Bioenergy, Volume 29, Issue 6, December 2005, Pages 440-450.

Noim Uddin and Leonardo Barreto, "Biomass-fired cogeneration systems with CO2 capture and storage", Renewable Energy, Volume 32, Issue 6, May 2007, Pages 1006-1019, doi:10.1016/j.renene.2006.04.009

Christian Azar, Kristian Lindgren, Eric Larson and Kenneth Möllersten, "Carbon Capture and Storage From Fossil Fuels and Biomass – Costs and Potential Role in Stabilizing the Atmosphere", Climatic Change, Volume 74, Numbers 1-3 / January, 2006, DOI 10.1007/s10584-005-3484-7

Peter Read and Jonathan Lermit, "Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage (BECS): a Sequential Decision Approach to the threat of Abrupt Climate Change", Energy, Volume 30, Issue 14, November 2005, Pages 2654-2671.

Stefan Grönkvist, Kenneth Möllersten, Kim Pingoud, "Equal Opportunity for Biomass in Greenhouse Gas Accounting of CO2 Capture and Storage: A Step Towards More Cost-Effective Climate Change Mitigation Regimes", Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Volume 11, Numbers 5-6 / September, 2006, DOI 10.1007/s11027-006-9034-9

Biopact: The strange world of carbon-negative bioenergy: the more you drive your car, the more you tackle climate change - October 29, 2007

Biopact: Researchers find geosequestration of CO2 much safer than thought - February 18, 2008

On biochar:
Amonette, J.; Lehmann, J.; Joseph, S., "Terrestrial Carbon Sequestration with Biochar: A Preliminary Assessment of its Global Potential", American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2007, abstract, December 2007.

Johannes Lehman, John Gaunt, Marco Rondon, "Bio-char sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems - A review" [*.pdf], Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change (2006) 11: 403–427

Prof. Johannes Lehman's site: Bio-char or Agri-char: the new frontier, Cornell University.

Dr. Christoph Steiner's website: Biochar.org.

Terra Preta Bioenergy List.

Biopact: Biochar and carbon-negative bioenergy: boosts crop yields, fights climate change and reduces deforestation - January 28, 2008

Biopact: Research confirms biochar in soils boosts crop yields - June 01, 2007

Biopact: Towards carbon-negative bioenergy: U.S. Senator introduces biochar legislation - October 07, 2007

Biopact: Terra preta: how biofuels can become carbon-negative and save the planet - August 18, 2006

Biopact: Terra preta and the future of energy: the Secret of El Dorado - August 19, 2007

Biopact: Biochar soil sequestration and pyrolysis most climate-friendly way to use biomass for energy - April 26, 2007

On carbon-negative bioenergy compared with geo-engineering:
Biopact: Simulation shows geoengineering is very risky - June 05, 2007

Biopact: Climate change and geoengineering: emulating volcanic eruption too risky - August 15, 2007

Biopact: Capturing carbon with "synthetic trees" or with the real thing? - February 20, 2007

Biopact: New study shows stabilizing climate requires near-zero carbon emissions now - boosts case for carbon-negative bioenergy - February 15, 2008

Selected list of Biopact articles on negative emissions bioenergy and biofuels, and carbon capture techniques:
Biopact: Commission supports carbon capture & storage - negative emissions from bioenergy on the horizon - January 23, 2008

Biopact: "A closer look at the revolutionary coal+biomass-to-liquids with carbon storage project" - September 13, 2007

Biopact: New plastic-based, nano-engineered CO2 capturing membrane developed - September 19, 2007

Biopact: Plastic membrane to bring down cost of carbon capture - August 15, 2007

Biopact: Pre-combustion CO2 capture from biogas - the way forward? - March 31, 2007

Biopact: Towards carbon-negative biofuels: US DOE awards $66.7 million for large-scale CO2 capture and storage from ethanol plant - December 19, 2007

Biopact: Biochar and carbon-negative bioenergy: boosts crop yields, fights climate change and reduces deforestation - January 28, 2008

Biopact: Why Lester Brown strongly supports biofuels - February 26, 2008

Biopact: The strange world of carbon-negative bioenergy: the more you drive your car, the more you tackle climate change - October 29, 2007

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