Thursday, January 24, 2008

The carbon numbers

I have several times been asked about the amount of carbon existing in excess in the atmosphere, and the possibilities to remove it within reasonable time. Therefore, I will provide the figures as far as I know them, and the reasoning behind them.
If you can't stand numbers, stop reading here.

The global annual net primary production (NPP) varies, but is estimated to be between 70 and 100 Gt per year, by different sources. This is the annual biomass growth in the plant cover of the Earth. For ease of calculation, let's take 80 Gt as the number. Say that 50% of this is thin roots and leaves, not usable for charring. Remains 40 Gt C that is theoretically available for charring each year.
Assume furthermore that efforts to create charcoal for carbon sequestration results in an annual sequestration of 2 Gt C as charcoal. The global forest product production 2004 was abut 9.5 Gt (FAO), with a carbon content that can be estimated to 3.8 Gt C, so we are speaking of a herculean, warlike efforts in charring, about half the size of the global forest industry.
However, char can be made from not only forest products, but also straw and husks from agriculture, as well as forest products that are useless to the industry, which gives us a large possibility to reach a goal of 2 Gt. Which is about 8.5% of the above figure of coarse biomass production.

The carbon dioxide "cloud" is presently about 475 Gt too large (counted as C, carbon). The number is the difference between the atmospheric content in pre-industrial time (280 ppm) and that of today. (Of this figure, about 33% is from deforestation). (Figures from Richard A Houghton, Woods Hole Research Center, one of the IPCC guys.)
Imagine that you could take this amount away and convert it into charcoal. That amount would add about 95 kg char per hectare agricultural land globally. 38 bags of barbecue char. Not very much . But with the above efforts, 2 Gt p.a., it would take more than three hundred years to reach that point.

The global carbon dioxide effluents of today are equivalent of about 7 Gt C. Assume, for a moment, that the people and their leaders around the world will face the imminent danger of a sudden and irreversible climate change and decide to do everything possible to avoid it. They decide to start the above sequestration combined with a sudden braking in carbon emissions, e.g. an 85% reduction in 25 years, leveling out on roughly 1 Gt C per annum, leading to a net sequestration of about 1 Gt C per annum.
Then, given that the reduction is even over time, one could expect that the carbon dioxide cloud could start reversing after about 18 years.
I hope sincerely, that that is not too late.


Erich J. Knight said...

here are the current news and links on Terra Preta (TP) soils and closed-loop pyrolysis of Biomass, this integrated virtuous cycle could sequester 100s of Billions of tons of carbon to the soils.

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.

UN Climate Change Conference: Biochar present at the Bali Conference

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

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 25x25 (see 25x'25 - Home) released it's (first-ever, 55-page )"Action Plan" ; see;
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 25x25 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 they 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

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

3R Environmental Technologies Ltd. (Edward Someus)

The company has Swedish origin and developing/designing medium and large scale carbonization units. The company is the licensor and technology provider to NviroClean Tech Ltd British American organization WEB: and VERTUS Ltd.

Genesis Industries, licensee of Eprida technology, provides carbon-negative EPRIDA energy machines at the same cost as going direct to Eprida. Our technical support staff also provide information to obtain the best use of biochar produced by the machine. Recent research has shown that EPRIDA charcoal (biochar) increases plant productivity as it sequesters carbon in soil, thus reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

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

Erich J. Knight said...

Here is a strait forward conversion of the impact of building soil organic material (SOM) on ppm of atmospheric GHGs, using just marginal land and standard SOM building processes. Adding Biochar protocols would really jump start this solution.

Restoring soil carbon can reverse global warming, desertification and biodiversity loss

Tony Lovell of Soil Carbon P/L in Australia estimates that by actively supporting regrowth of vegetation in damaged ecosystems, billions of tons of carbon dioxide can be sequestered from the atmosphere.

"Determining how much carbon dioxide (CO2) can physically be consumed from the atmosphere?

As the planet has 7.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in circulation for each 1 ppm of atmospheric CO2, and there are 5 billion hectares of inappropriately managed or unmanaged, desertifying savannahs on the Earth (which on empirical evidence we contend to be the case), the question that should sensibly be asked is: How much carbon dioxide would be absorbed if policies were put in place (in Australia and elsewhere) that caused the focus of on-ground management to be deliberately directed towards the widespread consumption of cyclical GHGs within the currently under-utilised savannah lands?

Consumption of CO2 per hectare
One hectare is 10,000 sq. metres. If a hectare of soil 33.5 cm deep, with a bulk density of 1.4 tonnes per cubic metre is considered, there is a soil mass per hectare of about 4,700 tonnes.
If appropriate management practices were adopted and these practices achieved and sustained a 1% increase in soil organic matter (SOM)6, then 47 tonnes of SOM per hectare will be added to organic matter stocks held below the soil surface
This 47 tonnes of SOM will contain approximately 27 tonnes of Soil Carbon (ie 47 tonnes at 58% Carbon) per hectare
In the absence of other inputs this Carbon may only be derived from the atmosphere via the natural function known as the photo-synthetic process. To place approximately 27 tonnes of Soil Carbon per hectare into the soil, approximately 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide must be consumed out of the atmosphere by photosynthesis
A 1% change in soil organic matter across 5 billion hectares will sequester 500 billion tonnes of physical CO2
Converting global Soil Carbon capacity to ppm of atmospheric GHGs
Every 1% increase in retained SOM within the topmost 33.5 cm of the soil must capture and hold approximately 100 tonnes per hectare of atmospheric carbon dioxide (the variability in the equation being due only to the soil bulk density). We submit that under determined, appropriate management, that this is readily achievable within a very few years
For each 1% increase in SOM achieved on the 5 billion hectares there will be removed 64 ppm of carbon dioxide from atmospheric circulation (500,000,000,000 tonnes CO2 / 7,800,000,000 tonnes per ppm = 64 ppm).
Soil Organic Matter is the plant material released into the soil during the natural phases of plant growth. It includes root material sloughed off below the soil surface and plant litter carried into the soil by microbes, insects and rainfall
Soil Carbon is the elemental carbon contained within Soil Organic Matter (SOM).
One tonne of CO2 contains 12/44 units of carbon (ie 0.27 tonnes of carbon per tonne of CO2.). Therefore 27 tonnes of carbon sequesters 27/0.27 = 100 tonnes CO2 (rounded). NB Carbon atomic weight 12, oxygen atomic weight 16 ie CO2 = 12+(16+16) = 44
The global opportunity and numbers

It appears that the pre-industrial level of atmospheric carbon dioxide was 280ppm, and that globally we are now at 455ppm, and heading towards 550ppm. To get from 550ppm back to 280ppm, 270ppm must be removed. Globally, a 4.2% increase in SOM would potentially reverse the expected situation. In any case, any form of determined management will substantially reduce the now crippling legacy loadings in the atmosphere. "

Erich J. Knight
1047 Dave Berry Rd.
McGaheysville, VA. 22840