Sunday, September 18, 2011

Towards a Sustainable Economy

Feebates are the most effective way to facilitate the shift towards a sustainable economy

Local feebates are proposed to facilitate a shift away from fossil fuel toward clean energy. Further feebates are proposed (i.e. fees on livestock products, nitrogen fertilizers, Portland cement and similar products with high emissions), to finance rebates on methods that can remove large amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, such as biochar burial and olivine grinding. In general, feebates are most effective in dealing with pollution. The post below was written in 2011.  

Cycle A:  Inorganic Waste
We're all familiar with recycling. Reusing waste to manufacture new products can help resolve two problems: the economic problem of scarcity of resources and the environmental problem of waste. Dedicated bins can help separate waste and collect glass and plastic containers, to be reused in new products. 
Where needed, surcharges can be levied on items, to ensure they are returned at collections points for recycling. Items such as bottles and car batteries have also been successfully recycled in this way for years by retailers and garages. 
Recycling is possible for much of our inorganic waste. The concept of recycling can also be used in a wider sense, in efforts to take surplus carbon out of the atmosphere and oceans, e.g. by adding olivine to materials for building and road construction. This effort will require more recycling than the traditional recycling of inorganic waste.

Cycles B and E:  Biomass and Organic Waste
Dr. James Hansen once calculated that reforestation of degraded land and improved agricultural practices that retain soil carbon together could draw down atmospheric carbon dixode by as much as 50 ppm, adding that this and using carbon-negative biofuels could bring carbon dioxide back to 350 ppm well before the end of the century.
Recycling of organic waste constitutes another cycle in a sustainable economy. Soil can be degraded by deforestation and by a failure to return nutrients, carbon and water to the soil. Manure and sewage have long fertilized the land, but are increasingly released in rivers and in the sea, and combined with fertilizer run-off from farms, this causes low-oxygen areas in oceans.
Many people now compost kitchen and garden waste, thus returning many nutrients to the soil. Composting, however, releases greenhouse gases. Pyrolyzing organic waste from households, farms and forests can avoid such emissions.
Pyrolysis is an oxygen-starved method of heating waste at relatively low temperatures that will result in the release of little or no greenhouse gases. With pyrolysis, organic waste can be turned into hydrogen and agrichar, or biochar, which can store carbon into the soil and make the soil more fertile. 
There is an abundance of soil to sequester biochar. Estimates range from 363 tonnes of CO2 per hectare to 303.8 tons C per hectare. The U.S. has some 475 million hectares of agricultural land. Australia has almost 762 million hectares of land, mostly desert. Desert soils can contain between 14 and 100 tonnes of carbon per ha, while dry shrublands can contain up to 270 tonnes of carbon per ha. The carbon stored in the vegetation is considerably lower, with typical quantities being around 2–30 tonnes of carbon per ha in total. Eucalypt trees grow rapidly and eucalypt forest can store over 2800 tonnes of carbon per hectare. The FAO-OECD Agricultural Outlook 2009-2018 says (on page 11) that over 0.8 billion ha of additional land is available for rain-fed crop production in Africa and Latin America.  In total, the world has 3.842 billion hectares of land, which could sequester up to 1166 Gt of biochar carbon
The need to feed a growing world population also makes it imperative to look at ways to increase soil fertility. Biochar will result in better retention of nutrients and water. Once applied, biochar can remain useful for hundreds of years. Increased vegetation in many ways feeds itself. It results in additional input for pyrolysis and thus additional biochar. There are also studies indicating that an increase of vegetation goes hand in hand with an increase in rain. Healthy soil will contain numerous bacteria that increase rain, both when they are in the soil where they break down the surface tension of water better than any other substance in nature, and when they become airborne
Furthermore, there are indications that forests generate winds that help pump water around the planet, resulting in increased rainfall for forests. This would explain how the deep interiors of forested continents can get as much rain as the coast.
In the 1990s, U.S. farmers needed to implement a soil conservation plan on erodible cropland to be eligible for commodity price supports, and the no-till farmland increased from 7 million hectares in 1990 to 25 million hectares in 2004. Similar policies could be implemented to add biochar, such as making local rates dependent on carbon content.
Using published projections of the use of renewable fuels in the year 2010, biochar sequestration could amount to 5.5 to 9.5 Pg Carbon per year, says Lehmann et al. in Bio-char sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems (2006). That would take carbon dioxide in the atmosphere down by about 1ppm per year. 
Cycle C:  Clean & Safe Energy
In case of energy, there's not so much a scarcity problem of fossil fuel, but a scarcity of clean energy; a rapid shift to clean ways to produce energy is needed, while additionally surplus carbon needs to be taken out of the atmosphere and oceans, as part of a huge recycling effort to restore natural balance. 
To achieve this, it's imperative to electrify transport and shift to renewable energy. Pyrolysis of organic waste can not only produce biochar (as discussed above), but also bio-oils and bio-fuels for use in long distance flights (shorter flights can more easily use batteries or hydrogen).
Surplus energy (see box on right) can close the energy cycle, resulting not only in clean energy, but also leading to a range of new and clean industries, such as water desalination which could in turn result in the production of lithium for car batteries and magnesium for clean concrete

Electrolyzers can now be made without a need for platinum and there's also interesting research into using electricity to turn seawater into hydrogen. When vehicles run on hydrogen, their output is clean water, rather than emissions.
Cycle D:  Air Capture
A rapid shift to clean energy and transport would help bring down levels of carbon dioxide, not only by avoiding emissions, but also by making available large amounts of clean energy at times of low demand. 

As such off-peak energy will be relatively cheap, it can be used for purposes such as capture of carbon dioxide from ambient air. Such technologies can be used to power aviation, to feed carbon dioxide to greenhouses, to produce urea and to supply carbon to industry, e.g. for manufacture of building material, plastic, carbon fiber and other products. 

Fees on polluting kilns, furnaces, stoves and ovens can also fund rebates on products that avoid emissions, such as clean kilns, efficient electrical appliances, solar cookers, etc. 

Surplus Energy

As the number of wind turbines grows, there will increasingly be periods of time when turbines produce more energy than the grid needs. Especially at night, when demand on the grid is at its lowest, there can be a lot of wind. Unless this energy can somehow be stored or used otherwise, it will go to waste.

Similarly, surplus energy can be produced by solar power facilities. Especially in the early hours of the morning, just after sunrise, the sun can shine brightly, yet there's little or no need for electricity on the grid. It makes sense to store such surplus energy at solar farms in molten salt facilities.
Such surplus energy can be used to help restore the climate, such as by:
  • storage (for later use)
    - car batteries
    - pumped-up water
    - compressed air
  • spraying seawater into the sky, to change albedo above oceans
  • reforestation, by pumping desalinated water into deserts
Towards a sustainable economy
Instead of burning fuel and throwing things away, there are more sustainable ways to do things. Not only are they environmentally more sustainable and healthy, they also provide good job opportunities and investment potential. While some of these technologies are controversial, in that they aren't natural and their consequences aren't fully known, the need to act on global warming makes that they should be further explored.
Such technologies include:
clean and safe electricity generation with solar, wind, tide, wave and geothermal power
using electricity and hydrogen to power transport
carbon dioxide captured from ambient air
spraying seawater into the sky, to change albedo above oceans 
pyrolysis to produce biochar, hydrogen and synthetic fuel
enhancing soil quality with biochar and olivine,resulting in extra biomass for pyrolysis, thus removing more carbon dioxide while young growth is also lighter in color, reflecting more sunlight back into space
producing rain by means of cloud seeding, using dry ice and urea, produced by means of pyrolysis and from carbon dioxide captured from ambient air
- water desalination for irrigation, residential and industrial purposes
Because many such technologies complement each other, their combination can make them more commercially viable than when looked at in isolation.

The way back to 280 ppm describes how two types of feebates can help bring down carbon dioxide levels both in the atmosphere and in oceans. Energy feebates (yellow arrows in the top half of above image) will encourage the use of solar cookers and clean electricity in transport, lighting, cooking, heating and industrial processes, which will also reduce a range of emissions other than carbon dioxide, such as methane and soot. Biochar and olivine feebates (bottom half of above image) will also reduce a range of pollutants.

Feebates are the most effective way to facilitate the shift to technologies that reduce greenhouse gases. Communities can select feebates to suit local circumstances; in fact, feebates are best implemented locally. Feebates can also be implemented in budget-neutral ways, merely insisting on safe and clean products which maximizes the use of market mechanisms to sort out what works best where. Similarly, feebates aiming to have carbon dioxide removed from the atmsophere and the oceans merely need to insist that, to be eligible for rebates, methods need to be effective and safe.
The following seven feebates (the yellow arrows on above images) are particularly recommended:
1. fees on nitrogen fertilizers and on livestock products, funding local rebates on biochar
2. fees on fuel, funding local rebates on clean and safe electricity
3. fees on engines, funding local rebates on electric motors
5. fees on ovens, kilns and furnaces with high emissions, funding rebates on building insulation and clean ovens, kilns and furnaces, as well as on solar cookers and on electric appliances for cooking and heating 
6. fees on industrial processes with many emissions, funding similar processes that are powered by clean electricity and that incorporate carbon in their products
7. fees on Portland cement, metals, glass, pavement and further conventional construction materials, funding clean construction materials, as described in carbon-negative building and olivine rock grinding
Feebates can be well combined, e.g. feebate 7. and feebate 1. could produce beneficial soil supplements containing both biochar and olivine, while pyrolysis of organic waste can also produce bio-oils that can in turn be used to make asphalt and be combined with road construction methds that use olivine. In short, many such feebates are complementary, i.e. one feebate can help another feebate, making the combination even more successful and thus effective. 
As another example, industry may at first be reluctant to switch to, say, electric arc furnaces in metal smelting, arguing that it was more efficient to burn coal directly in blast furnaces than to burn coal in power plants first and then bring the resulting electricity to electric arc furnaces. But as other feebates facilitate the shift from fossil fuel to clean ways of producing electricity, it increasingly makes more sense to shift from the traditional blast furnaces to electric arc furnaces.
Energy feebates, pictured in the top half of the image below, can clean up energy supply within a decade as well as lower the price of off-peak electricity, which will help enhanced weathering and other activities (see box Surplus Energy). 

In conclusion, feebates are highly recommended to deal with global warming and to help achieve a sustainable economy.

The image below, adapted from Negative Emissions Technologies report by Duncan McLaren (version 2, 2011), pictures a number of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) methods. 

The image below, from Geoengineering the climate, by the Royal Society (2009), pictures a number of geoengineering methods that could be deployed to combat global warming, including both CDR and SRM (solar radiation management) methods.

These methods may differ in timescale, cost-effectiveness and wider impact (see e.g. this post on biomass), but the urgency to act on global warming is such that we may well need all of them to avoid runaway global warming and to move towards a sustainable economy.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


This blog is under construction...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Refrigerants from air conditioners and refrigerators can harm the environment. The refrigerants in older systems can damage the ozone layer, reason why they were later often substituted by hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). However, HFCs are harmful greenhouse gases - their global warming impact is many times that of carbon dioxide (see table below). Between 2001-2003, the rise in atmospheric concentrations of HFCs was 13-17% per year, according to the IPCC.

General Electric (GE) has just asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approval to - for the first time in the U.S. - use a hydrocarbon refrigerant in household refrigerators. Hydrocarbons do little or no damage to the environment. If GE gains EPA approval, it plans to introduce HFC-free household refridgerators in 2010.
Global Warming Potential
(100 year basis, relative to CO2=1)
Ozone Depletion Potential (relative to R11=1)
R12 CFC (Chlorofluorocarbon)85001
R134a HFC (Hydrofluorocarbon)13000
R22 HCFC (Hydrochlorofluorocarbon)17000.05
R404a HFC (Hydrofluorocarbon)38000
R290 HC (Hydrocarbon)<30
source: Foster Refrigerator

So, while this GE-announcement is good news, it's sad that it has taken this long. Hydrocarbon refrigerants are already in widespread use in the rest of the world. Greenpeace helped develop the technology that uses hydrocarbon refrigerants back in the 1990s. The world's major manufacturers -- Whirlpool, Bosch, Haier, Panasonic, LG, Miele, Electrolux, Siemens -- have now produced some 300 million refrigerators that use hydrocarbon refrigerants.

It's time that we have effective legislation to facilitate the shift towards clean and safe products. I have often advocated feebates as a superior policy, compared to standards, carbon taxes or emission cap-and-trade schemes. Many support the introduction of feebates for appliances (see California's Climate Change Proposals). However, others suggest that outright prohibition of HFCs in refrigerators and air conditioners is more appropriate.

After 15 year Delay, Green Refrigerator to Arrive in U.S., sort of - Solveclimate Blog

GE Opening a Door to a Future of Cleaner Home Refrigeration - GE News Release

Greenfreeze - Greenpeace

Safeguarding the Ozone Layer and the Global Climate System Issues related to Hydrofluorocarbons and Perfluorocarbons, Summary for Policymakers - IPCC/TEAP (2005) (2.01 MB)

Hydrocarbons in refrigeration - Foster Refrigerator

Cool approach to driving - Sydney Morning Herald

California's Climate Change Proposals - by Sam Carana

The GE Press Release says that GE plans to include isobutane in a new GE Monogram® brand refrigerator. This refrigerator will also use cyclopentane, another hydrocarbon, as the insulation foam-blowing agent to replace commonly used HFC foam blowing agents. The Press Release concludes that the climate change benefits could be significant.

The IPCC report says: "Ammonia and those hydrocarbons (HCs) used as halocarbon substitutes have atmospheric lifetimes ranging from days to months, and the direct and indirect radiative forcings associated with their use as substitutes are very likely to have a negligible effect on global climate".

Apart from the HFCs that are used as coolants and as foam-blowing agents, we should also look at the various cleaning agents that are used by manufacturers. Some background is given in the IPCC paper mentioned in the article. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), Halons and Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are covered under the Montreal Protocol. This protocol was originally signed in 1987 to phase out such ozone depleting substances. Manufacturers turned to substitutes such as Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and Perfluorocarbons (PFCs).

The problem is that these substitutes contribute to climate change. When the Kyoto Protocol was introduced in 1997, it did cover HFCs, but the US never ratified the Kyoto Protocol. PFCs are also covered in the Kyoto protocol, but Nitrogen Trifluoride (NF3) was used in such small quantities that it was not deemed necessary to include it. Semiconductor manufacturers turned to NF3 as a substitute for PFCs and it is widely used as a cleaning agent during manufacture of liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and thin-film solar panels.

There are alternatives to using NF3, such as using fluorine gas, as I mentioned in an earlier comment. I've often advocated feebates to facilitate shifting to better alternatives, but given that NF3 is some 17,000 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, it makes sense to ban NF3 altogether.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has adopted rules forcing semiconductor makers to cut fluorinated gases such as sulfur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluoride by more than half by 2012. These gases are among the most potent contributors to global warming, trapping heat in the atmosphere at 6,500 to 23,900 times the rate of carbon dioxide.

Regulators say other, less harmful gases can be used instead, at a small cost to semiconductor firms. CARB estimates the annual cost of compliance with the new rules at $37 million over 10 years; the brunt of that total would fall on 13 semiconductor companies that operate 16 plants currently not in compliance with the new emissions target. [Mercury News, 02/26/2009]

The EPA recently named the six greenhouse gases targeted under the Kyoto Protocol -- carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) -- and concluded that they do endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.

CFCs like Freon-12 (R-12 or CFC-12) are not mentioned, even though the IPCC as far back as 2001 said that CFC-12 had an even stronger radiative forcing effect than N2O. As discussed, CFCs are not targeted under the Kyoto Protocol since they were already banned under the Montreal Protocol, but this ban made manufacturers turn to instead use HFCs and PFCs as substitutes.

Meanwhile, Micronesia and Mauritius have initiated a proposal to expand the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs. Backed by the EPA finding, the Obama administration is seen as likely to support such moves.

A Sustainable Economy

Cycle A: Inorganic Waste

We're all familiar with the idea that we're running out of scarce resources. We just cannot continue to keep drilling and mining for more fossil fuel, metals and other resources. One way to deal with scarcity is to recycle resources, i.e. separating waste to extract metals, glass, plastic, concrete, bricks, etc. This type of recycling is possible for much of our inorganic waste. In the light of global warming and health concerns, however, a shift to organic resources and renewable energy seems a better approach(1).

Cycle B: Organic Waste

Recycling organic waste constitutes another cycle in a sustainable economy. Many people now compost kitchen and garden waste, thus returning many nutrients to the soil. However, such composting does release a lot of greenhouse gases. A cleaner alternative is to pyrolyze organic household waste, farm waste and forest waste. Pyrolysis is an oxygen-starved method of heating waste at relatively low temperatures that will result in the release of little or no greenhouse gases. With pyrolysis, organic waste can be turned into hydrogen and agrichar(2).

Estimates are that some 363 tonnes of CO2 per hectare can be locked up in the soil in the form of agrichar(3). Since the U.S. has some 475 million hectares of agricultural land(4), huge amounts of carbon could be stored in this way.

NASA-scientist Jim Hansen calculates that reforestation of degraded land and improved agricultural practices that retain soil carbon could draw down atmospheric carbon dioxide by as much as 50 ppm(5).

Cycle C: Clean Energy

We should also replace fossil fuel by clean and safe energy, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Obvious ways to do this are to install more solar and wind facilities. Pyrolysis can also produce fuel to power transport. Hansen calculates that this and using carbon-negative biofuels could bring carbon dioxide back to 350 ppm well before the end of the century(5).

Surplus energy can close this cycle, leading to a range of new and clean industries, such as water desalination(6) which could in turn result in the production of lithium for car batteries and magnesium for clean concrete(7).

Electrolyzers can now be made without a need for platinum(8)(9) and there's also interesting research into using electricity to turn seawater into hydrogen by means of electrolysis(10). When vehicles run on hydrogen, their output is clean water, rather than emissions.

Surplus Energy

As the number of wind turbines grows, there will increasingly be periods of time when turbines produce more energy than the grid needs. Especially at night, when demand on the grid is at its lowest, there can be a lot of wind. Unless this energy can somehow be stored or used otherwise, it will go to waste.

Similarly, surplus energy can be produced by solar power facilities. Especially in the early hours of the morning, just after sunrise, the sun can shine brightly, yet there's little or no need for electricity on the grid. It makes sense to store surplus energy at wind farms in molten salt facilities.

Surplus energy from wind turbines can be used for purposes such as:

  • water desalination

  • storage (i.e. for later use)

- car batteries
- pumped-up water

- flywheels(11)
- compressed air
- hydrogen

  • carbon air capture(14)(15)

  • spraying seawater into the sky, to change albedo above oceans(16)

Cycle D: Air Capture

Surplus energy can also power air capture devices. With air capture devices, carbon dioxide can be captured from ambient air. By carrying air capture devices, vehicles can contribute to removal of carbon dioxide from the air. Alternatively, a fee could be imposed on vehicles, with the proceeds used to fund air capture elsewhere(17).

Captured carbon dioxide can be used for purposes such as fueling greenhouses, fueling transport, producing agrichar and supplying carbon to industry, for manufacture of building material, plastic, carbon fiber and other products.

Towards a sustainable economy

Towards a more sustainable economy

In conclusion, there are sustainable ways to do things and to a large extent they do complement each other. Moreover, they are environmentally and economically sustainable, with good job opportunities and investment potential.

However, since they do complement each other, each of these industries is now waiting for the other industries to mature first. To break this chicken-and-egg situation, government should develop an industry policy that uses the bigger picture of these four cycles of a more sustainable economy.

Feebates(17) can achieve the shift we need most effectively, and they only need to insist that such new industries are safe and clean; market mechanisms can further sort out what works best where.


1. The Next Industrial Revolution - Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart

2. Agrichar / Biochar / Terra Preta - Wikipedia and Sam Carana

3. Burying biomass to fight climate change - NewScientist, 03 May 2008

4. An Overview of U.S. Farm Real Estate Markets

5. Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim? - J. Hansen, et al.

6. Desalination with zero sea discharge - CSIRO Australia

7. Carbon-negative building - by Sam Carana

8. ITM Power update

9. Breakthroughs open door to Hydrogen Economy - by Sam Carana

10. Team wins $4m grant for breakthrough technology in seawater desalination

11. PowerStore

12. Iceland launches energy revolution

13. Norway has long produced ammonia by electrolytic hydrogen using hydroelectricity, in:
A Great Potential: The Great Lakes as a Regional Renewable Energy Source - Bradley, David (2004)

14. Removing carbon from air - by Sam Carana

15. Can Technology Clear the Air - NewScientist

16. Combat Global Warming with Evaporative Cooling - by Sam Carana

17. Feebates


To establish a more sustainable economy, two things need to be worked on: standards and recycling. Standards can be set to limit or prohibit the use of substances that are hazardous to our health or to the environment. Furthermore, it's important to think about what happens to products after their useful lifetime. Too much waste is dumped in oceans, or ends up in landfalls or in the atmosphere.

Recycling should be encouraged as the best approach, followed by safe storage as the second-best alternative.

Much of our waste is already recycled in one way or another.

Households commonly sort their waste in different waste bins, typically using one bin for the disposal of general waste and another bin for recyclables such as bottles, jars, cans, paper & packaging. The glass, metal, plastic and paper is then reused by industry to manufacture recycled products, but the general waste is typically buried at landfalls.

While it's good that an increasing number of items are recycled, the aim should be to recycle all waste. To achieve this, it makes sense to distinguish between organic and inorganic waste.

Inorganic recyclables have been collected separately from general household waste for ages. Examples are trucks collecting building material after demolitions and service stations keeping people's old batteries and used motor oil, for safe disposal. Such recycling can be encouraged by adding fees to the sale price of items such as bottles and jars. After accounting for the cost of disposal, the fees will then be refunded at collection points where the items are returned after usage. It's time to consider collection of inorganic household waste as well, in a dedicated waste bin, so that all such waste can be processed and reused by industry.

Furthermore, recycling of organic waste can also be encouraged by using a dedicated waste bin.

types of wasteMost households only use one or two different waste bins, one bin for general waste and another bin for recyclables such as glass, cans, paper & packaging.

Instead, it makes a lot of sense to distinguish between organic and inorganic waste. Consequently, households could have two types of waste bins, one for inorganic waste and one for organic waste such as paper, cartons, kitchen waste and garden waste. 

Many people already compost such biowaste in the garden, but all too often such biowaste disappears along with the general waste in the general waste bin. As displayed on the picture on the left, analysis in Waikato, New Zealand, shows that about half of household waste can consist of kitchen waste, soil and garden waste.  Such waste now ends up on rubbish tips, where the decomposing process leads to greenhouse gases such as methane. And all too often, farmers also burn crop residues on the land, resulting in emissions of greenhouse gases.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Most households only use one or at most two different rubbish bins, one for recyclables (paper & packaging) and one for general waste.  It makes a lot of sense to add a third type of rubbish bin, for biowaste, i.e. kitchen waste, soil and garden waste. 

Many people already compost such biowaste in the garden, but all too often such biowaste disappears along with the general waste in the rubbish bin. As displayed on the picture below, analysis in Waikato, New Zealand, shows that about half of household waste can consist of kitchen waste, soil and garden waste.  Such waste ends up on rubbish tips, where the decomposing process leads to greenhouse gases, such as methane. And all too often, farmers burn crop residues on the land, resulting in huge emissions of greenhouse gases.

types of wasteAll such biowaste could deliver affordable energy by using the slow burning process of pyrolysis to produce agrichar or bio-char, a form of charcoal that is totally black.  Organic material, when burnt with air, will normally turn into white ash, while the carbon contained in the biowaste goes up into the air as carbon dioxide (CO2).  In case of pyrolysis, by contrast, biowaste is heated up while starved of oxygen, resulting in this black form of charcoal.

This agrichar was at first glance regarded as a useless byproduct when producing hydrogen from biowaste, but it is increasingly recognized for its qualities as a soil supplement.  Agrichar makes the soil better retain water and nutrients for plants, thus reducing losses of nutrients and reducing the CO2 that goes out of the soil, while enhancing soil productivity and making it store more carbon.

When biowaste is normally added to soil, the carbon contained in crop residue, mulch and compost is likely to stay there for only two or three years.  By contrast, the more stable carbon in agrichar can stay in the soil for hundreds of years.  Adding agrichar just once could be equivalent to composting the same weight every year for decades.

biocharBiochar appears to be the best way to bury carbon in topsoil, resulting in soil restoration and improved agriculture.  Agrichar has the potential to remove substantial amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere, as it both buries carbon in the soil and gets more CO2 out of the atmosphere through better growth of vegetation.  Agrichar restores soils and increases fertility.  It results in plants taking more CO2 out of the atmosphere, which ends up in the soil and in the vegetation.  Agrichar feeds new life in the soil and increases respiration, leading to improvements in soil structure, specifically its capacity to retain water and nutrients.  Agrichar makes the soil structure more porous, with lots of surface area for water and nutrients to hold onto, so that both water and nutrients are better retained in the soil.

In conclusion, recycling biowaste in the above way is an excellent method to produce hydrogen (e.g. for cars) and to bury carbon in the soil and improve production of food.  Agrichar is now produced for soil enrichment at a growing number of places.  The top photo shows agrichar in pellet form from Eprida.  Australian-based BEST Energies has built a demonstration pyrolysis plant with a capacity to process 300 kilograms of biowaste per hour.  It accepts biowaste such as dry green waste, wood waste, rice hulls, cow and poultry manure or paper mill waste.  The plant cooks the biomass without oxygen, producing syngas, a flammable mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen.  The agrichar thus produced retains about half the carbon of the original biowaste (the other half was burned in the process of producing the syngas).

Also important is to compare different farming practices.  Carbon is important for holding the soil together.  Farmers now typically plough the soil to plant the seeds and add fertilizers.  This ploughing causes oxygen to mix with the carbon in the soil, resulting in oxidation, which releases CO2 into the atmosphere.  Ploughing leads to a looser soil structure, prone to erosion under the destructive impact of heavy rains, flooding, thunderstorms, wind and animal traffic.  Given the more extreme weather that can be expected due to global warming, we should reconsider practices such as ploughing.

Furthermore, the huge monocultures of modern farming have become dependent on fertilizers and pesticides.  The separation of farming and urban areas has in part become necessary due to the practice of spraying chemicals and pesticides.  Instead, we should consider growing more food on smaller-scale farms, in gardens and greenhouses within areas currently designated for urban usage.  Vegan-organic farming can increase bio-diversity; by carefully selecting complementary vegetation to grow close together, diseases and pests can be minimized while the nutritial value, taste and other qualities of the food can be increased.

An issue of growing concern is nitrous oxide (N2O), which is 310 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas when released in the atmosphere.  Much release of N2O is related to the practices of ploughing and adding fertilizers to the soil.  Microbes subsequently convert the nitrogen in these fertilisers into N2O.  A recent study led by Nobel prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen indicates that the current ways of growing and burning biofuel actually raise rather than lower greenhouse gas emissions.  The study concludes that growing some of the most commonly used biofuel crops (rapeseed biodiesel and corn bioethanol) releases twice the amount of nitrous oxide, compared to what the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates for farming.  The findings follow a recent OECD report that concluded that growing biofuel crops threatens to cause food shortages and damage biodiversity, with only limted benefits in terms of global warming.

All this is no trivial matter. Soils contain more carbon than all vegetation and the atmosphere combined.  Therefore, soil is the obvious place to look at when trying to solve problems associated with global warming.  By changing agricultural practices, we can add carbon to the soil and can minimize release of greenhouse gases.

- Soils offer new hope as carbon sink

- Surprise: less oxygen could be just the trick

- What we throw away

- The Carbon Farmers

- Living Soil

- BEST Pyrolysis, Inc.

- Eprida, Inc.

- Biofuels could boost global warming, finds study

- Biofuels: is the cure worse than the disease?

- Communities without Roads

CETO Wave Power combined with Desalination

In Greek mythology, Ceto was a sea goddess. Ceto was a daughter of Gaia and Pontus, and she personified the power of the sea.

In a current incarnation, CETO is the name of a wave power technology that uses air-filled buoys that float in the sea. As the waves go up and down, the buoys pull pistons up and down inside underwater pipes, pushing the seawater onshore. The buoys are fully submerged and permanently anchored to the sea floor, so they don't spoil the seascape.

CETO units are manufactured from steel and rubber. The buoys are like bladders, they are made from Hypalon. CETO components have a known subsea life of over 30 years. No new technology needs to be developed and all such components are relatively cheap and simple to manufacture, without making countries dependent on imports of scarce resources.

Another advantage of this technology is that it can deliver a relatively steady supply of electricity at times when there is little or no wind or sunshine.


The electricity thus generated can be sent either to the grid, or used for other purposes such as desalination. Up to 100% of the electricity can go into the grid during periods of peak demand on the grid, while desalination can take place during periods when there's little or no demand for more electricity on the grid.

Australian company Carnegie Corporation plans to build a CETO wave farm on Garden Island, off the coast of Perth, Australia. Managing Director Mike Ottaviano says: "We'll generate electricity at around about the cost of a wind farm." The plans include installation of a Pelton Turbine, supplied by Swiss company Calder AG, and a Desalination Plant, supplied by Australian company Citor Pty Ltd.

Since 60% of the world's population lives within 40 miles (about 60 km) of the sea, the electricity and water can thus be produced where they are consumed. There no need to first build pipelines from dams to cities. Nor is there a need to first build high voltage direct current (HVDC) lines. Electricity from wind farms and solar concentrators often needs to be brought to cities over HVDC lines. There's little or no need to expand the electric grid or to upgrade the water distribution network. This technology can replace coal-fired power plants and secure water supply relatively swiftly, easily and without much extra cost.

While wave power levels may differ from place to place (see image left), the potential for wave power clearly is huge, especially when combined with applications such as water desalination. CETO can operate efficiently in swell in the 1 to 2 meter wave height range, greatly increasing the number of potential base-load sites globally.  For example, much of Southern Australia always has significant waves more than 1 meter high.

The article Desalination with zero sea discharge, by CSIRO Australia, describes how the residue of desalination can be used as industrial input. Of particular interest is recovery of lithium and magnesium from brine. The lithium could be used to manufacture batteries, while magnesium could be added to concrete to offset emissions of carbon dioxide.

For years, CETO has claimed it can generate zero emission base load electricity at a cost comparable to existing wind power. For years, GE has also claimed for years that, with a cost of approximately 3.5 to 4 cents per kilowatt-hour and declining, wind is a low-cost renewable energy source that is less expensive than coal, oil, nuclear and most natural gas-fired generation.

When looked at in isolation, wind power, hydrogen, desalination and wave power may each not seem commercially attractive at the moment. Combined, however, they can be more viable. Surplus power from wind turbines can be used to produce hydrogen, which could be assisted by the availability of clean water. Hydrogen produced offshore could power ships. In combination, such new industries can become successful as they complement each other. Turning trash into treasure, what was previously regarded as waste can become the input of entire new industries.

In July 2007, the Singapore Government offered S$4 million worth of research funds to a desalination proposal that consumed 1.5 kilowatt-hour (kWh) energy or less per cubic meter of potable water produced from seawater. Almost one year later, a team of Siemens researchers won the challenge with a proposal to remove salt from seawater by using a novel electricity-based method that includes electrodialysis and ion exchange.

Only if we allow such new industries to develop will they reveal their full potential. Moreover, when the pollution and environmental harm of fossil fuel is taken into account, there should be even less doubt that such renewable energy and production methods can be more than price-competitive, even before economies of scale and innovation will bring costs down further.