Biochar stoves in minority world countries
Jun 24, 2012
Hi, I grow vegetables on a small market garden. My main strategy is to stabilise carbon in soil in order to maintain soil fertility. Stable carbon in soil eliminates the need for fertiliser inputs.The two forms of stabilised carbon I use are biochar and glomalin. In order to do this, I spend my spare time designing, building and using biochar producing domestic heating systems. Inspired by the cook stoves which are empowering and revolutionising growing and cooking in the majority world, I have designed front loading stoves for indoor use with heaters and flue outlets.(called biochar rocket stoves, these differ from conventional rocket stoves as they produce a lot more heat and they produce biochar). I have also built effective all in one oven, griddle, water and room heaters in order to efficiently capture the heat produced by these stoves. These stoves are very efficient, clean burning, do not require logs (which require tree felling), require very little fuel (necessary in a fossil fuel free world), can improve soil when biochar is incorporated, sequester CO2 and generate an income for the user (biochar is worth a lot more than wood chip). Domestic scale biochar production is slower than large scale because it is far more efficient, enabling better heat capture. Domestic scale empowers individuals by reducing dependency on mainstream food and energy systems. The change to harmony has to happen on all levels. Right now I have come to purely bottom up empowerment of individuals with information and tools regarding the challenges of trying to support 7bn humans without non renewable resources. Using these stoves in conjunction with other life style changes enables the user to reduce dependency on the energy and food retailers and move away from systems which release CO2 into the atmosphere to ones which stabilise CO2 in soil. These tools are a key to empowering people to live carbon negative lives and to do so with a minimum of land and resources. I use the biochar which is produced from my domestic heating system in order to maximise glomalin production in soil. By ensuring that plant roots are always present, that the soil is not cultivated and that fertilisers and herbicides are not used conditions for glomalin production are optimised. Glomalin is a form of stabilised carbon produced by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungae (amf). Instead of using biochar in conjunction with cultivation and manure or fertiliser applications, practices which encourage soil bacterial activity and carbon release, my growing system further reverses climate change as it depends on and encourages high levels of stable soil carbon. I am in the process of creating a web site with step by step instructions on how to build biochar stoves and heat capture systems http://www.soil-carbon-regeneration.co.uk/biochar/instructions/ and which describes how to use biochar as part of a minimum dig system to encourage glomalin production.
Jun 25, 2012
Hi Ed, thanks for this! Will be ideal material for a proposal in a future contest. There will be many new contests starting this year. Might be interesting to contact Nick Carter since his algae ideas are also designed to be carbon negative? https://www.climatecolab.org/web/guest/discussion#discussion%3DpageType%3ATHREAD%2CthreadId%3A10599 You may like a look at this past proposal for biochar, which offered a way for biochar to become commonplace everywhere, using local currencies. https://www.climatecolab.org/web/guest/plans/-/plans/contestId/4/planId/14637 That proposal wasn't favoured by CoLab judges but it's been recently nominated by Katerva for an award. Would be interesting to explore whether we really need to avoid mixing manure/compost with biochar. I do this - the compost is the source of the AMF. There is more soil bacterial activity but this is just a feature of soil acting as a living ecosystem. The aerobic bacteria that biochar encourages is displacing anaerobic bacteria that thrives in conventional agriculture with low air permeability and produces climate-toxic nitrous oxides. Very impressed with your work on biochar heating. Have you had any input on whether regulators could get their heads around a system that makes CO? James
Jun 25, 2012
Hi blindspotter, I had a brief look at your proposal from a couple of years ago. Interesting ideas, I am in full agreement that biochar technology should be kept on a domestic scale and that the technologies could be equally applicable to 'first world countries' as to 'third world countries' as long as issues such as convenience of use, safe indoor use and emmissions could be satisfied. I would love to see what stove designs you came up with. My belief is that the stove and the heat capture technology is the primary key to success in implementation. It has to be of practical use in replacing current domestic heating systems. Hopefully they would catch on as fossil fuel prices increase and as biochar demand increases. Yes I have considered the issue of CO emissions. I have built a stove with a fuel feed hopper, a biochar emptying hatch and a door on the front of the combustion elbow which should be shut when the fan is not on. When this door is shut, the only vent is through the flue outlet. With regard to using the biochar, I would love to see more research done into the optimum conditions for encouraging AMF activity, especially in conjunction with biochar. The right amount of fertility input is important as too much fertility inhibits AMF proliferation. Minimal digging and the permanent presence of plant roots are other conditions which favour AMF. To my knowledge, biochar has only been shown to be stable in no dig situations (tera preta and laboratories). It may be the case that the massive bacterial activity resulting from fertiliser application and soil cultivation cause biochar to decompose more rapidly than in situations which favour AMF rather than bacterial activity (i.e. low dig and low nitrate fertilisers). If anybody can confirm otherwise, please let me know. If, on the other hand, biochar can be successfully used as part of a system which encourages AMF to produce glomalin and to encourage the AMF:plant symbiosis then that biochar would help to further stabilise CO2 and to reduce the need for fertilisers. I am currently establishing 2 separate annual vegetable plots on my market garden; one involves horse manure (fertiliser) applications and cultivation of the soil and the other a mulch of composted wood chip, permanent presence of plant roots and no cultivation. The first will rely on bacterial activity which is known to encourage high crop yields but which is more wasteful, polluting and releases CO2. The second, it is hoped, will rely on AMF activity and will thus not result in nitrous oxide emissions but will instead result in further soil carbon regeneration.
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