Friday, June 29, 2007

Transportation Energy.

One thing that I have not addressed is the looming reconfiguration of the global transportation energy regime. This is something that we are all now feeling at the pumps.

First, however, the global demand for non-transportation energy is also huge. Suppling it is not technically difficult. Our failsafe and most reliable source will be simply tapping the heat of the earth and pumping that energy to the surface and putting it through a converter. It has not been cheap enough as yet, or more precisely, there have been plenty of cheaper sources to use such as dams, coal fired power plants and the like. Accessing that energy is simply a matter of drilling deep enough almost anywhere which the oil industry has plenty of experience doing.

In other words., as long as we are not demanding portability, we have absolutely nothing to worry about.

That is not true for the petroleum regime.We have burned one trillion barrels of oil and we may have three to four times that ultimately recoverable at great expense. In other words. unlike geothermal energy, the resource is truly finite and finite inside a human lifespan, now that all the human race is modernizing as fast as possible.

One third the global population is comfortably middle class, another third will be there in the next twenty years and the rest can be there in the next twenty depending on their political masters. And they all need some access to personal transportation at some level.

A huge amount of effort has gone into developing other energy storage technology with marginal success to date. We cannot today depend on a breakthrough to help us.

The best available energy storage device is still the hydrocarbon molecule. It is compact, fairly safe and very portable. That is why we use it. The next best alternative is the ethanol molecule which is alcohol from fermented sugar. And the cheapest source of that sugar is corn.

The point that I am making is that a global corn culture combined with carbon sequestration of the waste is capable of supplying the maximum bio available fuel. I do not know if that could be enough to exactly satisfy our actual needs.

On the other hand, it is trivial to re engineer our life ways to minimize the demand on transportation fuels. Simply ensure that personal use of a car is not the first or only option. Over time, price alone will largely do that with the application of a little common sense by the planners.

It would not be surprising to discover that we can easily live within our ethanol fuel budget even with a global population over ten billion.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Herd Management

Since we are talking about the arid lands, perhaps we need to discuss something that has never been properly addressed. Throughout the globe, we have huge populations of game animals that could benefit from management by ourselves.

All these wild stocks are now been managed by a grossly inefficient prey predator ecosystem boom and bust cycle. In the meantime, we have not been able to come to grips with the political reality and the responsibility of been the top predator. Yes, the responsibility!

The job of top predator entails proficient culling of herds to keep then in proper balance with their ecology. This is not even a difficult task. It just needs to be done. And the surest way to having it done is to establish herd ownership and management rights and let nature take its course.

Let us recall that humanity has done an astounding job in extending the range and habitat of the cow. Yet no one in his right mind gets into the paddock with a friendly bull. Yet there are no unowned animals. My last post shows us that we have begun the same process with the buffalo.

The point I want to make is that herd management begins with ownership, not taming. The caribou herds are clear examples of stocks crying out for a modicum of management. Establish legal ownership for the locals already relying on the caribou and have them take full responsibility. We will end up with a major sustainable industry and a very healthy ecosystem.

The same has to be done with the elephant herds of Africa and India. An owner will cull the excess males and collect ivory as it becomes available. The only technical difficulty is to create a device that inhibits a herd leader from leaving its range or penetrating farmland. I do not think that this is that difficult to do.

This needs to become a universal practice. There is certainly enough global market to economically support the ownership model. It also means that predator control can be carefully planned in order to minimize the inherent risk. Rebuilding the buffalo herds makes excellent sense. Rebuilding the plains grizzly and wolf population is just stupid.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Buffalo Commons

We have seen the future for woodland soils and well watered tropical soils. If corn can be grown, then carbonization and woodlot management can work together to sequester huge amounts of carbon while enriching the soils.

This is not the future for the semi arid lands that are are grasslands. Here woodland agriculture has struggled and is slowly been defeated. Farmers cannot afford outright crop failure because they are tied to an annual economic cycle. Yet the dry lands deliver such failure with historic predictability.

For most of these lands, water security can never be made available except for a marginal fraction for which irrigation is sustainable.

Some years back the Poppers coined the metaphor of the buffalo commons - see their site in my links. They did the analysis and recognized that the great plains agricultural economy was slowly eroding away. They pointed out that this was clearly a result of an agricultural system at its limits.

More importantly they observed that the original ecology was much more successful at sustaining itself and clearly more productive. The short grass and long grass prairies were remarkably deep rooted and able to readily survive drought and fire. A direct result of this was the huge carrying capacity for browsers.

The real clincher for myself was to learn that buffalo were at least a third more effective at converting grass into meat than the traditional beef cow. No wonder the wild herds numbered in the tens of millions.

Not only will a restored prairie contain contain two to five times as much carbon as currently contained, it will sustain an intensive buffalo husbandry clearly superior to beef husbandry. It is noteworthy that the land owners are now slowly implementing this regime. We are witnessing the very beginnings of a huge new industry.

It is slow, of course, because the herds themselves are still rather small. But we have learned that the animals take well to fencing and a minimum level of management. They are actually far less trouble than beef cattle that need to be coddled more in the severe conditions of the plains.

This same protocol can be applied on grasslands throughout the world. We all forget that the wild grassers of Eurasia were hunted out thousands of years ago. Reestablishing such wild grassing herds is largely a matter of fencing and good herd management and perhaps judicious introduction of appropriate animals.

The buffalo commons is showing us the way.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tropical Soils

In our last post, we recognized fully how the Indian cultures of the deep Amazon actually achieved the incredible soil fertility still extent to this day. This also informs us on what practical methods now become available for all tropical soils world wide. This is incredibly important.

The vast majority of tropical soils are currently farmed if at all using primitive slash and burn agriculture. And all attempts at any other form of agricultural culture collapses from soil exhaustion. Any exceptions require a huge labor and energy input for the culture to be sustained. One only needs to think of rice paddies. The other major exception is tree based mono culture which is able reach deep into the earth for its nutrient supply.

The rule is still slash and burn over vast tracts of semi accessible jungle. And population pressure has turned this into an unsustainable free for all throughout the tropics that devours the best intentions of aid givers. I have reports from the Philippines, in particular, that illustrate this very well.

In one locale, $30,000,000 in foreign aid was used to reforest huge tracts. Five years later, it was all cut down to produce cooking charcoal for local markets. In this same locale, these highland fields will produce exactly one crop before it goes back into fallow for fifteen years. And we expect a settled village life to emerge here? It is no different anywhere in the tropics.

Burning releases soluble nutrients that that are simply washed away to soil depths inaccessible for short rooted crops. The Indians used to do this in the eastern woodlands with the same tragic results. What saved European agriculture was the fact that the nutrients only migrated several inches and could be returned to the surface with a plow. Most of those soils are severely depleted after a hundred years or so and then require aggressive refertilization.

Now we suddenly have a protocol that solves this problem and has been test driven for hundreds of years in the worst possible conditions in the central Amazon. And the only modification we need to slash and burn is to add a wood chipper and a movable Carbonizer.

One would start by using the produced carbon to prepare a field representing perhaps around ten percent of the area cleared.

The whole field would then be cropped, including as much corn as possible. Again the stubble will be carbonized and placed on the prepared field. The rest of the land can then go back into fallow while the carbon enriched field is operated primarily as a corn field with the ongoing recarbonization.

It should be clear after five years how well this is working out and what are the best ratios to use in the initial field preparation. One then proceeds to convert over the balance of the land in phases to this new culture.

The main point that clearly comes out of this is that the labor is already in place to do this with a modicum of instruction. After all they do cut the brush and trees down in the first place before it is burned. Adding the simple step of gathering and chipping is hardly a chore compared to cutting this stuff down in the first place. And there would still be ample debris left to fuel the normal burn on these fields.

One aspect of the labor issue should be mentioned that is very much in corn's favor. That is that the root ball of a mature corn plant is very shallow and in a prepared growing bed, child's play to pull out. Thus if machines are not available to harvest the stalks, a crew of workers can clear a field easily. That is why I realized that the ancient Indians only had to lay up windrows twenty feet apart. It requires minimum walking and the use of hands only. Even children could do this while the adults threw on dirt. A few days work and your family's field is ready.

What we have is an amazing corn culture that facilitates the sustainable development of all well watered soils and potentially sequesters around a ton of carbon per acre per year. Fine tuning will ultimately minimize if not even eliminate the need for chemical fertilization since most such fields will be augmented by wasteland carbon carrying nutrients drawn up from deep soils.

We have also discovered how to feed another ten billion people while improving the biosphere.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Corn culture's bright furure

The one thing that emerges from our analysis of the implementation of carbonization for soil enhancement is the crucial fit of corn into the general process. This actually comes as a bit of a surprise.

My expectation for plant waste on cropland was very low. In fact, for virtually every conceivable crop, the waste production is at best around one ton per acre. That goes for straws of all kinds. Other types of plant wastes are best plowed back into the field. Carbonization would reduce this down to a couple of hundred pounds.

Corn however produces up to twenty tons per acre which can be carbonized down to a ton of material. In other words, we can count on corn theoretically delivering a ton of carbon into the soil every year. This comes straight out of the atmosphere in one growing season.

It is immediately possible to understand how the black soils in the Amazon were created over hundreds of years. Corn stalks produced the raw material rather than local wood supplies. The farmers likely windrowed the drying stalks in one direction creating a long bundle, perhaps three feet across and the length of the field. These windrows would be twenty feet apart.

This would be tightly packed. The farmers could then shovel on a layer of dirt to seal in the stalks. thereupon the windrows would be ignited and allowed to burn through, carbonizing and reducing the material. After it had cooled down, or more likely at the beginning of the next growing season, the windrows would be pulled apart and spread back over the rest of the field.

This was well within the constraints imposed on the indigenous inhabitants who lived there. The only surprise is that it was never adopted throughout the Americas where similar but lesser soil leaching problems existed in some form or the other. It could be simply that they never linked this directly to soil fertility.

So we have a principal crop that happily sequesters one ton of carbon every year and a modern efficient carbonization process in our incinerators that is easy to use. And the majority of the nutrients are returned to the topsoil in a slow release form. Combining this with an integrated woodlot management system that draws additional nutrients from deep in the earth and we may even achieve 100% sustainability for all former woodland and tropical soils The fact that this was done in the middle of the Amazon for hundreds of years is a pretty good affirmation.

This is actually a pretty amazing discovery. We have a protocol thats fits with established agricultural practice seamlessly and provides for the efficient management of wastelands in direct support of this practice. And it can be mandated and implemented by governmental agency with an expectation of eventual profit by way of a share in wood sales. It also appears to be workable in all but the most arid ecosystems where we should not be anyway until we can harvest water from the athmosphere.

We can also predict that the farmland can achieve a much higher rate of utilization than currently considered feasible. In practice this will not happen since we need other crops and we want to also enhance the soil with other material. However, using a technique that largely prevents the nutrient load from been quickly lost to depth is a major improvement that permits the creation of richer soils over time.

Most farmers will view a yield gain with the elimination of chemical fertilization as an impossible objective. This protocol says otherwise.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ben Franklin

Talking about the carbonization and incineration system this past week, reminded me of Ben Franklin's development of the pot bellied stove in the late eighteenth century. Anyone who has tried to heat a house with a fireplace can appreciate what a revolution that was.

Amazingly, it used tools and techniques that had been available for thousands of years. Yet people were so used to been half frozen in their homes that they never thought that there must be a better way. Ben simply chose to think outside the box and he lived in a world were that was encouraged.

And it facilitated a revolution in house design that evolved over the next one hundred years.

Our incinerator cum carbonizer could have also been built and operated during the past thousands of years. The only difference today is that we can stick in temperature sensors and use a variable forced air fan for ease of control.

And fundamental to its future success is the simplicity of its design. It is pretty hard to beat a walk-in steel container box lined with fire bricks and a couple of box beams on the floor acting as a bearing rail for rolling in and out and serving also as the injection point for air and hot gases.

It will also be as easy to operate as a barbecue. A typical load might burn or roast out over twelve hours and then cool out over eight hours. In any configuration, it is going to be possible to establish a set time for operating the burn and to control the air input to controll the temperature.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The high Arctic

Just after I posted yesterday, I came across an article on the establishment of the first greenhouse in Iqaluit (formerly Frobisher Bay) on Baffin Island. Their effective growing season is about two and one half months. That means of course that year round operations there would require growing under the lights like our favorite grow ops.

If however, warmth can be provided through a small municipal incinerator burning twenty tons per day during the eight to nine months of the cold weather season, then lighting will be the only significant cost issue. We make the disposal fees cover the operation of the incinerator as is normal practice.

That suggests that a pilot operation could be fully justified with a ready premium market for the product. Certainly an interesting thought! And a great test of extreme conditions.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pushing the envelope on incineration

I had a discussion yesterday with my friend who inadvertently became an expert on incineration. In fact, if it were not for him, I would share everyone's ideas on the subject and end up ignoring the option to my loss.

I think that I have made the case for using a controlled burn to produce either carbonized organic material or pure charcoal. The feed stock is uniform and uncontaminated eliminating any concerns with the use of the end product as a soil additive.

The exact same system is also capable of operating the initial burn at the 600 degree mark which consumes all the available carbon. This is ideal for processing municipal waste which is partially contaminated. The question then, is it possible to use this heat and CO2 source as an adjunct to commercial greenhouse operations? If we could, the benefits are huge.

The design parameters are to build around two incinerators able to handle one fifty ton truck load of garbage each day. The heat and CO2 would be produced during the evening and principally consumed over the next day in the large greenhouse facility. This is all very simple engineering and practical.

Surplus heat and surplus CO2 could be disposed of in the usual way. Most importantly, The greenhouse operation has a heat source for cold weather that does not depend on fossil fuels and is even subsidized. And a significant portion of the municipal waste stream is not ending up in the land fill.

For a city like Vancouver, which likely has a hundred major greenhouse operations available, This option could actually handle virtually all the waste produced. That is a pretty attractive solution if it could be done. It certainly would make the greenhouse business the most competitive anywhere.

Which begs the major question. Can we do this without injecting nasties into the growing environment? The short answer appears to be yes, but it is going to need a well run and supported pilot test to be absolutely certain.

The low temperature nasties are eliminated in the first phase 600 degree burn. plastic derivatives and nitrogen compounds are completely consumed. The exhaust gas is then jumped to 2400 degrees in the small second chamber to finish the job, yet at a temperature still too low to produce NOx Ash separation is easy and the exit gas should be CO2. Initial combustion gases can be sent back into the primary chamber during the first couple of minutes in order to speed up the heating of the fuel mass and to finish any incomplete combustion.

That certainly was the operating experience on the facility installed at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria which completely eliminated pollution issues.

The remaining technical question is whether the remaining high temperature combustion products in the gas stream represent any concern at all, and if so can they be handled. We know that they will be at least a very small fraction of the gas stream.

We can expect marginal amount of SOx and NOx which by themselves may even be beneficial to the environment. After all this is handled by nature all the time. My real concern is the problem of HgO in particular and any similar heavy metal ions. The low 600 degree temperature in the primary burner could keep these problems from emerging. Again we need to know or sure and if necessary, obviate the problem.

We have an operational sweet spot that converts 100% of the molecular carbon into clean CO2. Excellent control systems and a failsafe design approach can make this work. The inorganic components join the family car on the way to the smelter.

This obviously is the shiny deluxe model of our agricultural carbonizer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bronze age global warming

Few people understand that for 2000 years, Europe was several degrees warmer than today. And that is the most compelling reason to be distrustful of the linkage between global warming and the CO2 in the atmosphere.

What this means is that although there is absolute certainty in blaming ourselves for the CO2 in the atmosphere, The same is a long way from been true regarding the global temperature. What this does suggest is that global warming is not a real issue and I suspect may even be welcomed in the long term. Recall that the decline in temperature at the end of the Bronze age (2000 BCE) and also at the end of the fifteenth century (1500 AD) was hugely disruptive as populations were forced out of their livelihoods. The reverse should be just as true as warmer soils become way more productive.

I have just completed reading the recent book by Felice Vinci, titled The Baltic Origins of Homer's Epic Tales. For those of you who have taken the trouble of reading these works in translation, you will discover that these complex descriptions of a bronze age civilization maps cleanly onto a Baltic geography. There is really no doubt left.

I am more than pleased because it supports my own conclusions regarding the antiquity and richness of the European Bronze age for which a great deal of the copper came out of Lake Superior.

What is described is a culture based primarily on cattle raising which we knew already. However, grapes were reported growing in Sweden at this time and that is also supported by the archaeological record. The climate was clearly warmer but still miserable in a way that was never true in the Mediterranean.

In any event, this shows that the public panic over global warming could well be premature. What is not premature is our concern over the CO2 content of the atmosphere. The Biosphere has not been able to keep up with our capacity to produce CO2 and this can be dangerous in any number of ways. It is culturally prudent to help the biosphere adsorb this overage and to do it in such a way that our agriculture and woodlands achieve maximum productivity through best practice.

Maybe global warming is the fire lit under our butts in order to do the right thing by mother nature. That certainly is my objective and I think that I am well down the right road.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The human element

It is time to take stock of what we have wrought. We live in a modern age that has hugely vacated the role of stewards of the land. At least that is true for the developed West and is rapidly becoming true for the rest of the world. I personally think that this is a mistake that will come back to haunt us.

The force multiplier effect of cheap energy has allowed high volume industrial farming to prosper, but it has been at the expense of a loss of available labor for seasonal agricultural work that should be the full responsibility of the community.

What has happened is that the sale of an hour of time has taken precedence over social responsibility and economic responsibility. This is the cause of most of the unnatural distortions developed in our civilization.

We can look back into the archaic agricultural world we came out off and see examples of best practice, perhaps setting an utopian ideal. We also see plenty of examples of bad practice. Utopia only worked for a couple of months of the year.

Most importantly, everyone's labor was available to some extent for the communal good. It was not every day. But in an agricultural economy, it was there when it was needed. A member of the community owed that community a certain amount of labor each year.

I am saying, however, that a person who has learned to contribute his labor to the maintenance of the agricultural economy and the community will also honor it. This needs to be encouraged. The desire is there. It needs to be channeled.

Right now our available methods for channeling human effort in the community are weak and and in the urban environment terribly insufficient. If anything selfishness is promoted. That is wrong since it is hardly necessary.

The principle reason that I bring this up is that the solution of the global CO2 crisis properly demands a culture of active woodlot management. That finally requires ongoing human involvement in the physical maintenance. Best practice calls for the mixed planting of trees, the clearing of excessive brush and dead wood on an ongoing basis and the harvesting of crops.
And someone should feel it is his responsibility to inspect each tree for health from time to time. After all, most tree pests can be controlled by the simple expedient of pruning them in time.

Right now, both the community and the farmer has abandoned vast tracts of so called waste land. To some degree this can be partially fixed with money and mostly a mono culture approach. It would be much better if willing human labor were readily available to help maximize the performance of the model wood lot.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The role of governmental framework for global terraforming

I think that any of you who have had a chance to digest my posts can agree with my core terraforming conclusions.

1 Global agriculture can and must convert to the annual practice of the carbonization of available plant waste for utilization in their fertilization program. This method works in every conceivable ecological regime.

2 Global agriculture reconstitutes waste lands and natural woodlands into managed woodlands while annually removing waste to the carbonization process. This results in deep seated nutrients finding their way into the working cropland.

3 Once this process is well established and well understood, Global agriculture can proceed with the reclamation of the deserts. This can probably double the global biomass and is totally feasible through the expedient of using solar driven atmospheric water collectors. Our technology may still be at the model T level, but it is clearly doable and can be implemented at the edges and progressively advanced, allowing a natural hydrological cycle to be slowly established.

It really is that easy to describe the process that resolves a whole range of global environmental issues beginning with excess CO2 production. How can it be made to happen once the consensus is in place to make it happen this way? That, as usual is not quite so easy.

The first step needs to begin with mandating at the regulatory level the carbonization protocol. I believe that the industry will embrace it enthusiastically in any event, but a kick in the ass never hurts. Most importantly, This quickly establishes an infrastructure of the necessary local burn units with the necessary related experience. We can assume some governmental loan support for the equipment is appropriate as long as gouging is prevented. Besides, most can build their own out using the shipping container approach.

Once everyone has sorted themselves out and gained experience in maximizing agricultural value, the next intervention is the implementation of my woodlot protocol described in an earlier post.

Since the government becomes a financial partner in the underlying land and the future rewards, it underwrites the proper management of the land with subsidized planting and maintenance. This completely eliminates the short term extractive decision tree forced on the farmer which has left this land underutilized in the first place and replaces it with an economic maximizing approach based on the natural growing cycle of a tree.

The challenge, then reduces to doing this with every acre of land throughout the globe capable of growing the appropriate biomass in the first place. And it will be mostly education.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Total carbon sequestration potential

We can now revisit the potential sequestration issue. We had already recognized that global arid lands had the potential to hold 500 billion tons of carbon. Now that we recognize that ordinary crop land can eventually hold fifty tons of carbon per acre, it becomes very clear that agriculture alone can eventually absorb over a trillion tons of carbon while supporting a human population of fifty billion. This is likely all the geological carbon that we will ever burn so the ecological equation becomes nicely balanced.

Our only problem is to simply use what we already know to make sure it happens.

One other thing that I have alluded to needs to be addressed. That is the charcoaling or simpler charing of crop waste.

The indications are that this will become a major mechanism for the maintenance of crop land fertility, while also suppling an outlet for disposing of wood waste from adjacent woodlots. The principal tool will be a burn chamber that is setup for the handling of crop waste which is easily and normally collected at harvest time.

Current protocols use straight burning or mulching into the soil. Each is clearly flawed. Burning simply releases all the carbon back into the atmosphere for no soil benefit and the nutrients are released as highly mobile solubles that are swiftly leached away. Mulching, while clearly superior has two drawbacks. The most serious is that the breakdown process often merely releases the bulk of the carbon into the atmosphere because of a lack of sufficient nutrients. Again it is also fairly fast with the same problems of leach loss. More critically, much of the stubble is difficult to work into the soils in the first place. In other words a better way would be very welcome.

Sequestering the nutrients annually in carbon char prevents leaching and the carbon itself will actually take years to break down. On top of that, it should be possible to mix the char with crop fertilization for better management.

The one glaring crop that just screams for this type of farm practice is corn. A field produces between 10 and 20 tons of stubble per acre, which is huge. Reducing that to a ton or two of Biochar would be the best thing that happened to the corn business. Corn borers would be eliminated and the only nutrients lost would be in the corn itself. Since corn growing has always been recognized as very hard of the soils and in need of heavy fertilization, this could be a major turn around.

The real power of this protocol is that both carbon and nutrients are delivered into the working crop bed and held there until used. That means that nutrients lifted up by deep rooted plants are been placed on the surface and kept there. This virtuous cycle will create rich fertile soils everywhere and will eventually hugely reduce if not eliminate the need for any chemical fertilization.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Carbon dioxide in the athmosphere

One of my correspondents asked for specific measurements of atmospheric CO2. Which makes this a good point to discuss what is known. Firstly, I will quote wikipedia:

Carbon dioxide is present at a very small 383 ppm (.000383) of the volume of the earth's atmosphere, but it is a very powerful greenhouse gas and so has a large effect upon climate. It is also essential to photosynthesis in plants and other photoautotrophs.

Despite the low concentration, CO2 is a very important component of the Earth's atmosphere because it absorbs infrared radiation at wavelengths of 4.26 µm (asymmetric stretching vibrational mode) and 14.99 µm (bending vibrational mode) and enhances the greenhouse effect to a great degree.[8]

Although water vapour accounts for up to 90% of the greenhouse effect, there is no real way to control the amount of water vapour in the Earth's climate system and it is short-lived in the atmosphere. In addition, water vapour is almost never considered a forcing, but rather almost always a feedback.

On the other hand, carbon dioxide is a very powerful forcing, and it also lasts far longer in the Earth's atmosphere. With a radiative forcing of about 1.5 W/m2, it is relativly twice as powerful as the next majorly forcing greenhouse gas, methane, and relativly ten times as powerful as the third, nitrous oxide. Carbon dioxide contributes up to 12% to the greenhouse effect.

The 20 year smoothed Law Dome DE02 and DE02-2 ice cores show the levels of CO2 to have been 284.3 ppm in 1832.[9] As of January 2007, the measured atmospheric CO2 concentration at the Mauna Loa observatory was about 383 ppm.[10]

This rise of 98.7 ppm is 25.7% of the 1832 level, or an average of about .15% a year. However, that is not the entire story, as measurements show the rise has been accelerating a great deal in recent times. Since 1960, the measured atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen 70 ppm, or about .67% a year; more than 400% of the 175 year average. While the ultimate effects are unknown, this level is thought to be a higher level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than ever before.

Were I tend to be uncomfortable is that the data points are rather limited and could be affected be secondary phenomena. After all, we were not thinking about this problem a hundred years ago and more particularly, there has been some work suggesting that ice cores are a lot less reliable than is supposed from a theoretical basis.

In any event, this is all coming from three principle sources, and the biosphere is clearly struggling to remove it all.

1st source: 1 trillion barrels of oil burned in the past one hundred years with another trillion to burn in the next fifty years.

2nd source: Billions of tons of coal burned in the past 150 years with easily as much to be burned in the next fifty. The available resource is measured at around 1 trillion tons

3rd source: Land clearing releases an average of fifty tons of carbon per acre of woodland. This process is now stabilizing and I believe is about to dramatically reverse as agricultural practices radically change.

Vincent Grey 's summary on ice core data from 1999 is well worth reading:

It is back to the drawing board for carbon cycle models. Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration varies in a manner which has not been predicted successfully by existing models. There was significant variability before there could have been a human contribution. This variability appears to have followed temperature changes, rather than being responsible for them .Although there has been an increase during the period of industrial development, the increase has not been uniform. Thus, the period between 1935-45 showed no change. The period since 1972, when the increase has been linear despite an increase of over 45% in emissions, suggests that there are new carbon sinks being established in the ocean and in the terrestrial biosphere to absorb the increases. This behavior plays havoc with previous predictions of global warming, but it is difficult to know how long the present apparently stable rate of increase will continue.

So we know that the CO2 level climbed from the pre industrial levels of around 250 to the 300 level by 1960. Since then it has climbed linearly by 80. And it may well have been because the earth got warmer rather than the other way around.

What I have been saying is that the undeniable surplus CO2 needs to be completely sequestered through a revolution in Agricultural practice in which we shed our wrong headed practices of the past and implement protocols that continuously store carbon for the long term in our working soils.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

efficient incineration

I quote this email from a friend of mine who became heavily involved in the building of a modified incineration system for the Royal Jubilee hospital in Victoria , Canada. The very important modification that they made to solve emissions problems was to operate a two lung burning system.

It was this innovation that made me aware of the amount of temperature control that can be exercised over the fuel and how important it was to do so. We also now have the control systems available to automate the process.

A large fire chamber is built and lined with fire brick. This could easily be a old shipping container for do it your selfers. A gas exit stack is added that feeds into a small burn chamber also with a chimney.

By controlling the air intake to the main chamber, the temperature can be held at 600 degrees. Or 350 degrees if the intent is to produce charcoal. Depending on the load, this is operated for twelve to eighteen hours, completing the process.

The flu gases at 600 degrees enters the secondary chamber were sufficient air is provided to allow a fast temperature jump to 2000 degrees. The remaining volatiles are burned and because of the speed of the process, the production of other combustion products is hugely minimized. That means few nitrogen compounds and other temperature transitioning compounds found in one lung operations.

This solved the hospital's very serious emission problem.

The idea of setting this up for a farm is very attractive since it promises a very consistent charred carbon or charcoal end product. In the case of destroying municipal waste at 600 degrees, one is left with a little grey ash and all the organics unaffected since we are below either the melting temperature or burn temperature for manufacturing metals and glass.

Ford's quote:

Great concept

Consider this as a cycle

Waste is incinerated using current technology that produces cleaner air as an output than the air coming into the system when the system is anywhere near cities.

Heat is captured and used as a low pressure (i.e. non boiler) how water system to heat green houses.

Exhaust air, which is clean, but laden with H2O and CO2 is fed through the greenhouses, obviously at times when the greenhouses are empty of people.

Plant life in the greenhouse is accelerated due to the foregoing.

Waste is reduced by better than 90% with the 10% residual comprised of an inert ash that is a perfect road fill, cement fill, anything of that nature, glass and metal. Using the correct system which operates at under 600 deg F, results in no deterioration to glass or metal, including aluminum foil.

I don't understand blogs, never had a chance to learn them. The above works. It is not a matter of theory, just getting people past the concept of incineration. I can back up everything stated above. Feel free to use and let's chat one day.

Ford Cannon

What Ford has pointed out, is that this is an ideal fit for large green house operations. They need two inputs in order to maximize productivity. One is heat in the off season in the form of warm water as cheap as possible and off grid. The second is plenty of clean carbon dioxide.

What we have described is a batch process that can be operated on demand with the outputs utilized as necessary. It could not be more flexible from the viewpoint of a greenhouse operation. They could even pick up dumping fees from the municipality for taking truckloads of garbage. That would mean designing the primary chamber to a size capable of handling such a load.

Monday, June 11, 2007


I recently became aware of the huge extent of ancient carbon sequestration in the jungles of the Amazon. This is a major eye opener. Certainly, it was hinted at in practice world wide, but to find a locale in which it became practice over hundreds of years is a major breakthrough.

Firstly because it was used on soils that are impoverished solely due to incessant rainfall. The only alternative was traditional slash and burn agriculture.

Secondly, it sustained huge population densities through intensive cropping. The promise of the tropics was realized over centuries of experience.

Thirdly, it becomes possible for us to study these soils in order to comfortably predict outcomes globally. A thousand year long field test beats a thousand man years of theory any day.

This also very neatly resolves one of the problems faced by model farms worldwide. That is, what is the best way to deal with wood waste in particular and agricultural waste in general.

This explicitly informs us that low temperature carbonization is the preferred solution.

Complete incineration is achieved at 600 degrees. Carbonization occurs between 300 to 400 degrees. And the product is sterilized and charcoal like. Obviously, modern practice will do a superior job of temperature control to provide a uniform product.

It is fundamental to the future of modern agriculture that woodlands are operated in conjunction with traditional husbandry. Making carbonization the principle method for elimination of cornstalks and straw and waste wood is hugely beneficial to soil maintenance.

Our model farm can now become an ongoing carbon collector and carbon sink, with carbon been added to the soils in a form that postpones release for hundreds of years.

This means that instead of woodlands retaining a natural load of an average fifty tons per acre and operated fields dropping down to seven tons per acre through normal cropping methods, we can project a system that will ultimately store perhaps as much as thirty to fifty tons in the fields. Recall that the black soils in the amazon were remarkably thick as a result of this practice.

This method needs to be globalized.