- using less power, by switching things off and unplugging,
- using more efficient appliances and light bulbs and
For the broader community it is about switching to alternative fuel sources, such as the sun, wind, waves etc.
But a less explored idea to solve the problem of too much carbon in the atmosphere, would be simply be…
To put it back underground.
Creating carbon sinks
There are a couple of big engineering projects looking at ways to gather up the extra carbon dioxide that is floating about and pump it deep underground. But liquifying carbon dioxide and moving it around, is expensive and technically challenging, so the idea of carbon capture and storage (CCS for short) – is not a BIG IDEA, just yet.
But capturing carbon and storing it underground is not dependent on high tech state of the art engineering. The ancients were doing it and more-or-less anyone can do it, if they know how.
Biochar – an ancient weapon
The Ancient Amazonian Indians found themselves struggling with poor quality jungle soils. To “fix” their problem, they fertilized their soils with “biochar”, but in the process they fiddled with the carbon cycle. Biochar effectively put carbon back underground – “permanently”.
They produced biochar by heating up organic matter – primarily wood, in the absence of oxygen. The heating process, which was carefully controlled ends up driving off gases, which are burned to produce energy. The stuff left behind, is more-or-less pure carbon. The cool thing – this carbon very chemically stable i.e. it isn’t going anywhere soon.
The Amazonian Indians dug this carbon they had created into the poor quality jungle soils, to increase productivity. These special patches are still visible in the jungle today (I said it was more-or-less permanent), the soils are known as the “terra preta” (dark soil in Portuguese).
Biochar is “modern” coal
The carbon problem has emerged, because we’ve been digging up coal deposits, which are believed to be the carbon left behind from ancient forests buried eons ago.
Biochar is simply doing the opposite, instead of digging up an ancient forest, it amounts to taking the carbon currently embedded in a modern forest or maybe grass, offshoots from other agricultural or industrial processes, processing them a little with a controlled dose of heat and then burying the resulting charcoal underground.
But the big benefit, it doesn’t have to be buried miles beneath the soil in reinforced concrete vaults. It can be done right near the surface and as an added bonus, it improves soil fertility.
Recipe for sustainable energy for all
As the world stops to commemorate the International Year of Sustainable Energy – high tech is not the only way to stop global warming. Its time to kick-start the biochar revolution.
In addition to turning things off, you might want to consider doing a little burning in the backyard. The internet abounds with recipes to help you make biochar for your garden. Whipping up a batch will be feeding your flowers, cultivating your microflora and cooling the world down.Life Cycle Assessment of Biochar Systems: Estimating the Energetic, Economic, and Climate Change Potential. Environmental Science & Technology, 2010; 44 (2): 827 Roberts et al.
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