possible biochar w/ Hamakua's ironwood

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Ben Discoe

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Jan 20, 2011, 12:32:58 PM1/20/11
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I've been saying for many years that unless something is done to put Hamakua's ex-sugar lands into either productive use or conservation, we'll soon be known as the "Ironwood Coast". They grow that fast.

Recent hopeful news:

County optimistic about 1,739-acre parcel
by Nancy Cook Lauer, West Hawaii Today, Wednesday, January 12, 2011
http://www.westhawaiitoday.com/articles/2011/01/12/local//local03.txt

"... There's even a plan for the estimated 80 million board feet of ironwood growing on the slopes. William Steiner, dean of the University of Hawaii at Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry & Natural Resource Management, and Josiah Hunt, with Landscape Ecology, plan to convert that wood into biochar, a charcoal type of fertilizer to help hold carbon in the soil.

"The amount of material is huge," Steiner said. "We're still trying to develop the numbers on what size operation will be needed."


Jay FitzGerald

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Jan 20, 2011, 11:31:00 PM1/20/11
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It looks to me like another form of strip mining, basically removing the carbon at personal profit to sell, again at personal profit someplace else. I understand the appeal, but I see very little difference between this and the coal industry.  Nice work if one can get it. As for the site defoliated-- well?  What are you going to plant to replace the ironwood once you cut it, in that toxic depleted soil?

Jay
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Ben Discoe

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Jan 22, 2011, 12:43:40 PM1/22/11
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Jay? I can't tell whether you are being tongue in cheek or not?
Harvesting carbon is nothing like strip mining because the carbon is
being extracted renewably from the air, not the ground. There is not
likely to be much profit involved (because of the poor economics), and
unlikely to be anything taken away for profit elsewhere (because of
the cost of transportation). There is not even a shred of similarity
to the coal industry. "Weed trees" like ironwood and eucalyptus grow
faster than they can be harvested, so defoliating isn't an outcome
(even if someone wanted it). And, of course there is no soil toxicity
involved, any more than on your own land in Fern Forest.

But, you know all that - so i can only guess that your goal was humor?

-Ben

Jay FitzGerald

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Jan 22, 2011, 10:52:29 PM1/22/11
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Hi Ben,

No, I'm dead serious.

First, you've got to be sensibly fair. While you're harvesting carbon for sure, you're also the entire nutrient uptake of the ironwood tree during its lifespan, not just carbon, but everything else in the soil it extracted as well. I don't expect there's any interest in replacing those extracted resources. Carbon is what you're marketing. P's and K's and the rest you're exploiting and extracting, and that soil hasn't much of that to give up. That and the rest of it is what is being strip mined. It's significant. If biochar was being used in the traditional manner, as a process rather than a product-- and returned to the same site, you'd be in the position to be improving the site. As described it's an extraction process, pure and simple. Much like the coal industry, as I see it, taking an nonrenewable public resource with public funding and subsidy and creating a product then sold for private personal profit.

Second, I'm pretty doubtful there's be much interest in the project if there wasn't profit involved. I suppose we could look at where the money is going to resolve that.

Third, come on! Weed trees like ironwood and eucalyptus or albezia grow pretty fast for sure, but a guy with a chainsaw can knock them down vastly faster than they grow. I know that, as I've done it, and have taught others to do so as well. Defoliation is absolutely an issue, because the fact remains that biochar is a product that makes defoliation profitable. Hawaii is in drought. Hilo got barely 60 inches of rain last year. Irresponsible defoliation of any species "weed" or not leads to loss of adiabatic rainfall and certainly leads to increased trans respiration. One needs to be quite sure one's project offsets those very real and measurable effects.

Fourth-- well, just what is going to be replanted in that ironwood patch? Or eucalyptus? Something is, right? What, pineapples? No doubt that will replace the carbon fixing ability of a mature stand of eucalyptus straight away.

Having looked at the evidence there is no way in hell that biochar produced or promoted in this manner is possibly carbon-negative. There is a place for biochar, and I've probably utilized as much or more of it than any on this island, but this but this isn't the way to go about it, at least if one's concerns are climate impacts, which mine are. No doubt there's a buck to be made, elsewise.

Jay

> Date: Sat, 22 Jan 2011 09:43:40 -0800
> Subject: Re: possible biochar w/ Hamakua's ironwood
> From: bdi...@gmail.com
> To: biochar...@googlegroups.com

Su Ba

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Jan 23, 2011, 1:49:53 PM1/23/11
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Right, Ben! Ironwood and eucalyptus are incredible weed trees in my area. I'm constantly wacking down the volunteer seedings. Otherwise they would be choking my acreage just like my neighbors'.


From: Ben Discoe <bdi...@gmail.com>;
To: <biochar...@googlegroups.com>;
Subject: Re: possible biochar w/ Hamakua's ironwood
Sent: Sat, Jan 22, 2011 5:43:40 PM

Jay?  I can't tell whether you are being tongue in cheek or not?
Harvesting carbon is nothing like strip mining because the carbon is
being extracted renewably from the air, not the ground.  There is not
likely to be much profit involved (because of the poor economics), and
unlikely to be anything taken away for profit elsewhere (because of
the cost of transportation).  There is not even a shred of similarity
to the coal industry.  "Weed trees" like ironwood and eucalyptus grow
faster than they can be harvested, so defoliating isn't an outcome
(even if someone wanted it).  And, of course there is no soil toxicity
involved, any more than on your own land in Fern Forest.

But, you know all that - so i can only guess that your goal was humor?

-Ben

On Thu, Jan 20, 2011 at 8:31 PM, Jay FitzGerald <jayw...@hotmail.com> wrote:
> It looks to me like another form of strip mining, basically removing the
> carbon at personal profit to sell, again at personal profit someplace else.
> I understand the appeal, but I see very little difference between this and
> the coal industry.  Nice work if one can get it. As for the site
> defoliated-- well?  What are you going to plant to replace the ironwood once
> you cut it, in that toxic depleted soil?
>
> Jay

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josiah hunt

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Jan 23, 2011, 2:19:56 PM1/23/11
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Hello Jay,

Your stance on this issue takes me by surprise.  I respond to concerns below.

- Josiah

On Jan 22, 2011, at 5:52 PM, Jay FitzGerald wrote:

Hi Ben,

No, I'm dead serious.

First, you've got to be sensibly fair. While you're harvesting carbon for sure, you're also the entire nutrient uptake of the ironwood tree during its lifespan, not just carbon, but everything else in the soil it extracted as well. I don't expect there's any interest in replacing those extracted resources. Carbon is what you're marketing. P's and K's and the rest you're exploiting and extracting, and that soil hasn't much of that to give up. That and the rest of it is what is being strip mined. It's significant.

-  The nutrients are not lost.  Attached below is an analysis of a couple biochars that I produced which show considerable nutrient content (BC1 and BC2 were plain biochar, BCC was a biochar compost).  You are completely wrong to assume that there is no interest in replacing the resources.  Just a quick overview of the Kapulena Ag Park will probably clarify a few things.  There are 1700 acres, but supposedly less than half of it is suitable for farming.  The land suitable for farming will need to cleared somehow.  Bulldozing, the most common practice, would remove all the standing material to the edge of the field where as it rots the majority of carbon would be lost to the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide as well as methane (about 30 time more potent a greenhouse gas then CO2).  If a biochar facility were to be located in the area the ironwood on useable acreage would be harvested and used to produce two basic products; biochar and bio-oil.  The bio-oil would be used locally to create electricity and the biochar would be used locally to improve soil fertility.  Neither product would be shipped out of state, it just doesn't make  economic or moral sense.  The majority of the biochar would likely end up on this island (including the Ag Park) and given the profits from sales of bio-oil (oil is beyond $90 a barrel and rising) the biochar would be offered at much more affordable prices than are currently possible.  
perrylabsreport.pdf

Jay FitzGerald

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Jan 24, 2011, 1:54:04 PM1/24/11
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Hi Peter, I'm up in Fern Forest. I'm pleased and excited to report that the project is rapidly becoming a success in sustainable ag. I hope to double the size of the operation this year. Without a doubt the burn ban is a hassle, but you can get a permit to do so and I'm sure you can get around it with a pack of hotdogs. The key is processing small amounts all the time as part of the day to day of farm life. In time, and relatively short time things can evolve.

Yup, soil about zero here too, but the char does help keeping what you put in the soil here longer.

Jay

> Date: Sun, 23 Jan 2011 21:49:26 -1000
> From: pe...@palma-seo.com
> To: jayw...@hotmail.com

> Subject: Re: possible biochar w/ Hamakua's ironwood
>
> Hi Jay,
> Thanks for that additional info. I've made some also but in my present
> 5 acre farm it's not possible b/c the neighbors call the fire dept with
> any smoke, and it's illegal (I tried!). Very interesting operation you
> have there, where are you? I just am trying to bring back to life this
> old cane soil here. No trees here, and god only knows where my p and k
> are, if there ever were any. Soil chart is about as close to zero here
> for everything except iron! But so far so good at least stuff is
> growing (though admittedly lots of lime and chemical ferts bought from
> offsite).
> Peter
>
> On 1/23/2011 7:45 PM, Jay FitzGerald wrote:
> > Peter,
> >
> > Thanks, I appreciate that. I understand I'm shitting in the shrine of
> > "greendom" and like all heretics I'll be held to the rack and accused
> > of blasphemy.
> >
> > In full disclosure, I've personally manufactured and used at least 10
> > to 15 thousand pounds of char on my property. I've got 2 acres of
> > forest here in a mixed silviculture plantation. Taro in a number of
> > varieties cultivated in "waena" fashion is the product. I pulled the
> > large ohia that had dieback and some understory guava to come up with
> > that level of content. That was a lot of work. The char was made on
> > site from on site materials without any fuel inputs other than a
> > chainsaw. It's a bit unfair to accuse "traditionalists" of ignoring
> > the fuel quantity of the material if one then goes to ignore the fuel
> > inputs of the extraction of material. I can put numbers to both, and
> > here they are. They aren't theoretical as it's what I do for a living.
> > I know I can down and process on site a ton of dead ohia and guava on
> > less than a half gallon of gasoline run through my Stilh 260 pro. The
> > rate of return is very high, actually. Of a /ton/ of wet material I
> > can extract close to a yard of distributable product. This is not done
> > in pit fire nor kilns but in a carefully tended open fire condition.
> > It takes some time to learn that skill but the returns are very high
> > if the skill level is also high. This involves neither the carbon
> > footprint of fuel, other than the chansaw, nor transportation, other
> > than my walking to the site, nor transportation off the site, nor
> > capital costs of infrastructure, nor grant money, nor subsidies or
> > anything else. The waste, which we might call ash, is as valuable as
> > the rest for it's liming content and the residual P's and K's. Again,
> > it goes into the same site it was removed from and constitutes not an
> > extraction but rather a /concentration/ for the next generation of
> > growth. This is what biochar is all about. One initiates a process of
> > sustainable useage of one's woody waste and in time one reaps the
> > benefit of improved soil. Sprinkling charcoal like pixie dust doesn't.
> >
> > I plant koa where the ohia is extracted. The ohia are invariable in a
> > crevasse(as they haven't blown over) and I stuff a hapu'u log in the
> > same and seed the koa in that. As Koa are heavy feeders they're ideal
> > to recapture the run-off. It's that or bananas. Koa is ideal because
> > the tap root will run into the the crevasse and the feeder roots run
> > shallow.
> >
> > As to the fuel impacts of extraction-- I've worked for a couple of
> > local organic farmers interested in composting weed trees(not biochar
> > on site, because organic rules disallow burning.) To extract a ton of
> > processed waste to compost, or run through a processor such as a fluid
> > bed gasifier-- I would expect would require a fuel input of at least
> > 10 gallons per ton, and 4 times the labor hours. This involves people
> > driving and showing up on site, dragging the material out of the
> > forest(rather than processing it there, in the tradtional manner)
> > perhaps drying it, certainly running a high capital cost commercial
> > chipper, and then either burning or whatever with the rest. In fact
> > the carbon impact is far worse but immeasurable because there's no way
> > I can see to quantify what your employed help does with the wages you
> > pay to drag ironwood out of the brush. . .who knows? Anyway, in fact I
> > was involved in such a project here just at the first of the year. I
> > do this all the time and these aren't theoretical values to me. I
> > doubt they would be theoretical values to anyone who has spent any
> > time on a functional farm.
> >
> > All in all the traditional method as far as I can determine and
> > solidly within the envelope of error 1) is a more sustainable use of
> > inputs. 2) delivers a higher quality product, as your process A)
> > utilizes wet wood, which in pyrolysis generates a larger pore
> > structure, hence larger volume and acts as a superior buffer in the
> > soil structure. B) also captures important pyrolitic compounds,
> > critical to the re-introduction of important microorganisms to the
> > site. 3) produces less to no waste(ash isn't a waste if used on site,
> > but for biochar manufacturers it is indeed a waste product.) 4)
> > Utilizes vastly simpler and more sustainable capital infrastructure
> > and costs.
> >
> > But we could get in a pissing match very quickly where all sorts of
> > appeal to authority could come to play of this study or other, et al.,
> > where someone or other mostly pulling a nice wage studying a
> > potentially very viable commercial product lauds the miracles possible
> > through the new science. Nice. I really don't care because as I've
> > come to say, only a fool would sell biochar. You've got the legacy of
> > a plant's life cycle in your hand once you're done, reduced to its
> > fundamentals. You can either utilize that very valuable resource for
> > future growth or sell it off for a quick buck. No farmer would even
> > consider it. Nor would any interested in what terms like
> > "sustainability" means. There's no money in what I'm doing except in
> > the fact that I can move all the taro I produce and the phone rings
> > off the hook as the quality hasn't been seen in years.
> >
> > Still, as simple as that is, the issue, at least for me its far more
> > simple yet and I think the question can be resolved very rapidly. I
> > believe biochar works, and I use it, but I'm /very/ questionable about
> > commerical biochar. I'm very very questionable about the "benefits"
> > of cutting down a couple of thousand of acres of forest, regardless of
> > how the species might be professionally maligned, especially on a
> > tropical island. As far as I'm concerned, as I've worked and published
> > in the area of microclimate research, and have a number of friends
> > that work in macro climate research, there is simply no way that the
> > /hypothetical/ benefits of commerical "for profit" biochar can offset
> > the real negative effects of lost forest, lost rainfall, increased
> > desertification due to increased trans respiration, and soil erosion
> > /without doubt/ that will come from the project. Look, it's
> > straightforward. Hawaii /cannot/ prevent global climate change no
> > matter how much biochar we produce. We /can/, however, protect our
> > island's microclimate as much as possible by protecting our forest
> > canopy as much as we can, weed tree or not. In fact, I expect, those
> > weed trees will prove to be one of our most resilient and important
> > resources.
> >
> > So yeah, actually, burn the damned oil instead. Our doing so won't
> > make any difference in terms of climate and at least here we'll still
> > have our trees. No kidding, I think that's a better future.
> >
> >
> > Jay
> >
> > > Date: Sat, 22 Jan 2011 19:19:08 -1000
> > > From: pe...@palma-seo.com
> > > To: jayw...@hotmail.com

> > > Subject: Re: possible biochar w/ Hamakua's ironwood
> > >
> > > very thoughtful comments. if you ever come up to akaka falls area,
> > > please stop by our farm and say hello, right on akaka falls road.
> > > Peter

> > >
> > > On 1/22/2011 5:52 PM, Jay FitzGerald wrote:
> > > > Hi Ben,
> > > >
> > > > No, I'm dead serious.
> > > >
> > > > First, you've got to be sensibly fair. While you're harvesting carbon
> > > > for sure, you're /also/ the entire nutrient uptake of the ironwood
> > > > tree during its lifespan, not /just/ carbon, but everything else in

> > > > the soil it extracted as well. I don't expect there's any interest in
> > > > replacing those extracted resources. Carbon is what you're marketing.
> > > > P's and K's and the rest you're exploiting and extracting, and that
> > > > soil hasn't much of that to give up. /That/ and the rest of it is what

> > > > is being strip mined. It's significant. If biochar was being used in
> > > > the traditional manner, as a process rather than a product-- and
> > > > returned to the /same site/, you'd be in the position to be improving

josiah hunt

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Jan 24, 2011, 3:09:41 PM1/24/11
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Jay, 

A few things to think about;

The extractable fuel value in wood processed for biochar is about 10-15% of the dry weight.  In other words a ton of wood can yield 200-300lbs or about 35 gallons of fuel.     

Whether ash is produced in an open fire or a controlled system it is still ash and still has value.

The quality of char produced is largely dependent on highest temperature.  Making biochar in an open system (which I am very familiar with) can produce a good quality char, but the quality varies with every batch.  At lowest temperatures the potential for surface area is not realized and at higher temperatures it is destroyed.  In a controlled system you have the ability to tune the process to produce a consistently high quality biochar, a feat very difficult in an open pit without as much experience as you have. 

You are lucky to have the health, land and time to do what you do.  It obviously works very well.  Not everyone has the capability to do that though.

You stated

I really don't care because as I've
> > come to say, only a fool would sell biochar. You've got the legacy of
> > a plant's life cycle in your hand once you're done, reduced to its
> > fundamentals. You can either utilize that very valuable resource for
> > future growth or sell it off for a quick buck. No farmer would even
> > consider it. Nor would any interested in what terms like
> > "sustainability" means. "

As a "fool who sells biochar" I understand very well what I am doing- I am taking waste material and transforming into a valuable material that is then sold to FARMERS who use it to increase their productivity, the sustainability of their soils, and decrease their reliance on fertilizer inputs which organic or not are mostly shipped here. 

- Josiah Hunt

Bobby Grimes

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Jan 24, 2011, 5:59:53 PM1/24/11
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Aloha all, good discussion and I appreciate your ideas and efforts to elucidate your truths.

I have to wonder how much total embedded energy or /btu's of energy will be required to mobilize the workforce, vehicles/tractors/dozers, bar oil, 2-cycle oil, gasoline, fuel to create biochar conversion/temps/burn, chippers, access roads to get tree parts out of cane fields and possibly some drainage/gravel to mitigate erosion from traffic in certain areas.

I can only imagine this is a good deal of imbedded energy?
How much moisture are those trees holding? How much cooling are they offering? How much cloud formation do they assist? To those farming North Hamakua Makai areas they are a beneficial windbreak...?

Any thoughts on these ideas?

Mahalo, Bobby. 


Sent from my iPhone

josiah hunt

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Jan 24, 2011, 6:24:13 PM1/24/11
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Bobby,

The only trees in question for production of biochar are those in the Ag park which are planned to be removed regardless of use.  Roads have been created decades ago for the sugarcane industry which have recently been uncovered for access in the Ag park.  

If the fuel costs were greater to harvest the material than amount of fuel to be gained it would be ridiculous to do such an operation.  

Whether or not biochar is being made trees will be dropping, chainsaws and bulldozers will be running (and already have been), the only thing being proposed here is way to utilize the biomass.  

- Josiah

Bobby Grimes

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Jan 24, 2011, 6:25:52 PM1/24/11
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Thanks for the reply Josiah. 
B

Sent from my iPhone

Jay FitzGerald

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Jan 24, 2011, 7:58:42 PM1/24/11
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Hi all,

Sorry Josiah about the harsh rhetoric, I mean no offense, but I must tell you that while I respect everyone making an attempt to earn a living, once that attempt threatens the living of others that gets pretty controversial. In context, it's much as if someone came along and purchased all of Eden Roc for the ohia lumber, cut it and biochar-ed it. This would destroy my local climate and put my sustainable practice out of commission. Few are informed of the risks involved in such large scale operations, and biochar is being promoted as a panacea which it simply isn't. The use and promotion of biochar contains serious risks that need to addressed. I personally believe they're insurmountable in the current atmosphere.  An ironwood tree still standing isn't waste, it's a resource. It's only waste once it's knocked down in a manner that refuses to acknowledge the role it plays and its larger value within the island's ecosystem. While I understand those trees are "planned" to be cut, they aren't cut yet, and I would have far more respect for the ethics of the issue if efforts were made first to preserve that resource than to find a way to exploit(and in essence, facilitate) the destruction of it. I don't find it unrealistic that if ecologically minded and informed individuals were to raise a hue and cry, at least guidelines might be offered as to make the deforestation less egregious.

While the immediate and really unavoidable impacts of soil erosion, loss of local adiabatic rainfall, potential damage to watersheds, there's even the potentiality of rendering the site largely useless. This alone would be enough for me to protest the project. But there are two far more dangerous risks that I would encourage consideration of: 1) The first, of course, is that having a biogas fuel facility in operation effectively makes a commodity of all trees, weed or not, on this island. In a context where conservation is nowhere to be seen, this fuel supply will serve only to supplement fossil fuel consumption rather than replace it. This in turn will forestall the proper market response to resource scarcity, the signal which should be cutting back on consumption of energy. As a result, we'll only end up further in overshoot. It would be sad indeed if we found ourselves in a situation where to keep the lights on we resign ourselves to deforesting the island. 2) The second issue is equally as difficult: It is unreasonable, and unethical, as far as I'm concerned, to allow the idea to persist that promoting or implementing the use "alternative energy sources" or technologies such as biochar are legitimate substitutes for minimizing personal consumption. They are not. The longer we allow ourselves to pretend such things the more catastrophic will be the impacts. I understand it's far easier to sell wonder cures and sugar pills than tickets to Jay's "hey, let's all have less stuff club" but that's the only answer at the moment. Wishing elsewise does not make it so. If we had reasonable policy in place that encouraged conservation, then considering biomass energy might make sense. In the current state of affairs, it only promotes more consumption.

For myself I personally regret my efforts to promote the use of biochar here in Hawaii. That was a mistake, as I really didn't realize the risk of abuse. It would be completely profitable at current prices for a skilled operator to purchase wooded acreage in my area, clearcut, char, and dump the result. This is a very dangerous state of affairs and I expect it's only time until someone gets the idea.

Jay


Subject: Re: possible biochar w/ Hamakua's ironwood
From: biodynam...@gmail.com
Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2011 13:25:52 -1000
To: biochar...@googlegroups.com

Christian Filipina

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Jan 30, 2011, 3:17:13 PM1/30/11
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I've found this discussion very interesting. One of the questions it
raised is the relative value of the C versus the other nutrients
including P & K in the product. I am wondering if in the studies that
have been done recently, there was a control of "fully-burned" ash which
presumably has all the P & K (and Ca etc) but just no C left.

josiah hunt

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Feb 2, 2011, 9:37:33 PM2/2/11
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Ash and Char are very different. Both have value in agriculture. Ash
has a very high pH (~11-12) and thus is often used as a liming agent.
The P and K ratios depend on the material burned but can be as high as
5-7%. Biochar has much less liming effect (the stuff I make is about
pH 8.5) and a much lower concentration of P and K (though the P and K
from the parent material is still there, the bulk of biochar is C).
The biochar will last for millenia, ash is highly soluble and will be
used or leached away relatively quickly.

The value of C is an interesting one. Soil Carbon was largely
undervalued for a long time, but has now gained much more appreciation
for the role it plays in healthy soils and in turn for soils ability
to sequester atmospheric C. For more info I suggest you type: Humus,
Soil Organic Matter (SOM), Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) into a search
engine and see what comes up. University of Hawaii, Cornell, and
especially Rodale Institute have all done good research into the value
of Carbon in Soil.

- Josiah Hunt

Bobfharris

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Feb 3, 2011, 2:16:59 AM2/3/11
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Christian I think you are perhaps confused a bit. The value of bio
char (sic) terra preta lies not in the molecular content but in the
properties inherent in the form the carbon is in. In a sense this is a
super activated charcoal. Properties of charcoal include the ability
to ADsorb materials, that is have them stick to the surface. Bio char
when properly created has millions of micro tubes in it which mean the
bio char can hold and maintain nutrients and other substances such as
humic acid for very long periods and release them slowly.

For historical perspective I suggest you read the chapter in the book
1491 which outline how massively large civilizations lived in the
Amazon basin for long periods without depleting the soil, ie in a
region normal known for leaching of nutrients and where humus will not
normally accumulate. In discovering the soil in these areas they found
high amounts of pottery indicating long term existence and high
numbers of people living. On analysis of the soil they found black
earth which they termed Terra Preta and it contained substantial
amounts of activated charcoal.

It is not the nutrient value of Carbon which made this civilized
agriculture possible but the nature of the charcoal. Think time
release.

In tropical areas where leaching is high or in our case volcanic soil,
retaining nutrients becomes the task. Compost disappears rapidly in
Hawaii. To be more effective combine bio char with compost, activate
the bio char with the nutrient, humic acid, and the microbial content
of the compost and then add this to the soil and you will greatly
enhance the bio activity in the soil, retain higher amounts of humus,
and create a better micro environment in the soil for sustained
agriculture. Concept is feed the soil and the soil will feed the
plants. Feeding the soil is a process of creating the right climate
for microorganisms to flourish which decompose the vegetable and
mineral matter, chelate the metals, and supply the necessary food for
the plants.

Hope this helps clarify things a bit for you

Bob Harris, mycologist



On Jan 30, 10:17 am, Christian Filipina <cont...@christian-

Christian Filipina

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Feb 4, 2011, 3:48:47 AM2/4/11
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Hi Bob, Thanks for your insight.  However, I don't think that I'm confused.  I was thinking of http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/SCM-30.pdf when I wrote the comment.  If you look at page 5, the caption "Effect of biochar application on plant growth" appears to differentiate two trials.  Presumably, someone reading the caption and seeing the photo would think that applying "biochar" would be responsible for this difference in growth, which indeed it might be.  But what aspect of "biochar" is responsible, is it the (properties of the) C, or the (molecular value of the) K, or the (molecular value of the) zinc, (molecular value of the) manganese, etc?  I brought up this reference to the literature because these issues had been raised in the drunken brawl here a few weeks ago.

If you read a previous caption in that publication, you'll see that "[the biochar] should be spread 
evenly over the soil in a layer [...] (equivalent to 8.4–25.2 tons per acre)" which is about 40,000 pounds per acre, compared to the 500 pounds per acre of bonemeal which was applied in the trial with the pictures (which is of course a good fertilizer, but 500 pounds per acre doesn't have much effect here, especially if it is broadcast).  Even if the "biochar" only contained a miniscule fraction of nutrients, that massive load of it, as compared to the dusting of bonemeal, leads one to ask the questions.  

I'm not saying biochar is stupid or ineffective or uneconomical; I've used some that I've made and been pleased with some of the results, although I haven't done enough research to know whether I was pleased because of the C, or the liming effect, or the other nutrients (as mine was a combination of ash and char).  I was just hoping someone had done more careful research and might be able to add something along the lines I asked for, which evidently nobody has done yet.  Can anyone provide a link to the actual local research, as the pdf I had read and linked to is just a summary?

By the way, if I prepay now, how much would 200,000 pounds of biochar run me for my 5 acre farm?
 

josiah hunt

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Feb 4, 2011, 4:57:34 AM2/4/11
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Christian Filipina,

I wrote the article you are referencing (with help and editing).  The rate of fish bone meal was 5,000 lb/acre not 500.  It was tilled in and not broadcast.  Both the biochar and non-biochar amended plots received the same amount of fish meal, the only difference was the biochar.

The properties of biochar responsible for the plant growth response we have been observing is a very complicated question to answer.  To sum it up, biochar can improve a soils physical characteristics, such as tilth, it's chemical characteristics, such as nutrient exchange, and biological characteristics, including increased activity of beneficial microbes.  On top of that you have the short term bonuses of ash, which can have a liming and fertilizing effect, and fire residues/volatile matter/tars and resins which can stimulate activity especially with plants and microbes that are adapted to follow fire.  The attributes are beneficial to each other, that is, that to improve the physical characteristics of soil can also improve the chemical and biological characteristics.  Soil science is complicated, there are many brilliant minds trying to answer the questions you may have, the problem is, that it is very difficult to do: Soil Science is Messy.

You can see more from pictures and info related to the CTAHR article you read at:


There is a lot of research out there, I suggest browsing through the bibliography on the International Biochar Initiative website:


Aloha,

- Josiah 


Christian Filipina

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Feb 4, 2011, 5:32:37 AM2/4/11
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Thanks for your correction on the application quantity, so I was
confused after all ;) Although I would call tilled-in "broadcast" as
opposed to "side-dressed" or "banded" (which as you know concentrate
the amendment in one location so that it does not get bound up in
immobile forms as readily as if spread out, resulting in higher
effectiveness of many amendments)

I've done some similar experiments also, and the thing I'm always
struck by is that it's very hard to make a bad soil good (no matter
the amendments) and that any weed competition on bad soil eats up any
amendments faster than my crop can eat them up.

Thanks for the links also.

Looking forward to hearing what it would hypothetically run me to get
the full dose of biochar for my farm ;)
> > confused.  I was thinking ofhttp://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/SCM-30.pdf

josiah hunt

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Feb 4, 2011, 6:32:11 AM2/4/11
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The best price I can offer right now is about $0.60/lb. That would
run you about $120,000 for 200,000 lbs. Will that be cash?

Might I recommend that you try slightly lower doses. Until the price
of biochar is drops significantly it would make more sense to aim for
the lower end of application rates. A much more economical
application rate would be about 5-10 tons/ acre(7-12k/acre). This
much still seems to have a significant impact on plant growth but a
much smaller impact on the bank account.

- Josiah

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Bobfharris

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Feb 5, 2011, 9:24:45 PM2/5/11
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Christian

If you are again asking if it is the properties of the C, K, zinc or
manganese then again I suggest you reread my comments.. it has little
to do with these except for the ability of biochar to ADsorb these
nutrients. Biochar as Josia says is more complicated and it has a lot
to do with the structural and physical Macromolecular properties of
biochar, not the elemental aspects such as NPK or the like.

Think of it as creating a time release out of what is present and you
will be closer to the truth. In fact it has a lot to do with retaining
the humus, which if you go back to the basics of organic farming way
back to Rodale's first publications, is the most important aspect of
organic farming in creating the environment for the microflora to
flourish that make organic farming superior

In this regard biochar is even more effective when added to compost
than when spread over soil, though doing even that is beneficial, just
not the MOST effective way.

Bob

On Feb 3, 10:48 pm, Christian Filipina
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