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The good news on good-news carbon

by 26 Oct 2007Agricultural emissions0 comments

Biochar experiment

Follow Fast: Despite the best efforts of some, Aotearoa has no choice but to be a biochar technology follower. Seedling experiments with mycorrhizae with biochar. photographer Niklaus Foidl

Tuesday’s Rodney Times carried an article that had Friends of the Mahurangi executive member Mike Neil highly encouraged: ‘Some good news on carbon, at last!’

Had I seen it?

No, but I needed little excuse to put off completing some long-overdue administration chores and soon we were both, literally, on the same page.

‘The best plan on climate change I have heard’, Don Slater of Otamatea Ecovillage, is quoted as saying of the concept that Massey University’s Dr Peter Read is championing.

But this shouldn’t be tucked away on page 18, this is front-page news!

Certainly the 40 who attended Dr Read’s dinner address, which Don organised at Kaiwaka, would have thought so.

With climate change magic bullets flying around our ears, it is easy to be sceptical.

For example, the scheme to fuel cars with aluminium alloy pellets and water, the only emission being water vapour.

Sounds sublime, until you realise that the concept calls for the fuel pellet smelters to be close-coupled with purpose-built nuclear power stations!

So is biochar (previously known as agrichar) more of the same?

Briefly, the biochar is a process whereby:

  • Plants remove carbon (CO2) from the atmosphere
  • Waste plant matter is converted into biochar by a low heat, airless process
  • High quality gas is produced
  • Carbon is sequestered in the soil (for 100–1000 years)
  • Soil is conditioned by the biochar

This, essentially, is the reverse of what we continue to do like there was no tomorrow—taking carbon out of the ground (oil, gas and coal) and putting it into the atmosphere.

The International Biochar Initiative resulted from a side meeting of the 2006 World Soil Science Congress; Dr Read is a member of its advisory committee.

The initiative organised an international conference, held in New South Wales, in April–May 2007. Another will be held in Newcastle, United Kingdom, in September 2008.

Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has a number of biochar projects underway and the Environmental Science & Technology article Rethinking Biochar indicates that the scientific world is treating this seriously.

‘This appears to be to be a no-brainer’, Mike, still energised, phones me from somewhere between here and Barrier in the new boat. ‘The extra carbon credits could make the critical economic difference that gets our forestry industry back on track.’

Or make the crucial difference to the viability of indigenous forestry, I’m thinking.

This could be a key strategy for Aotearoa; an area that it is to be hoped the government is investigating with urgency.

And is as dismissive of this week’s contribution of The New Zealand Institute as The New Zealand Herald’s editorial: Leadership on Climate Has Benefits.

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