Sunday, April 10, 2011

"The Biochar Solution" by Albert Bates

What an amazing book!
This is a really good read as well as being packed full of hopeful practical ideas and solutions for world problems. There's fascinating insights about soil, chemical agriculture, climate change, the sustainable abundant forest and carbon sequestration, all backed up with references to appropriate research papers.
Albert Bates details solutions that are already transforming lives on a small scale and may even have the potential to avert climate catastrophe. When carbon in the form of charcoal is locked up in the soil it can easily stay locked up there for a thousand years and in the soil its multi-micro-pocketed structure makes it a coral reef style habitat for the millions of micro-life forms that are found in healthy soil. Biochar is charcoal that has been impregnated with nitrogen, (you just have to soak it in pee) or bacterial or mycellial cultures and helps to bring back degraded soil.
The Amazon Carbon Store
Part of the book that made my jaw drop a bit deals with the Spanish conquest and eradication of the Amazon people of the 16th century. There may have been as many as 30 million people living in the area at the time and more than 99% of them may have been wiped out, mainly by mutations of the diseases of domesticated animals to which the Europeans were acclimatised - but to which the Native Americans had no immunity...
Jaw-dropping in itself, but the sudden growth of sapling trees afterwards, which incorporate carbon at the highest rate in the trees life, may well have led to the period of global cooling from 1500 to 1750 known as the Little Ice Age.
The Lucia Stove
This is just such a nice story! Nathaniel Mulcahy, an industrial designer of home appliances, injured his spine badly in a fall down a flight of stairs. His life was saved by his dog, Lucia, who supported his head and spine for over five hours until neighbours discovered them and summoned help. Once he had recovered, Mulcahy gave up his job and turned his skills to humanitarian engineering launching the company WorldStove. Their Lucia stove, named after his dog, is a brilliant design which runs on a wide range of biomass waste eg nut shells. The stove burns its fuel very efficiently and without the smoke which is a major health hazard for families who cook on open fires. The charcoal produced by the stove can be charged with compost and used as a soil-improver while also sequestrating carbon. Each time a Lucia stove is used to cook a meal for a family it can produce enough charcoal to filter 10 liters of water. WorldStove helps local communities to set up their own stove companies and the project is changing lives from Burkina Faso to Mongolia.

WorldStove's Lucia model.

Steve and I have both been really impressed with all the ideas and possibilities for biochar and will be doing some experiments with tin cans very soon - you can download plans for a simple stove/charcoal maker, the "EverythingNice Stove" from the WorldStove site.

"The Biochar Solution" is available from New Society Publishers at $17.95.

No comments: