Biochar Is Our Only Hope, Says James Lovelock

Ξ February 16th, 2009 | → 5 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Technology, Wine News |

It is not my habit to sound the alarm but my readership ought to be made aware of an important update to an earlier post, from January 5th, 2009, titled Carbon Sequestration In Vineyard Soils. In that piece I stressed the fundamental importance of biochar, that it become the new practical referent, beyond the exploitable pseudo-concepts of ‘green’ and ‘carbon footprint’, two of the most cynical notions to come our way in the long, dismal history of commercial reconfigurations of our impending environmental catastrophe.
In the words of James Lovelock, as recorded by the January 23 issue of the New Scientist,
“Most of the ‘green’ stuff is verging on a gigantic scam. Carbon trading, with its huge government subsidies, is just what finance and industry wanted.”
Biochar is not a seductive, poetic word. It is not likely to find its way into a contemporary rap lyric. Yet the word, biochar, must be repeated. A viral, web-based acceleration of its importance must be made. I do my marginal part here.
And I encourage others to pass the Mr. Lovelock’s words along:
“There is one way we could save ourselves and that is through the massive burial of charcoal. It would mean farmers turning all their agricultural waste – which contains carbon that the plants have spent the summer sequestering – into non-biodegradable charcoal, and burying it in the soil. Then you can start shifting really hefty quantities of carbon out of the system and pull the CO2 down quite fast.”
As a side note, biodynamics is of no consequence here, or organic farming. Too little, too late. As far as I can tell, Rudolf Steiner was a deficient seer, a poor prognosticator. He did not envision, because of his otherworldly, metaphysical obsession, that this world might die.
I eagerly await notice from US wineries undertaking a biochar program. Please write this space for a wider promotion of your efforts.
For further reading visit the International Biochar Initiative.
Special thanks to Peter Schmidt of Domaine Mythopia who brought to my attention to Mr. Lovelock’s observations.


5 Responses to ' Biochar Is Our Only Hope, Says James Lovelock '

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  1. Jon Frey said,

    on February 17th, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Enjoy your column. Good to see biochar getting popular. However, a little homework shows organic farming is of very large consequence here. Organic farming methods sequester lots of carbon through composting and build-up of soil organic matter (”organic” is also a synonym for carbon chemistry), biochar can add to that. Agricultural soils under organic management are the best-by-far carbon sink, increasing soil fertility, and the only realistic doable solution for excess atmospheric co2. For example, Rattan Lal, Ohio State Univ., president of Soil Science Society of America, director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, author of “Management of Carbon Sequestration in Soil” etc., calculates a mere 1.6% increase in world arable land organic matter would sequester all excess atmospheric co2. Check out, the recently formed IBI has good references, Marin Organic is doing an interesting sequestration program involving ranchers and academics, A grape grower in Switzerland is now doing a vineyard biochar project, was told FiBL is involved, Recently saw a presentation by Jerry Scharf, physicist who does GreenPyro in Palo Alto, making a mobile biochar gasifier, hopes to mass produce soon, We’re in the planning stages of a vineyard biochar experiment/demo with Renewable Energy Development Institute in Willits, also the FiRMup program there (Fire Reduction Management) involves biochar in forestry – forest thinning to lessen fire danger, gasification, and char production to fertilize trees. Biochar is hot!, try some in your garden this year.

  2. Administrator said,

    on February 17th, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Jon, thank you for your comments.

  3. Marion said,

    on February 18th, 2009 at 8:12 am

    My only question would be- How does this reflect in the flavor profiles of the wine? If an important grower, say Bill Harlan and Bob Levy, decided to go this route, how would the flavor profiles change in their wine? I must argue that if you change the make-up of the soil, you will change the flavor of the wine.

  4. Morton Leslie said,

    on February 18th, 2009 at 10:27 am

    I think biochar being our only hope is a bit of an overstatement by Lovelock though he is totally correct regarding the insanity of carbon trading and biofuel production. It is interesting that 1.5 billion people still cook and survive over open fires, but I think getting them to make biochar will be futile. They will want to burn their fuel (dung or wood) completely. I do see an application in waste management in sequestration of paper and cardboard as biochar. Current policy of re-cycling or burying are excessively carbon positive. But otherwise, I just don’t think it will scale.

    If we really want to sequester we need to think big. Where did we get all those fossil fuels in the first place? Can we deposit them as fast or faster than we use them? The oceans cover most of the planet and hold most of the CO2. Phytoplankton gave us fossil fuels and some think historical climate change…so why not encourage plankton? (I know a strong “pump” hasn’t been shown in the Southern ocean from the single experiment, and I know some people will want a century of environmental impact reports, and a lawsuit will hold it up concerned that a sea creature or two might be threatened. But…)

    I think Dr. Martin was the one who said, “Give me a dozen ships and I’ll deliver you an ice age.”

  5. Erich J. Knight said,

    on February 19th, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Biochar Soil Technology:Husbandry of whole new orders of life

    Biotic Carbon, the carbon transformed by life, should never be combusted, oxidized and destroyed. It deserves more respect, reverence even, and understanding to use it back to the soil where 2/3 of excess atmospheric carbon originally came from.

    We all know we are carbon-centered life, we seldom think about the complex web of recycled bio-carbon which is the true center of life. A cradle to cradle, mutually co-evolved biosphere reaching into every crack and crevice on Earth.

    It’s hard for most to revere microbes and fungus, but from our toes to our gums (onward), their balanced ecology is our health. The greater earth and soils are just as dependent, at much longer time scales. Our farming for over 10,000 years has been responsible for 2/3rds of our excess greenhouse gases. This soil carbon, converted to carbon dioxide, Methane & Nitrous oxide began a slow stable warming that now accelerates with burning of fossil fuel.

    Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon,

    Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, (living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

    SOIL Carbon Recognized as Sink:

    UNCCD Submission to Climate Change/UNFCCC AWG-LCA 5
    “Account carbon contained in soils and the importance of biochar (charcoal) in replenishing soil carbon pools, restoring soil fertility and enhancing the sequestration of CO2.”

    Biochar Studies at ACS Huston meeting;



    665 – III.


    Most all this work corroborates char soil dynamics we have seen so far. The soil GHG emissions work showing increased CO2, also speculates that this CO2 has to get through the hungry plants above before becoming a GHG.
    The SOM, MYC& Microbes, N2O (soil structure), CH4 , nutrient holding , Nitrogen shock, humic compound conditioning, absorbing of herbicides all pretty much what we expected to hear.

    Company News & EU Certification

    Below is an important hurdle that 3R AGROCARBON has overcome in certification in the EU. Given that their standards are set much higher than even organic certification in the US, this work should smooth any bureaucratic hurdles we may face.

    EU Permit Authority – 4 years tests
    Subject: Fwd: [biochar] Re: GOOD NEWS: EU Permit Authority – 4 years tests successfully completed

    Doses: 400 kg / ha – 1000 kg / ha at different horticultural cultivars

    Plant height Increase 141 % versus control
    Picking yield Increase 630 % versus control
    Picking fruit Increase 650 % versus control
    Total yield Increase 202 % versus control
    Total piece of fruit Increase 171 % versus control
    Fruit weight Increase 118 % versus control

    There is list of the additional beneficial effects of the 3R FORMULATED BIOCHAR EU DOSSIER for permit administration and summary of the results from 4 different Authorities who executed different test programme is under construction
    I suggest these independent and accredited EU relevant Authority permit field tests results will support the further development of the biochar application systems on international level, and providing case evidence, that properly made and formulated (plant and/or animal biomass based) biochars can meet the modern environmental – agricultural – human health inspection standards and norm, while supporting the knowledge based economical development.

    We work further on to expand not only in the EU but in the USA as well. My Cincinnati large scale carbonization project is progressing, hopefully the first industrial scale 3R clean coal – carbon plant will be ready in 2009.

    Sincerely yours: Edward Someus (environmental engineer)
    EMAIL 1:

    EcoTechnologies is planning for many collaborations; NC State, U. of Leeds, Cardiff U. Rice U., JMU, U.of H. and at USDA with Dr.Jeffrey Novak who is coordinating ARS Biochar research. This Coordinated effort will speed implementation by avoiding unneeded repetition and building established work in a wide variety of soils and climates.

    Hopefully all the Biochar companies will coordinate with Dr. Jeff Novak’s soils work at ARS;

    I spoke with Jon Nilsson of the CarbonChar Group, in their third year of field trials;
    An idea whose time has come | Carbon Char Group
    He said the 2008 trials at Virginia Tech showed a 46% increase in yield of tomato transplants grown with just 2 – 5 cups (2 – 5%) “Biochar+” per cubic foot of growing medium.

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