Conserve or Invest?
What We Earn from Carbon Utilization
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Bioenergy and Land Stewardship in China

July 8, 2005
Danny Day


Slide 1

Title: Conserve or Invest: What we earn from Carbon Utilization

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Much of the technical data in my talk can be found in a paper accepted for publication this fall in the Energy International Journal.


in addition, a great deal the recent material of terra preta was taken from the June 2004 EACU conference in Athens, Georgia. for complete access to conference material, please drop me an e-mail and I will assign you a membership login to

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data-center. we provide this research oriented non-commercial data-center to support the development and science climate change management.


Slide 2

What is this talk about?


It is about running our tractors on fuels we grow.


It is about improving yields.


It is about reducing costs of production.


It is about increasing profit.


It is about leaving a rich fertile land to our grandchildren's grandchildren.


Slide 3

Background: 2002 DOE Sponsored Renewable Hydrogen Production:


A field demonstration of hydrogen from biomass


I have been working for the last few years with our partners institutions to pilot scale demonstrate pyrolysis with catalytic steam reforming for hydrogen production from biomass. The intent behind this work was to demonstrate a technology in the field, with typical workers, not phd's. This is the team that built and ran the hydrogen production equipment.

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Slide 4

2004 Bio-refinery conversion project at the University of Georgia

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1000-hour demonstration of hydrogen by biomass catalytic steam reforming and co-products

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DOE estimates that hydrogen production from bio-mass is one of the most cost competitive


We are now implementing a 1000-hour demonstration at the University of Georgia's bio-conversion research facility, in addition to producing hydrogen rich syn-gas, we will also be producing about 5 tons of a special type of charcoal.


Slide 5

50kg per hour feed


used an inert gas generator to maintain bed temperature profiles


start up procedure including filling unit with cool charcoal as inert media to disturb heat


Slide 6

Terra Preta: a 2000 year old soil experiment

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man-made soil plot


average size 20 ha

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carbon dated at 800 B.C - 200 AD


high carbon content (9%)


local farmers prize terra preta which yields as much as three folds as surround infertile tropical soils

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Slide 7

Terra preta sites are so valued they are dug up and sold for potting soil

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It is so valued it is dug up and sold for potting soil. A highly significant finding by Bill Woods was that as long as 20cm layer of terra preta was left, the terra preta topsoil would regrow and could be harvested again in 20 years. The ability of terra preta to grow points toward a partnership solution with nature to solve our atmospheric carbon buildup.

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Slide 8

This work by Julia Major from Cornell University provides a good example of why farmers prize this soil so much.

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Slide 9

What do we find in these anomalous earths




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measured carbon levels in terra preta soils confirm the higher carbon content of the dark black earth

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Slide 10

The one consistent feature of terra preta sites

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evidence of soils created by mankind


ornate pottery is found all throughout all terra preta soil indicating the highly civilized society

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Slide 11

The one consistent feature of terra preta sites

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evidence of soils created by mankind


by adding charcoal


charcoal is found all terra preta soils

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Slide 12

a stable form of carbon was used successfully 2000 years ago to build a fertilizer layer of topsoil that is still productive and valuable today.


So then it is possible to extract energy from biomass, to create terra preta type soils to increase profits and restore our topsoil?


yes! plus other benefits


Slide 13

Charcoal research in Japan and Asia


effects of soil microbial fertility by charcoal in soil


the information in the next few slides are from Dr. Ogawa in Japan


Slide 14

Effect of charcoal addition on root nodule formation and soy bean yield.


Slide 15

Effect of charcoal on acacia mangium


root growth & nodule formation - Indonesia (Okimori, Yamato 2000)

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forest floor of acacia plantation was covered by rice husk charcoal 5cm in depth. Earthworm population increased soon after the treatment because of neutralization of top soil.


Slide 16

Charcoal additions to A. mangium seedlings


Height and diameter significantly increased at age of 6 months in comparison to a control.


This slide was presented by Siregar from Indonesia.


Slide 17

Bark charcoal and fertilizer


effect of charcoal and fertilizer on the plant growth and soil properties in South Sumatra (Yamato 2004 unpublished)

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This was presented by Dr. Ogawa


Slide 18

Christoph Steiner field studies

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charcoal as soil conditioner


studies in the humid tropics


Christoph Steiner presented a tremendous amount of work at the EACU symposium.

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Slide 19

3 year field trial studies


15 treatments with 5 repetitions


experiment area 40 x 40m

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plot size 2 x 2m

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litter and roods removed


distance between the plots 1m and to secondary forest 6m

Slide 20

of 15 different treatments, 2 show clear impact of the charcoal effect


Experiments: Rice/Sorghum plots set up

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the next comparison is of the mineral fertilizer vs charcoal with mineral fertilizer


Slide 21

3 year results summary


49% ave crop yield increase over the 3 year study


over the three years studies an average yield increases of 49% was achieved


Slide 22

Adding charcoal to the ground seems simply enough but the impact is far from simple.


nature has spend billions of years evolving econsystem to utilize charcoal and its byproducts


we are now uncovering the science behind this fascinating story and the possibilities may yet provide solutions to many of our most intractable problems.


Slide 23

In another experiment, terra preta showed phenomenal capability to support microbial growth

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something was different about this charcoal comprising terra preta

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look at the rate of microbial growth in terra preta

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Slide 24

The answer is in the smoke


in this experiment, condensed smoke was added to charcoal and kaolin.


the impact was the same as adding glucose to these materials


this is the part of creating terra preta. Smoldering fires produce a low temp char to with bio-trapped inside.

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high temperature fires drive off the soils as vapor and reduce charcoal to inert carbon with limited microbial effect.


Slide 25

Charcoal provides a preferred habitat for soil micro organism


Dr. Ogawa has shown that the substantial increase in soil bacteria with the addition of charcoal.


the ability to help support below ground development of microbial biomass can have large impacts on our global carbon levels.


the soils contain 4.2 times the amount of carbon as the atmosphere so factors than can increase and stabilize more carbon could be considered a second forest growing underground.


Slide 26

Microbial life benefits the soil


AM fungi increase soil stability by releasing a long lasting glue

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this glue Glomalin, aggregates small soil particles


aggregation increases water & air holding capacity, gives soil tilth


supports greater biomass yields


Slide 27

So how do we increase mycorrhizal fungi growth

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charcoal addition to the soil provides nutrient & water storage center for mycorrhizal fungi

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their hyphae invade charcoal pores & support spore reproduction


it becomes a living ecosystem, just like a reef in the ocean


charcoal has been shown to provide nutrients to fungi


Slide 28

See the growth of mycorrhizal in the bottom picture with charcoal


Slide 29

charcoal has benefits for existing forests


recovering of pine tree from wilting by charcoal treatment after a year


Dr. Ogawa showed us this method for restoring a wilting pine tree. He laughed at the conference & said this is old technology for the Japanese

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Slide 30

charcoal has benefits for existing forests


recovering of pine tree from wilting by charcoal treatment after a year


Slide 31

Global charcoal research


Other charcoal benefits


Surface oxidation of the char increased the cation exchange capacity (Glaser)


Char increased available water holding capacity by more than 18% of surrounding soils (Glaser)


Char experiments have shown up to 266% more biomass growth (2nd Yr Steiner) and 324% (Kishimoto and Sugiura)

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Plant nitrogen uptake doubled in charcoal amended soils (Steiner)


Charcoal has proven to help reduce farm chemical runoff (Yelverton)


Slide 32

Charcoal is produced by heating biomass with limited air. This process is called pyrolysis.


It is a well understood globally, where ever charcoal is made


Simple system improvements allow for the capture and use of pyrolytic off-gases (ex: Cars/Trucks in Sweden were converted to run off wood gas during WWII)


Pyrolytic conversion does not destroy the porous carbon structure created by nature


Pyrolysis is natural. Nature has spent billions of years building systems and life forms that can take advantage conversion of biomass created by natural fires


Pyrolysis can offer attractive economics for hydrogen (as well as bio-oil) production partly because of the options for co-product production


Pyrolysis facilities can have reduced capital costs and small foot-prints and can be incorporated with a new small scale ammonia production capability


Slide 33

Progression of Pyrolysis


char formation


This is an important chart and helps understand the hidden opportunities.


A continuum of physical states exists in the stages of pyrolysis and charcoal formation.


First water evaporates, then non combustibles such as CO2 and acetic acid (the primary acid in vinegar).


Around 280 degrees C, Volatile gases and flammable tars are released. Many are condensable and will produce a liquid bio-oil. Others are non-condensable, such as methane, are lost if not converted to heat or used to produce a usable fuel such as hydrogen. The smoke we see from fires, represents lost energy and more greenhouse gases.


Between 280 and 500 represents a zone where biomass will continue to increase in temperature, even when no oxygen is present. Above 400 C, most of the volatiles will have evaporated.


Now here is an important note: Runkle and Wilke found that above 170 degrees, the volatiles gases would combined with other shorter chain molecules forming longer chain molecules with higher dew points that would condense inside the pore structures.The process repeats over and over, perhaps thousands of times before complete devolitilization occurs. They called these polycondensates, others bio-oil, and some wood sugars.

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Slide 34

Typical TGA of Pyrolysis


weight decreases as temperature increases


Here we can see a typical thermogravimetric analysis. The chart shows weight loss percent as the material is heated without oxygen present. The dotted line shows the rate of weight loss in

percent per min per 10 degrees C.


The step curve between 300 and 400 represents the exothermic zone. Each biomass produces a

different chart. Now if we take these to charts and overlap them, let us see what happens.


Slide 35

Progression of Pyrolysis


char formation


The implications of utilizing the exothermic zone is that once started, biomass pyrolysis systems need not be energy consumers but rather when integrated into other processes can utilize heat as well as produce excess heat in a self sustaining mode.


The next idea is that there are two inflection points on the rate of weight loss curve. The beginning of the start of the exothermic range and the second inflection point is where rate of weight loss slows and the process tapers off to completion.


Slide 36

Smoke from smoldering fires represents lost energy that can produce hydrogen


A sustainable hydrogen supply cannot be separated from agriculture as it forms a key link to delivered soil nitrogen


Under modern agriculture, hydrogen is used to make ammonia fertilizer which is used for food production.


Agricultural Fertilizer


Oil Refineries




Slide 37

In designing a charcoal carrier for nutrients, we want to insure it can carry ammonia compounds


ammonia adsorption on Charcoal


In designing a charcoal to act as a media for carrying plant nutrients, ammonia adsorption is a large plus. Asada reports in 2002 that his experiments with bamboo char carbonized at low temperatures out performs even activated carbon. He wrote that carboxyl acid groups formations natural to low temperature charcoal bind ammonia exceptionally well.


Slide 38

We conducted leaching experiments on a variety of charcoals.


This proved out true in our own tests. We experimented with several different charcoals to determine a charcoal with properties suitable for carrying plant nutrients. The difference in the lowest temperature char still surprised us. Most of my charcoal samples would stabilize after the 5 or 6th rinses. But the one produced at 400C was still slowly releasing ammonia after 12 rinses.


Slide 39

In September 2002 this story takes a novel twist. A patent was granted to the Oak Ridge National

laboratory for capturing CO2, SOx and NOx from flue gas

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Slide 40

In September of 2002 a patent for carbon sequestration with combined SOx and NOx was awarded to Oak Ridge National Labs. We met with them after their patent was granted in 2002 and proposed a test with a special char with which we were working.

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Slide 41

Integration of ammonia carbonation and biomass pryolysis for carbon management


In this case the gas phase hydrated ammonia is absorbed and converted into ammonium bicarbonate inside the charcoal pore structures.


Slide 42

In bench scale work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory the specially produced char combines with hydrated ammonia to for ECOSS and enriched carbon organic sequestering slow release matrix.


Slide 43

Typical composition of the resulting nitrogen compounds


97.5% ammonium bicarbonate

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2% ammonium sulfate

2% ���λ� ������

0.5%ammonium nitrate


Chemical Pathways for Simultaneous Removal of Major CO2 and ppm Levels of NOx and SOx Emissions by Innovative Application of the Fertilizer Production Reactions


Slide 44

pilot test


operated at ambient pressure and temperature


CO2 separation is not required


Our demonstration of the technology was conducted in pilot scale production unit. Charcoal powder was fed into a simple mechanically fluidized reactor.


Slide 45

operated at ambient pressure and temperature


CO2 separation is not required


Within 10-15 minutes a heavy sand like material began to exit after having absorbed all the CO2, by speeding up the rotor we were able to produce a larger granular material with a higher nitrogen content, representing longer residence times. In this case all of our CO2 was converted. This system will also capture dust and fly ash materials, converting them into valuable soil conditioners.


Slide 46

The material was examined using a scanning electron microscope. The box represents the area where the chunk was removed during crushing.


Slide 47

The development of ammonium bicarbonate made from the combination of carbon dioxide and ammonia deep inside the cavities and pores of the char provide a mechanism for the development of a slow release fertilizer. The deposits and gas interactions inside the porous carbon create interesting solid

formations, such as a flat top volcano.


Slide 48

Crushed interior


The residual cell structure of the original biomass is clearly visible


The ABC fibrous buildup has started inside the carbon structure


After complete processing, interior is full


Trace minerals are returned to the soil along with essential nitrogen.


In this scanning electron microscope image, we see the interior pore structures which offer safe haven for microbial colonies. The plastic looking layer represents a coating of volatile organics, a food source. The ability to balance the inert carbon percentage with the volatile organic compounds is an important aspect of the carbon-nitrogen delivery system. It allows for flexibility so that if greater microbial activity is needed, an increased amount can be delivered with essential plant nutrients. In addition, trace minerals are returned to the soil and represents the only way we believe to develop sustainable bioenergy production.


Slide 49

This simple diagram shows the process and profit centers. Those profit centers are exhaust scrubbing, fertilizer and fuel production.


Slide 50

But what is the tradeoff


what are we giving up?

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Slide 51

Carbon Combustion vs Carbon Use Longer Term Valuation Analysis �� 5 Year

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The energy value of combustion has limited value yet after conversion into a stable form it can provide a greater lifetime value. The use as a scubbing agent plus the net present value of increased crop yield, reduced fertilizer and water requirements.


Slide 52

Ok, it may be better to invest carbon in our soils..


But what is the value of the volatile gas and bio-oil released?


What is the profit potential and competitive landscape?


Slide 53

The Competition: Products from Petrochemicals


Slide 54

Products from biomass


Slide 55

Biomass/ biorefinery option

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Slide 56

Flowchart of biorefinery


Slide 57

Potential syngas products


Slide 58

Biomass potential in the US


Slide 59

Can your biomass streams be as competitive fossil fuels? Yes, with all things being equal.


Biomass becomes more competitive as as fuel prices rise


Profits are made on co-products not just gasoline.


Equal percent of your tax dollars in every gallon and pound of co-products.


Proportionate funding of research and commercial support


Homogenous standards and testing


Slide 60

Agricultural use offers Carbon Negative Energy


CNE is energy produced where the net carbon emissions are lower than zero. For each 1Gj or MBTU approximately 112 kg of CO2 are utilized in a fashion where it does not return for centuries. This is a possible for fossil fuel energy use where carbon dioxide is sequestered and additional renewable carbon is stored. Biomass makes CNE possible where biomass carbon is utilized in long lasting products. A soil carbon amendment provides for an almost limitless sink and is a very long lasting carbon product

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Slide 61

What is the possibility in carbon profits?


GPP (Gross primary production) is basically carbon uptake by photosynthesis => half is used for autotrophic respiration and we are left with NPP (Net Primary production). A large part is lost

through decomposition which we could recover to some extent for bioenergy. Thus remains NEP Net Ecosystem Production. Between Decomposition and disturbance, we have an estimate 3- 12 GT C per year to utilize in a carbon use strategy. IMPORTANT: This approach is referred to as BESI (for

��Biomass energy with soil improvement��) technologies.

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Slide 62

But here is the real question


If farmer can increase yields by up to 50%,


And grow the raw materials for our fuel and fertilizers,


And help power plants reduce their emissions,


And help reverse the effects of global warming,


And help restore our topsoils for future generations,


Why would we complain if they earned a little bit more?


Slide 63

The loss of soil carbon is a major challenge to agriculture. The emissions of carbon from human activities are a global issue that must be addressed in our lifetime. These two problems have a

common solution which creates a sustainable system for energy and agriculture.