experiential adventures learning about sustainability, balance and love.

How charcoal will save the world!

I feel like some hidden energy has been pushing me towards making charcoal. The more I read about charcoal the more amazing it is. About 3 years ago I was working as a blacksmith’s apprintice. During that time I was blacksmithing with fossil fuel coal. Fossil fuel coal is non-renewable, full of carcinogens, and smells really nasty. I began looking for an alternative. I found that you can easily make charcoal from wood. It works just as well, doesn’t smell horrible, and does not release all the nasty byproducts that coal releases. And if you live near a forest you have a nearly unlimited supply.

2 yeasr later I was wwoof’ing at a farm in Oregon that had a huge library with books and magazines about sustainable living. I read in the magazine Permaculture Activist about “Terra Preta” which is a super fertile rich black soil in the Amazon basin. Scientists discovered that this super fertile soil was actually MAN MADE (err man helped). The secret ingredient in this soil is, you guessed it, charcoal. This soil has been used by farmers in the Amazon for overĀ  2000 years old and it’s still full of nutrients. According to the wikipedia page, the charcoal is a habitat for types of fungus and other microbial life. These fungi and other microbes assist plants in taking nutrients from the soil as well as producing more nutrients and fixing the nutrients where they are so that rain doesn’t push nutrients deep into the soil out of reach from the root’s of plants.

On top of creating awesome soil, there is another benefit to putting charcoal into the ground. Putting carbon (charcoal = carbon) into the ground is a process called “Carbon Sequestration.” This process is basically the opposite of burning fossil fules, and is a potential way to reverse Global Climate Change. When we put gas into our cars we’re removing carbon from the earth and releasing it into the atmosphere as a green house gas (CO2.) When we put charcoal into the ground the process goes like this: Plants absorb CO2 from the air and turn it into biomass, we make charcoal which burns off the non-carbon parts of the biomass and leaves behind pure carbon (C), and then this is returned to the soil. Bada bing!

So today I was doing more research on charcoal being used for a soil amendment (google “Biochar”) and a stumbled upon this instructables page: http://www.instructables.com/id/Aluminum-Can-Saltwater-and-Charcoal-Battery/

Holy crap! So now i’ve found yet another amazing use for charcoal. Acording to that page – “An electric vehicle with aluminium-charcoal batteries could have potentially ten to fifteen times the range of lead-acid batteries with a far smaller total weightt.”

It also says: “They have one of the highest energy densities of all batteries, but they are not widely used because of previous problems with cost, shelf-life, start-up time and byproduct removal, which have restricted their use to mainly military applications.” Which to me sounds like it would be a problem to produce these on a large scale in a factory setting, but it sounds PERFECT for small scale production and home use (for those so inclined.)

Since I’ve been traveling in Japan I’ve learned that bamboo makes charcoal of the smae quality as wood. To me this is super important. Bamboo grows and spreads at an insane rate. It’s method of photosynthesis is actually more effecient than trees at turning sunlight and CO2 into biomass, and because it spreads so quickly (and at times uncontrolably) if one wants to grow a bamboo forest all one has to do is plant a single bamboo shoot, pop open a beer and sit back for a few years. A bamboo forest can actually be seen as a single plant. All of it’s roots are connected and nutrients are shared freely. A new bamboo shoot grows from a few centimeters to 2-3 meters literally overnight. I’ve seen this with my own eyes. It can do this because the surrounding mature bamboo is pumping energy into it’s roots.

So yeah… I love bamboo and I love “Biochar.”

-Mata Ne!

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