Big expectations for bio-coal as Copenhagen approaches

(foto: Bellona)

Publish date: August 11, 2009

Written by: Jack Herheim

Translated by: Charles Digges

BOULDER, Colorado – Bio-coal is becoming more reachable as an actual method to get rid of CO2 in the atmosphere, and the University of Colorado at Boulder is currently holding a conference on that notion.

A year ago, there were few people who had heard of bio-coal, but now this simple method has become a hot topic. The conference in Boulder, the first of its kind in North America, has gathered agronomists, researchers, members of the lumber industry, the bio-full community and environmentalists.

Obama bets on agriculture
Tom Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture, held a glowing presentation of President Barack Obama’s focus on the agricultural sector’s potential to produce energy.  The tremendous interest in bio-coal is that it kills four birds with one stone because it has four value chains”

– It absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere;
– It produces clean energy;
– Bio-coal is suitable as a soil improvement method that increases crop yields significantly;
– Bio-coal methods are also suitable for dealing with organics waste.

The technology, which is relatively low-tech, is as simple to deploy as standard coal: Bio-coal carbonised when heated to approximately 600 degrees Celsius. As such, the coal is spread on field like usual manure. Basically, any form of biomass can be used, but the most promising is that which comes from agricultural and lumber industry waste. If one ensure that crops grow as quickly, and they are harvested and carbonized, the result is actually a negative carbon chain wherein more CO2 removed from the atmosphere than is produced.

The necessity of going carbon negative
Many climate researchers, among them Susan Solomon and James E. Hansen say that it may be extremely necessary to initiate carbon negative measures to achieve the goal of  capping a world wide temperature rise of only to degrees – the target that is preoccupying environmentalists, scientists and world leaders in the lead up to the United Nations’ COP 15 climate talks in Copenhagen in December.

This means that today’s CO2 content in the air must sink from 387 parts per million (ppm) to 350 ppm.

The use of bio-coal therefore carries with it high expectations, but there are also critical voices. Bio-coal is not necessarily a “silver bullet” that will solve the challenge of climate change.

Critical voices around bio-coal use
There are many variables relative to the type of biomass, soil, climate and disposition of the soil that make it difficult to quantify emissions reductions that would accompany the use of bio-coal. The method depends on approval in order to provide carbon credits and boost the economy on a large scale, and it will be difficult to agree on a common standard.

Bio-coal researchers
Bio-coal is now a part of the negotiations texts of the Copenhagen talks, and it will be granted funding for research in several countries. Norway has started experiments with bio-coal. Bio-research at Ås are underway along with research programmes the include 10 countries in  7288573the North Sea area. Bellona sits on the board of this research project and is participating in the Boulder, Colorado conference.

Read more about bio-coal here.