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UBI Hawaii: Low tech biochar in the Hawaiian urban and rural setting & global warming mitigation

In his keynote address for the ‘09 Asia Pacific Region Biochar Conference, Professor Lehmann indicated that he felt that the greatest potential for global warming mitigation through the sequestration of biochar lay in the utilization of distributed feedstock. UB International (UBI) is a program dedicated to testing the concept that such feedstock can be utilized to significantly contribute to global warming mitigation within the time frame set by climate change physics by promoting biochar use in sustainable rural development. UBIHI is designed to investigate and organize the contribution that urban and suburban people as well as small scale farmers can make to this endeavor.

The initial project involves working with local High Schools to incorporate biochar benefits into the curriculum of green urban gardening as well as testing the efficiency of biochar incorporated in traditional Hawaiian agriculture. Other programs planed include the promotion of backyard biochar production from green waste in well designed  small pyrolizers; incorporating biochar production and use in urban garden programs, invasive species eradication programs, adapt a roadway weed control, park green waste management to name some (see Ch 18 in The Biochar Revolution for an extended discussion of UBI in the urban/suburban setting of developed countries).

For more information contact Karl Frogner

The UBI Concept: What is UBI?

The UBI concept involves utilizing the potential of small scale biochar production by third world farmers, forestry laborers, herders and micro-entrepreneurs for soil rejuvenation, reforestation, and income enhancement. Through a communities-mentoring-communities program designed to encourage a geometric growth of participating communities, a significant contribution to global warming mitigation is to be achieved in combination with ecologically friendly, sustainable rural development.

How is the biochar to be produced?

The primary thrust of the program is towards developing inexpensive, low tech biochar ovens (pyrolysis apparatus or kilns) of between 200 -2000 l (50 – 500 gallon) capacity for family level use. Additionally, under appropriate circumstances a village level or a mobile, moderate technology apparatus might be used.

How is the biochar used?

Initially the biochar would be mixed with the soil to enhance its texture and fertility. This may enhance its water holding capacity and retain natural and added fertilizers, often increasing their effectiveness two or three fold.  Since refractory carbon in biochar mixed with soil has been shown to remain there up to 1,000 years or more and the carbon in biochar comes from CO2 that was in the air and recently taken up by plants, it is the only proven, currently available technology for long term removal of atmospheric CO2. Thus, if biochar were to be produced in large quantities and added to the soil, it would not only increase the soil’s fertility, it would also contribute to global warming mitigation. It has been estimated that high technology biochar production from concentrated biomass sources in the US could offset 30% of the CO2 generated in the US from burning coal, gas and petroleum products. World wide it has been estimated that high tech biochar production and sequestration from concentrated biomass sources could offset up to 1/7th of the world’s human CO2 pollution. If Professor Lehmann’s estimate - that the greatest potential for global warming mitigation through the sequestration of biochar lies in the utilization of distributed feedstock - then an UBI type approach utilizing low tech biochar production from thinly distributed biomass resources around the world should be able to make a contribution similar to or greater than that from concentrated sources.

How would income be derived from biochar?

Income would be enhanced through the increased productivity of corps raised on biochar treated soils. This alone would justify incorporating biochar production into sustainable rural development. However, if the goal is to maximize biochar production and sequestration in order to significantly contribute to global warming mitigation, a driver must be added to the concept in order to go beyond the 10 ton/ha that usually maximizes plant growth. It has been found that up to 10 times that volume can be sequestered without adversely affecting plant growth. Additionally, biochar could also be sequestered in non crop land.

Marketing carbon credits for biochar added to soil is to serve as such a driver. As envisioned in UBI, carbon credits earned by an individual small scale producer’s biochar production would be marketed through their local marketing organization. This marketing organization would also assure the sustainable production of the biochar and verify the quantity and quality of the biochar as well as its having been properly mixed into the soil for sequestration purposes. The local marketing organization and intermediary organizations would aggregate the individual members’ production credits for not-for-profit brokering on the open market, insuring an equitable share passed back down to the individual producers. To date such a straight forward pass-back of profit for primary work done does not seem to be the norm in the carbon trading markets. It will be one of the objectives of UBI to work with interested rural development and/or environmental organizations to facilitate the development of such market access in the current market as well as getting a significant place for representatives at the table in up-coming conferences where the rules for future carbon trading &/or energy taxes are made.

It should be remembered that when marketed for carbon credits the actual biochar itself is not sold. It need only be sequestered so as not to return to the atmosphere as CO2. Thus it can be applied to the soil to maintain or improve soil quality or be sold to large scale soil improvement projects.

How would UBI combat global warming?

While each low tech producer would probably produce a few to less than 100 tons per year, if practiced widely by small scale farmers, herders, forestry workers and entrepreneurs in developing countries, the aggregate tonnage sequestered could be large and have a significant impact in reducing net yearly CO2 production. Demonstrating the concept in select pilot communities and then using these communities to mentor others, which in turn do the same, could start a chain reaction, which if properly encouraged could lead to significant production and sequestration of biochar from distributed sources of biomass. With properly designed programs and carbon offset markets it is thought that this production can rival or exceed that of biochar produced and sequestered from concentrated biomass resources and high tech pyrolysis equipment – and in an ecologically friendly, sustainable way.

While there are currently other rural development programs incorporating the use of low technology biochar and for-profit schemes utilizing high technology pyrolysis in conjunction with concentrated biomass sources, as far as we know we are the only program dedicated specifically towards initiating a programmatic geometric growth of small scale producers in order to maximize sustainable biochar production from the worlds distributed biomass, or for that matter, interested in maximizing production, not profit. This is envisioned as serving as a holding effort while serious efforts to reduce our carbon pollution get underway. We intend to ground truth the concept utilizing pilot communities in various biological and cultural environments, incorporating current and future research results. These communities will serve as the seeds for community-mentoring-community programs to initiate a geometric growth of sustainable biochar production and sequestration from distributed biomass. It is our intention to promote this process until it comes to the attention of the large NGOs, GOs and IGOs with the resources necessary to promote the growth to its sustainable potential and thus expand the window of opportunity for serious general global warming mitigation to take effect. The current insufficient effort on the part of the international community would seem to make this particularly relevant. Once that significant sustainable production and sequestration are achieved and CO2 pollution has been abated through the efforts of the world community at large, the developed program can serve as an in-place system for removing the excess CO2 that has accumulated in the atmosphere that will continue to endanger both terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems.

We welcome any interested projects, researchers or volunteers that would care to join with us in making this a significant contribution to global warming mitigation and sustainable rural development.

The UBI concept as presented at the 2010 IBI International Conference at Rio

The UBI Concept: Significant, Timely Climate Change Mitigation from Thinly Distributed Feedstock in Sustainable Rural Development Using Low Tech Biochar Production
Karl J. Frogner, PhD
UB International, Kaneohe, Hawaii 96744, USA
E-mail: pattamo_kop@yahoo.com

Key words: Climate Change Mitigation, Thinly Distributed Feedstock, Low Tech Production. 
 
Introduction
In his keynote address for the ‘09 Asia Pacific Region Biochar Conference, Professor Lehmann indicated that he felt that the greatest potential for global warming mitigation through the sequestration of biochar lay in the utilization of distributed feedstocks. UBI (the Ulaanbaatar Biochar Initiative) is a program dedicated to testing the concept that these feedstocks can actually be utilized to significantly contribute to global warming mitigation in a timely fashion.  It is a program focused on significant climate change mitigation, within the time limits set by the physics of climate change, through initiating a geometric growth in sequestered biochar utilizing thinly distributed feedstock and modern, non-polluting, low tech production methods available to 3rd world smallholders in sustainable rural development.

The UBI Concept
UBI utilizes two drivers to achieve this end. The first is the well known soil enhancement qualities of sequestered biochar which results in increased plant growth, generally maximized at 10 to 20 tons/ha of sequestered biochar combined, of course, with the self interest of smallholders in enhancing their own income through increased crop production at less cost.

The second driver comes from the same self interest in income augmentation, in this instance through carbon credits earned from sequestering additional biochar on crop land (up to as much as an additional 80 t/ha without damaging growth) and pasture as well as on other land where it is not disruptive to do so. As envisioned in UBI, carbon credits earned by an individual small scale producer would be marketed through their local marketing organization. This marketing organization would also assure the sustainable production of the biochar and verify the quantity and quality of the biochar as well as its having been properly mixed into the soil for sequestration purposes. The local marketing organization, through intermediary non-profit organizations, would aggregate the individual members’ production credits for not-for-profit brokering on the open market, insuring an equitable profit share passed back down to the individual producers. To date such a straight forward post sequestering marketing and pass-back of profit for primary work done does not seem to be the norm in the carbon trading markets. It will be one of the objectives of UBI to work with interested rural development and/or environmental organizations to facilitate the development of such market access in the current markets as well as getting a significant place for representatives at the table in up-coming conferences where the rules for future carbon trading &/or energy taxes are made.

The program itself relies on dedicated NGOs informing the smallholders of these possibilities and promoting them in such a way as to generate a geometric growth in the production and sequestration of biochar by interested smallholders.
This geometric growth is to be initiated by first demonstrating the concept in select pilot communities in given cultural and biological environments. Then, once buy-in is achieved and the local program adaptation ground-truthed, these communities will constitute the nucleus of a communities-mentoring-communities program. With mentored communities joining the program in turn and mentoring communities themselves, a chain reaction growth can be achieved.

As the program develops and proves itself, more and larger NGOs & INGOs will need to be involved, followed by GOs, RGOs and IGOs to handle the rapid growth and massive nature of a geometric increase. This kind of growth is necessitated by the narrow time window with which we are dealing to achieve meaningful climate change mitigation.

Program Developments
A Not-for-Profit NGO, UB International (also UBI)1 has been incorporated in Hawaii to serve as an umbrella organization to coordinate the establishment of local sib-projects. These local sib-projects instantiate the UBI concept adapted to the local cultural and ecological environments.
The Mongolian Biochar Initiative (MoBI)2 is the initial sib-project set up under the UBI umbrella. It began as a consortium of 3 local NGOs involved in local urban and rural community development working with the precursor of UB International and a research group of the Mongolian State University of Agriculture. These have been joined by an additional local NGO and a second research group from the Mongolian University of Science and Technology (Forestry). Initial funding was to have been from the accepted Mongolia program of IBI Nine Country Program3 but, unfortunately, funding for the entire 9CP has been put on indefinite hold due to the current economic situation. Startup funding for the last 2 years has been coming from the Australian Embassy’s ADAP program.

A second sib-project, the Thai Biochar Initiative (ThBI)4 has been set up and another, the Hawaii Biochar Initiative (HaBI) is in the process of organizing and exploring the adaptability of the UBI concept in developed country urban and rural smallholder context.

We invite contact by others interested in developing sib-projects for appropriate cultural and ecological situations around the world as well as interested volunteers and those with appropriate training, especially in the other needed areas beyond biochar production and use. Additional information on UBI type projects can be found in ‘Using Low-Tech Biochar to Mitigate Climate Change”5.

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  1. http://www.biochar-international.org/regional/ubi
  2. http://www.biochar-international.org/regional/mongolia
  3. http://www.biochar-international.org/9country
  4. http://www.biochar-international.org/regional/thailand
  5. Frogner, K. J.; Taylor, P. Ltd. Draft Edition. In: The Biochar Refolution: Transforming Agriculture & Environment, P. Taylor (Ed.) www.biochar-books.com, pp. 287-298.