IBI is pleased to announce that the American Power Act, a plan to secure America’s energy future, contains several important provisions to support deployment of biochar as a climate mitigation and adaptation tool. Senators Kerry and Lieberman released a discussion draft of the legislative plan on Wednesday.
For the last several years, IBI has been working with members of Congress to incorporate appropriate language on biochar within climate and energy legislation. IBI members and others have helped to educate policymakers about biochar, and why it should be included in US cap-and-trade legislation to help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and as a way to sequester carbon in soil. Soil carbon sequestration through biochar also promises to enhance the US soil resource upon which our food, renewable fuel and fiber supply depend.
The APA contains three specific provision related to biochar. The first provision is under the domestic offset program, under Title II, Subtitle A – Global Warming Pollution Reduction. Section 734, Eligible Projects, under Part D – Offset Credit Program for Domestic Emission Reductions, includes “projects for biochar production and use”.
The second and third biochar provisions fall under Title II, Subtitle C – Achieving Fast Mitigation, Part II – Black Carbon.
Section 2211, Report On Black Carbon Sources, Impacts, And Reduction Opportunities instructs the EPA produce a report that includes a section on “research and development activities needed to better characterize the feasibility of biochar techniques to decrease emissions, increase carbon soil sequestration, and improve agricultural production, and if appropriate, encourage broader application of those techniques”.
Section 2214 under the same Part II, titled Enhanced Soil Sequestration, authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a grant program to “conduct research, develop, demonstrate, and deploy biochar production technology for the purpose of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.” The program can fund up to 60 facilities and states that the Secretary “shall ensure that facilities receiving grants under this section represent a variety of technologies and feedstocks and are geographically dispersed.”
A newly introduced bill in the US Senate provides additional congressional support for biochar projects to qualify for carbon offsets, as well as R&D funding for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for biochar production and utilization projects.
The Clean Energy Partnerships Act of 2009 was introduced November 4 2009 by Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, along with five cosponsors--Senators Max Baucus (MT), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Sherrod Brown (OH), Mark Begich (AK), and Tom Harkin (IA). The bill is designed to ensure that any US domestic cap-and-trade bill provides maximum incentives and opportunities for the US agricultural and forestry sectors to provide high-quality offsets and GHG emissions reductions for credit or financial incentives. Carbon offsets play a critical role in keeping the costs of a cap-and-trade low for society as well as for capped sectors and entities, while providing valuable emissions reductions and income generation opportunities for the agricultural sector. The bill specifically identifies biochar production and use as eligible for offset credits, and identifies biochar as a high priority for USDA R&D, with funding authorized by the bill.
IBI sent a letter of support to the Senators for this bill. Click here to read the full letter. Additionally, a letter of support was also sent by six major farm organizations which include the National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, National Milk Producers Federation, National Alfalfa and Forage Association, and American Farmland Trust.
Importantly, the Clean Energy Partnerships of 2009 assigns jurisdictional authorities to the Secretary of Agriculture for offsets and emissions reductions opportunities in the agricultural and forestry sectors, with the EPA Administrator in charge of other offset and emissions reductions opportunities. Within 1 year of enactment, the USDA Secretary is authorized by the bill to establish an initial list of project types eligible for inclusion in the domestic offsets program; biochar production and use projects are identified on the initial project list specified by the Congress.
The bill establishes an advisory committee to jointly advise EPA and USDA on scientific and technical advice for offset projects, including agricultural and forestry offset projects. Besides creating offset opportunities for the agricultural sector, the bill establishes a program that utilizes the proceeds from 2% of the allowance allocations to incentivize additional emissions reductions and increased sequestration from the agricultural and forestry sectors. Projects identified for support under this program include projects that are not otherwise economically viable, or projects types not yet mature enough to qualify for offset credits.
One of the bill's subtitles also amends a bioenergy program from the 2002 Farm bill to provide additional opportunities for bioenergy projects to enhance rural economic development and national energy security. The title would utilize .7% of allowance allocation proceeds to fund projects that qualify as biorefineries under this provision; some biochar production facilities might qualify for this program, depending on the bioenergy characteristics of the system.
An R&D title would fund additional research and demonstration projects for agricultural mitigation and adaptation activities relative to climate change programs, using the proceeds from 1.1% of allowance allocations. Biochar production and use as a soil conditioner are specifically identified as high-priority R&D programs for the Secretary to pursue.
On Thursday, September 24, 2009, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, and four cosponsors (Senators Max Baucus and John Tester of Montana, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico), introduced the “Water Efficiency via Carbon Harvesting and Restoration (WECHAR) Act of 2009.” The bill establishes a loan guarantee program to develop biochar technology, initiates a program of biochar landscape restoration projects on public land, and authorizes a competitive grant program to fund research on biochar characteristics, impacts and economics.
In the face of climate change, drought is an ever growing problem in the Western US, exacerbated by water-sucking weeds like tamarisk (salt cedar), which can consume 200 gallons of water a day, per plant. These invasive weeds, along with other excess biomass in the form of beetle-killed trees, forests with dangerous fuel loading, and dense pinyon-juniper thickets that have invaded native sagebrush ecosystems, are ideal feedstocks for biochar.
In addition to providing loans for technology development and grants for research, the legislation directs the U.S. Geological Survey to assess the amount of feedstock in the form of invasive weeds and hazardous fuels on the public lands, the amount of carbon and biochar production potential in that feedstock, and the potential for water savings if it were removed.
Senator Reid’s office indicates that water savings achieved through the bill could be substantial: “The potential for millions of gallons in annual water savings from the elimination of water-robbing invasive tamarisk will be particularly meaningful in Nevada. Elimination of this scourge in our watersheds can offset a significant portion of our water needs.”
By using Western invasive weeds and dangerous fuel loads as feedstock for biochar production, the bill seeks to match undesirable material on the landscape that would otherwise be expensive to eliminate with a process that requires a large source of woody material to make valuable products and provide critical ecosystem services like carbon sequestration.
Below is a summary of the WECHAR bill. The full text is available here.
Sec. 1. Short Title. Water Efficiency via Carbon Harvesting and Restoration Act of 2009.
Sec. 2. Findings.
Sec. 4. Resource Assessment.
Directs the U.S. Geological Survey to assess the amount of feedstock in the form of invasive weeds and hazardous fuels on the public lands, the amount of carbon and biochar production potential in that feedstock, and the potential for water savings if it were removed.
Sec. 5. Technology Research.
Sec. 6. Existing Technology.
Sec. 7. Deployment.
Sec. 8. Application and Market Research.
Sec. 9. Authorization of Appropriations.
Authorizes the appropriation of such funds as are necessary to carry out sections 4 through 8.
The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has invited Dr. Lehmann to testify at a hearing which will discuss how agriculture and forestry in the United States have and will be impacted by the effects of global warming. Dr. Lehmann's testimony will provide scientific information about biochar carbon sequestration for sustainable climate change mitigation and global soil enhancement.
The hearing, entitled "Global Warming’s Growing Concerns: Impacts on Agriculture and Forestry” will take place Thursday June 18, 2009 at 9:30 a.m. in room 2175 Rayburn House Office Building. Please see the invitation as well as Dr. Lehmann's full written testimony.
Biochar Research and Extension Program in the 2008 Farm Bill
With both houses of the U.S. Congress having passed the 2008 Farm Bill (H.R. 2419, the Food and Energy Security Act of 2008) with a veto-proof margin, the bill was sent to the President on May 15, 2008, for his signature, and final enactment.
The Farm Bill establishes the first federal-level policy in support of biochar production and utilization programs in the world, and is one of a handful of new, high-priority research and extension areas identified in the Research Title of the 2008 Farm Bill.
Biochar Program Bill Language:
"Biochar Research. Grants may be made under this section for research, extension, and integrated activities relating to the study of biochar production and use, including considerations of agronomic and economic impacts, synergies of co-production with bioenergy, and the value of soil enhancements and soil carbon sequestration."
S.1884 – The Salazar Harvesting Energy Act of 2007
A Summary of Biochar Provisions in S.1884: Carbon-Negative Biomass Energy and Soil Quality Initiative for the 2007 Farm Bill
Biochar and Bioenergy Co-Production: Protecting the Soil Resource and Combatting Global Climate Change
Bioenergy production from agricultural and forestry biomass can boost U.S. energy independence, create additional income streams for agriculture and rural communities, and help combat global climate change by displacing fossil fuel use. Policies to promote bio-energy production from agricultural products must preserve the soil resources necessary to support adequate U.S. food and fiber production, which provide the basis for a continued strong U.S. economy.
The biochar provisions in S.1884 promote commercial development of technologies that will simultaneously create clean, renewable energy from agricultural and forestry biomass products, while protecting and restoring soil resources and helping to address global climate change. Unlike most carbon-neutral biomass energy systems, biochar technology is carbon-negative: it removes net carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it in the form of stable soil carbon “sinks”, improving soil fertility, water retention, productivity and crop yields.
The Biochar Process
Energy and biochar can be co-produced from biomass using thermal processes. Biochar production processes can potentially utilize virtually any agricultural or forestry waste biomass, including wood chips, corn stover, rice or peanut hulls, tree bark, papermill sludge, and animal manure, for instance.
Under proper production conditions, the biochar can retain up to 50% of the feedstock carbon in a porous charcoal structure. The biochar product is a fine-grained, porous charcoal substance that, when used as a soil amendment, effectively removes net carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In the soil, biochar provides a habitat for soil organisms, but is not itself consumed by them. Thus, biochar does not disturb the carbon-nitrogen balance, but holds and slowly releases water, minerals and nitrogen to plants. When used as a soil amendment along with manure or fertilizer, the char significantly improves soil tilth, productivity, and nutrient retention and plant availability.
The energy produced from the remainder of the biomass is used to heat the pyrolysis unit and/or provide energy for on-farm use, such as heat and electricity for lighting, fans, refrigerators, milking machines, etc. The co-production of biochar from a portion of the biomass feedstock will reduce the total amount of energy that can be produced, but basic soil science research indicates that even at today’s energy and fertilizer prices the net gain in soil productivity is worth more than the value of the energy that would otherwise have been derived from that charcoal. Once the cost of carbon emissions starts to rise and the value of CO2 extraction from the atmosphere is also considered, the balance will become overwhelmingly attractive.
The two predominant biochar production processes under development are externally heated pyrolysis and downdraft gasification. At small scales, downdraft gasification with air can produce a gas that is immediately burned in an engine to make heat and electricity. This will be practical on farms and at agricultural processing plants at scales from 5kW to 5MW of electricity. At the local or regional agricultural co-op scale, processing 800 to 1000 tons of biomass per day, externally heated pyrolysis or oxygen gasification can be used to make synthesis gas. Syngas can be catalytically converted into liquid fuels including methanol, mixed alcohols that perform like ethanol as a vehicle fuel, ammonia, dimethyl ether, or even Fischer-Tropsch diesel at a larger refinery scale.
An Example of an Agricultural Biochar Production System
An example of a fully-developed system that would be supported by S.1884 is the development of an intermediate scale pyrolysis or thermochemical conversion system which produces energy for on-farm use. The pyrolysis or gasification system can produce bio-oils for transport to a central location for conversion to liquid or gaseous fuels; and/or gases that can be used to produce heat and electricity for on-farm uses. The biochar produced will have specific surface chemistries that, when applied to soils, will sequester carbon while improving agricultural productivity and replacing some chemical fertilizer inputs. The permanently sequestered carbon can be traded and sold in greenhouse gas markets. The system will effectively manage and use on-farm byproducts such as lignocellulosic residue and animal wastes. The system can also be integrated with chemical conversion and biological conversion in an intermediate scale biorefinery.
Title II—Direct Payments for value-added and Renewable Energy Enterprises
Title V—Research, Development, and Education