Benoit Lambert is a Quebec entrepreneur devoted to promoting the use of biochar as a means of reducing global warming. Alan Bates is an author who has written several books about global warming and also specializes in promoting the use of biochar in innovative ways, such as as an additive to concrete and to restore the fertility of soil in farmland and forests. We discuss such projects as the urban forestry campaign in Stockholm, which used waste products as biochar for planting large numbers of trees in the city. For the video, audio podcast, transcript and comments: https://tosavetheworld.ca/episode-550-biochar-and-climate.
biochar, trees, carbon, thinking, waste, kelp, concrete, forest, logs, Stockholm, people, living, eco village, kinds, put, ocean, roads, atmosphere, Québec, urban forestry
Benoit Lambert, Metta Spencer, Albert Bates
Benoit Lambert, an expert in nature-based climate solutions, mentions his forthcoming book, Biogeotherapy, which promotes nature-based methods for reversing global warming. He emphasizes the four pillars of biogeotherapy: holistic grazing management; no-till agriculture with cover crops; biochar; and massive reforestation, along with 15 other nature-based solutions, including composting, agroforestry, and living machines.
Albert Bates notes that the “living machine” is a concept that was developed by John Todd, 30 or 40 years ago. It involves aquatic systems that process waste, such as sewage, to get the nutrients out. This creates an indoors ecology, similar to what a swamp does, but in a clean greenhouse where you can produce plants, food, and fish.
Lambert adds mangroves to the list of nature-based solutions. And he is concerned about the millions of tons of biomass that could be pyrolized into biochar – the dead wood from forest fires, spruce budworms, insects, and the forestry sector, which is left behind but which could be pyrolized on site. We don’t have to move that biomass from forestry camps, he says, though today it is often left decomposing and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. He discusses different tools for producing biochar, including the Tiger Cat 6050, a mobile machine that cooks biomass, and the KonTiki, a portable, cone-style kiln that can be used for yard wastes or forestry.
Lambert explains that biochar is biomass or organic waste that has been pyrolized – cooked without oxygen. The product of this pyrolysis is ash and biochar, which is simply charcoal that can be used in agriculture, concrete, asphalt, or even to filter water. In Albert Bates and others have discovered about 50 different uses for biochar, and we can expect even more innovations and improvements.
However, Lambert stresses that carbon dioxide removal must not replace the reduction of carbon emissions. He expects biogeotherapy to create a new economy around biochar, addressing ecological disasters caused by unsustainable practices, such as using marine sand in concrete. Overall, Lambert urges the prioritizing of nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change. And Lambert can think of even more technological improvements, such as big tarps to throw over logs and pyrolize them on the spot.
Biochar, he says, is inspired by nature, as it is created naturally during forest fires. It can be used to improve soil health, retain water, and sequester carbon. We still have 1000 gigatonne of co2 to extract from the atmosphere and sequester, but it’s a win-win-win because we will put it into farm soils to improve food production with this new product, biochar.
However, Albert Bates emphasizes that the use of biochar alone is not enough to restore the carbon cycle. Forests are ecosystems that extend deep into the ground and cycle carbon. Trees and forests are net carbon sequesterers, and leaving some parts of the forest after logging, such as pine needles or branches, can restore nutrients and carbon to the soil.
Bates says that he does not consider monoculture plantations to be forests. a forest is an ecosystem –above and below the ground. The roots were putting carbon exudates into the soil food web and the microbes were digesting and transporting and the water in the soil was transporting. A forest with such a deep fungal network is sustainable. We should study nature’s ways to create designs that are regenerative – that repair and restore – rather than extractive. Fortunately, the US Forest Service in Colorado is using pyrolysis to create biochar to restore the fertility of the forest after beetle infestations.
Albert Bates and Metta Spencer discuss the use of biochar as a soil amendment and the possibilities of combining it with enhanced rock weathering and kelp biostimulant. They also mention using biochar in asphalt and concrete mixtures to reduce carbon emissions.
Bates explains how biochar can be produced from various waste streams, including seaweed and sewage, and how it can be used in a variety of applications such as roads, concrete, and agriculture. Bates mentions the potential cost savings of using biochar in road construction, and how biochar can offer lower maintenance costs and greater flexibility in colder climates.
Biochar markets could withdraw 50 or more billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year from the atmosphere, just that one product. The limiting factor is feedstocks. e could make from municipal solid waste or from sewage. We could make biochar from municipal solid waste or from sewage or from the seaweed that washes up on beaches and these Sargassum blooms that are happening because of climate change. We could farm the oceans for seaweed and turn it into biochar.
But whatever comes out of the ocean may be contaminated with plastic and even biochar from sewage is contaminated with heavy metals. There are pharmaceuticals that can contaminate and get back into the food system. If your sewage, or municipal wastes are contaminated with microplastics or toxins of some form, put that into a road surface. It’ll stay there for hundreds of years. Tennessee, says Bates, is pouring a biochar highway, replacing the asphalt with biochar, which is stronger than concrete or asphalt and 40 percent cheaper.
Bates mentions the Stockholm Biochar project, where the city’s forester started taking municipal waste and woody waste from the city dump and changing it to biochar. And they applied that around the roots of the trees that were in the sidewalks and the median strips, and soon their three-year-old trees looked 30 years old. They ran out of source material in the city waste stream, and had to bring in wastes from other Scandinavian countries. Helsinki started doing it and Sweden. Soon that system was all over the Nordics.
Bates sees no technological impediments to solving climate change; rather, the problem lies with social inertia and behavioral biases that prevent people from changing their habits. He argues that living sustainably together, working with nature, improves the quality of life and leads to a deeper sense of purpose. They discuss the work of the global Ecovillage Network, in which Bates works. There are more than 1,000 Eco villages, and in Europe they are taking refugees from Ukraine. Kids come there from a war zone and rebuild their mentality based on this new paradigm. And they go out into the world as a seed spreader.
This transcript has been machine generated using “otter.ai.” Prior to using information from the transcript, please watch the video to catch any obvious errors.
Metta Spencer 00:00
Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. And let’s talk about biochar today. I think it’s one of the most important topics that we can talk about. But, you know, I bet you’ve never had a serious heart to heart conversation about charcoal before. And that’s what we’re going to talk about. Today we’re going to use a fancy word for it. Nowadays, the fashionable term is biochar and I have two friends with me who are going to, who are experts on this subject. So we’re going to discuss it with people who know a thing or two about it. Benoit Lambert is the CEO and founder of C. Biochar Inc., which is apparently a company in Sutton, Quebec. He’s an entrepreneur, working toward the production and the use of biochar, and hopes soon, to have the help of carbon credits or other carbon marketing mechanisms. So he, I guess he’s gonna come at this more from the business angle, and the technical angle. Albert Bates, I thought was in Tennessee, but he’s in Yucatan, Mexico. He is the director of the Global Village Institute for appropriate technology, and also of the Eco village Training Center at the farm in Summertown, Tennessee. You may have heard of “the farm”, a former attorney, he argued environmental and civil rights cases before the US Supreme Court, and he drafted a number of legislative acts during his legal career of 26 years. I’m going to let Benoit lead off because I understand you have to leave before we’re going to be through.
Benoit Lambert 01:56
Thank you. Thank you Metta very much. And I’m very honored to be invited by Pugwash for this meeting, I have to say I’m very honored to be talking with Albert Bates, because people that know about biochar know Albert Bates. And he’s a reference, his books are a reference, I read them all. And they’re really well written. I’ve written a book too called Biogeotherapy that has not been published yet, but was put online this morning. Yesterday, actually, as a course, the biogeotherapyis a concept I’ve been talking about and developing with Thomas Goreau, nature based climate solutions, NBS, as it’s called in the jargon. Life, as a geological healing force, that with Thomas that nature is the way we should prioritize, to reverse global warming. So that includes, of course, holistic grazing management, no till agriculture with cover crops, biochar and massive reforestation. I consider those as the four pillars. But then you have at least 15 other nature based solutions that I talk about, massive compost composting, for example, is one of them, living machines. agroforestry.
Metta Spencer 03:35
Sorry, what’s a living machine?
Benoit Lambert 03:37
Living machines are basically structures that will not only you know, being create a lot of life, but also sequester carbon in the process. Yeah, they’re built, they’re usually built as gardens in cities, urban areas.
Albert Bates 04:03
It was developed by John Todd, oh, 30-40 years ago. And the idea is aquatic systems that take waste, such as sewage, and process that to get the nutrients out in an ecological system so that you create an indoors eco ecology, kind of what a swamp does, but you do it in a clean environment in a greenhouse, and you produce plants and food and fish, and other things. It’s what they call the living machine.
Benoit Lambert 04:34
Let me also mention mangrove that is very important, really powerful and nature based climate solution, and rewetting of marshes, broadly speaking. So there are different ways there’s at least 20 nature based climate solutions that we can identify so far. I’ve made a list in the book, you know, but the four pillars, again, a holistic grazing mind in my view. holistic grazing management no till agriculture with cover crops called regenerative agriculture, biochar and massive reforestation. So why am I so interested by by biochar? It’s because I’ve been involved in tree planting, reforestation in five Canadian provinces during about 20 years. So, I know by being there that the boreal forest offer huge amounts, huge amounts of biomass, Deadwood, that comes from forest fires. That comes from budworms, spruce budworms, insects in general that kill lots of forest. And also from the forestry sector that leaves a lot of dead wood behind that can be paralyzed on site. We don’t have to move that biomass from forestry camps. So across Canada, we could probably slow down the breeding of the Earth as Thomas….
Metta Spencer 06:12
You are, I love you all of a sudden, because I’ve been trying to make a pitch for that for 15 years, if not longer, and that it came to me when I drove through the Rockies, the Canadian Rockies, and I saw hundreds of miles of dead pine trees, I guess, they were pine.
Benoit Lambert 06:34
So you can pyrolyse (inaudible), which means that you’re actually cooking them, you’re burning them without oxygen. You end up with charcoal ended up with ash and charcoal and that charcoal can be used either in agriculture or in concrete in asphalt to filter water. There’s about 50 different uses of biochar have been identified by Albert and others, and the potential to create a completely new economy around around biochar. I tried to pitch it as you know, the new forestry sector for Canada. Kind of answering the needs for the 21st century is huge, is huge. Frankly, we have more biomass available than people can imagine. We, the boreal forest, leaves huge amounts, but in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality. The wood is dry, give you an example, there’s the forest fire to happen north of (inaudible). In Quebec, it’s 30 kilometers square. So the greenery burned but the logs did not burn, the wood stays and you can be exploited for about 24 months before the insects get in. But all of these logs that I can show you here on a picture if we can share. This is a reality on hundreds of 1000s of kilometres to the Canadian forest. Okay, so here in Quebec. Okay, let me let me move this by hand, it seems. Okay. You see on the left here, a picture of these piles of wood they’re about two three meters high. Okay, this is dry wood, dead wood that after forest fire. Okay, so what these piles are made by the government, they cut them and then they plant trees in between the endings the logs, the piles of wood. All of this stuff, of course, is decomposing right now. And going back to the atmosphere.
Metta Spencer 08:42
Going back to the atmosphere. Yeah.
Benoit Lambert 08:44
As co2, If we, if we block that process by pyrolysis, we’re obviously mass producing biochar with, with you know, sustainable development in mind. If we have electric vehicles and electric trucks, and we don’t, we don’t, we don’t throw too much co2 in the atmosphere in the process. But it can be done. It can be done on on in huge areas, it can become an industry. This this forest fire in particular is 30 kilometer square and it’s a small one.
Metta Spencer 09:25
Okay, tell me how, you know what kind of pyrolyzer system would you use? Would you bring in technical ones, or would you do, you just dig a trench and put these things in there and cover them up and?
Benoit Lambert 09:39
Some people, some people say that’s the way we should do it, but now we’re going to use the tiger cat 6050. The Tiger cat is a well known company in the forestry sector. They have two offices in Quebec, and they have bought the patent of a machine called the 6050. Um, and it’s basically a machine made to produce biochar. Currently, they’re looking at the carbon credits around the machine. So they’re very well aware of all the methodology to you know technology is coming, I think we can improve it. I’ve been, I’ve been thinking about a rap system that, you know, could eventually cook the word with, with thermals, clots, tarps, big tarps that could go…
Metta Spencer 10:33
Tarps,you put a tarp over the over the logs, and I see, okay,
Benoit Lambert 10:41
I’ve been talking with various companies in the States to do that. He says, it can be done, it can be done. So what I’m saying here is that w’ell find other ways that will, there will be innovation, you know, Tiger cat 6050 is just the beginning, you know, and other because it’s a mobile machine. So it’s really useful for that. We don’t have to move the logs, we don’t have to move the wood.
Metta Spencer 11:06
Well, you’d have to come about 100,000 of those machines. No, wouldn’t you? Because there’s a lot of logs there.
Benoit Lambert 11:13
Oh, it’s millions of tons of logs that we can use, that has no use preparingly by the way, it has no use currently. So it’s just, it’s just decomposing on site through the years. As Albert points out, there are many other biomass that can be used, that is maybe not as clean but can be used in asphalt can be used in concrete, you know, there’s different categories and qualities of biochar that could be used for different things. So I think the potential for biochar as a CDR carbon dioxide removal at all, is is quite big.
Metta Spencer 11:55
Okay, now, you’re, these are photos of trees that were killed by the spruce budworm or something. Whereas I’m, I was intrigued originally by the pine beetles out in the Rockies. And people said, well, there’s no market for the thing. Well, it would cost, it would cost the government a hell of a lot. But I’m thinking, if we if we actually pyrolyzed a lot of those trees that had been killed by the pine beetle, it would be probably comparable to the amount of co2 that we’re emitting from this, you know, the tar sands, yeah?
Benoit Lambert 12:33
We have to be very clear, carbon dioxide removal you know, it’s not a way to get to get away from reducing our emission, emission, of course, we have to reduce by 80 90% Our emission, you know, as a species, but we’re still have 1000 giga tonne of co2 to extract from the atmosphere from the Earth, and to sequester because we’ve entered all of that since 1750. So we have to put this back, but it’s win win win because we will put it into into soils in agriculture, for example, or if we create this new product biochar to use as a replacement for a marine sand, for example, in concrete, which is terrible ecological disaster. You know, it’s all it’s all a win I mean, I mean, the better management eventually of waste, of organic waste, much better management. And this material in particular, it’s not being used right now.
Metta Spencer 13:43
Here we go.
Albert Bates 13:46
So this is in Ontario, this is near Toronto. It’s a eco village there. And it’s making biochar on a regular basis from woody wastes from forestry and other uses. And there’s a group there called calling themselves the Ontario biochar organization and they built this, this kiln, which is a very simple device called the KonTiki. A cone style kiln. And the cone is just can be anyone can weld it together. It’s, it’s portable, you can put it on wheels. It tilts, you can discharge the biochar after you’ve made a batch, and anyone can have this for their yard wastes or if you’re in forestry, you can run several batches a day. And you can get up into the tonnes fairly quickly, using a simple device like this that any welder can put together.
Metta Spencer 14:38
Benoit Lambert 14:39
Okay, so you see this this black stuff next to that small, small trees that I planted?
Benoit Lambert 14:47
That’s natural. It’s not it’s not been put there by a biochar maniac like me. No, no, it’s it’s really inspired by nature and and when there’s a forest fire that goes through, you have some charcoal, some biochar is created naturally. So really mimicking nature by using biochar and making more biochar that’s the only comment I wanted to add. And I will have to go.
Metta Spencer 15:21
All right. It was good to have you here.Thank you.
Benoit Lambert 15:23
Thank you very much.
Metta Spencer 15:26
Okay. Very good.
Albert Bates 15:29
What are you going to do with large scale forestry and, and particularly monocultures. And the I mean, I don’t really consider a monoculture plantation a forest. Because a forest is an ecosystem, and it’s above the ground and it’s below the ground. And it extends very deep into the ground, actually the height of the tree in the root zone. And always it’s cycling carbon. So even after the tree is cut, the roots are full of carbon. And they all the life of the tree, they were putting carbon exudates into the soil food web. And so the microbes were digesting and transporting and the water in the soil was transporting. And that carbon was being built up as a rich black area of profile in the soil that goes down, you know, meters deep, which in terms of the carbon cycle would take hundreds of 1000s of years to reach the surface again. And so trees and forests are net sequestrators. And if you continue to compost and harvest them, you’re still getting some sequestration. And the availability of biochar now, which is an ancient practice, allows you to take some portion of the wastes that normally would be converted to carbon dioxide or methane, go back, going back to the atmosphere on a shorter term, shorter timescale and delay that so you, you convert it by the methods that by that Benoit was discussing, and this harvest is actually profitable for the people who do it, it produces energy if you if you want to capture that heat and turn it into something like electricity, you can use the biochar, for a host of products. All of that is a profitable proposition. But you also need to remember that the other part of the carbon cycle is important for the trees. So the trees have to have if they’re going to regrow another group of another forest behind the one that’s just been cut. Even if you’re just doing patch clearance in some managed ecosystem and mixed species, you still need to replenish the nutrients in the soil, and that includes carbon. So you have to leave some portion and it doesn’t have to be a lot. But it has to be some portion that that can re restore the carbon that’s needed for the next generation of trees.
Metta Spencer 17:58
Are you suggesting leaving some of those logs there?
Albert Bates 18:02
I wouldn’t mean it doesn’t have to leave logs, just the the tops, the pine needles, the things that come off in the process of logging, if you don’t, if you don’t vacuum all that up, you know and you just instead take off the parts that are not useful for timber, for instance, the large branches and things that they’re not going to turn into saw timber, you take that part and turn that into biochar, what they call slash. Now, what you’re doing is you’re reducing the wild fire potential, which is scary given the rapid onset of climate change. And you’re at the same time producing biochar and if you put it right back into the forest right there. Now you’re actually increasing the water holding capacity of the soils and the aerobic nature of the soils which is better for the aerobic microbiota, and forests are dominantly fungus so you’re helping the fungal soil foodweb by doing that, and you just restore that ecosystem with more biochar more Terra Preta de Indio the old dark earths of the Amazon. You’re repeating that process and building a soil profile that’s very healthy, very climate resilient, and able to create more trees faster, which again, is your carbon pump and bringing more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
Metta Spencer 19:23
Okay, now, we saw pictures of logs that had been cut, presumably because of the spruce budworm and I guess in Quebec he didn’t say where but now, those were all piled up and he’s going to, he’s proposing to bring in some kind of pyrolyzer machine and, and pyrolyze them and turn them into biochar there. And I think he has in mind selling it or trying to get it to farmers so that they mix it in with their fertilizer or with their rock dust even better. And and use it as a soil amendment. But now if you want, what seems to me that what I saw were hundreds and hundreds of miles of, of red trees that had been killed by the pine beetle. And I think the the probably the effects and the way you’d handle it are probably similar. But you know, there are no roads going in to all of those places. It there’s no way you could, I don’t know, you’d have to drop in a pyrolyzer by helicopter or something, if you went…
Albert Bates 20:29
No actually a helicopter would be overwhelmed by the pyrolizer. He’s thinking of using, he mentioned the carbonate here 350, or 650, which is the bigger model. And this is built like an Abrams tank probably weighed about the same. It’s got this giant caterpillar tracks on it, and it moves across the landscape very slowly, like a great grasshopper. And can you can just keep adding giant logs into it’s maw and it sends biochar out the back or down the bottom. And so it’s a it’s and you can imagine, fleets of these kinds of armored divisions moving across the landscape into roadless areas. That’s one vision of the future. I’m not really fond of that vision. But I think that, you know, when you have spruce beetle or other kinds of problems like this, some of it is you need to go back and ask what was wrong with that ecosystem to begin with. And if it wasn’t mixed eggs and mixed species, well, that’s your problem. You have a very vulnerable system at a time when climate change is coming at us. And creating these heat sis eats (sic) and droughts and intense rains and various other kinds of effects that the trees are not accustomed to. And they’re very vulnerable because they’re single species single age. And so then you get the beetle infestation, which is nature’s way of saying, “Oh, I see some food. Let’s digest that”. And instead, if you have a canopied and system with layers on the ground, and bushes at eye level, and up into the canopy at the top with climbing vines and lots of different species, and there’s a deep fungal network underneath, which is communicating that there are beetles coming, and maybe you should prepare some defenses for that. And then you get birds and things coming in and moving seed around, and you arrive at a more defensible system to begin with, and you don’t beetle kill. Right. So this these are what we
Metta Spencer 22:33
It sounds like you’re describing a Miyawaki forest. Is that really what you have in mind?
Albert Bates 22:38
Sure, exactly. And we need to look back to the ancient wisdom, right? This is where a lot of it, you know, honestly Metta we’ve been living we live sustainably for much longer than we have been living unsustainably. And if you go back 100,000 years or go back to the last ice age just to begin, you look at what were the sustainable systems that were erected. Recently, I’ve been looking back at some of the literature from the 19th century, authors like Kondio Ronka, who was written up recently by David Graeber, in his final book, or is it Black Hawk, that the fox, the fox Sioux Chief, who wrote his autobiography about life on the northern Mississippi River, living in in villages that moved periodically, but they had orchards and they had fields of cultivated crops and agroforestry that went on for hundreds of miles. And that was a sustainable system that took hundreds of years to develop. And you can look at lots of examples of those kinds of systems. And the industrial era with fossil fuel and so forth, took us away from that. And we have urbanized the landscape. And we’ve made it so that we’re very vulnerable in a lot of different ways that we wouldn’t have been hundreds of years ago. So how do we get back? Or how do we get to a more sustainable system? And there are sort of two schools of competing thought. And one is very technologically oriented. This is sort of the National Laboratory thinking of we’ll have artificial trees that are powered by fusion reactors, and those will somehow be able to draw enough carbon and produce enough food for us. And and then on the other hand, we have people like me, who say, No, you really should look to nature’s ways which have been proven and time tested over several 100 million years more than we’ve had time to test stuff, and they work. And if you just go and study those more, the biomimicry idea and use that kind of those kinds of principles in design, you can come up with designs that will sustain even large populations, but do it in ways that are regenerative that repair and restore and rebuild rather than extractive which is the model that we’re currently on.
Metta Spencer 25:10
Well, I’m totally in favor of what you’re saying. And I should tell you that we, the Pugwash project, includes four different interventions that are meant to, to help with our climate crisis. And one of them has to do with forestry. So you should have been on the other show to talk about exactly what you’re going to talk about. So I’ll share this with with the people who are looking at into the forestry thing, because your ideas are very relevant to
Albert Bates 25:44
Metta, you know I am fortunate in joining you today, because I’m here on the island where I’m living, I’m in a nature preserve. And we just went four days with no power, which meant I had no internet. But I had planned to binge on all the earlier podcasts. And I only got as far as Frank von Hippel in the fusion fake story. But I greatly enjoyed that one. But I really had hoped to get up to your stories about concrete and how that can be carbon negative and carbon concrete and climate and all those great podcasts that were right up my alley.
Metta Spencer 26:20
Well but now, I really want you to elaborate on this biochar business. Because Benoit really made my ears flap since I have been talking about this for 20 years or 15 anyway, about the the importance of, of trying to, you know, those trees that I saw in the Rockies had not been cut that you didn’t see logs laying on the ground. You saw these trees still standing, but they turned red, because of the pine beetle. Now, I figured, you know, you should, we should send in foresters cut them down. Just dig dig trenches, put the put the biomass into the trenches, cover them up and burn it, you know, I mean, not burn it but pyrolyze it into biochar, and leave it there if need be, because it would re re store the fertility of, of the forest and then the forest would regenerate. I would hope that maybe we could put a little more biodiversity in then was the case before these things got eaten up? So
Albert Bates 27:29
While you’re very prescient, because the US Forest Service in Colorado is now doing exactly that.
Metta Spencer 27:34
Are they? Good for them. Well, I don’t think anybody in Canada has and even the biochar experts that I’ve talked to about it, they say, oh, no, you’d have to have a market for biochar. I think that’s a problem that we, we see, the issue that we’re really supposed to be thinking about today is how to use biochar as a soil amendment. Because one of the other interventions that that the Pugwashites are looking at, has to do with the the idea of enhanced rock weathering, taking basalt and other types of rock and, and pulverizing it so that it has more the the, it has more surface, and therefore it’s more accessible to the air and can grab and sequester more carbon and put it in so we could use that as a soil amendment and reduce the amount of fertilizer chemical fertilizers that these guys are using, which is, you know, so harmful in so many ways. But, so we’d like to, my notion is that we would use biochar in with the rock dust to make sure it doesn’t all flow away in the next rain. Because the biochar is going to hang on to it. And also, we’re looking at doing something in around Hudson Bay. More complicated issue, but one of the things that the people on Hudson Bay are the native Indigenous people are having a hard life because the ice is melted and they can’t go out and hunt the way they used to. So, but there is a big growth of, of kelp in Hudson Bay. And it’s really taking over very well. So I was, we were thinking that they could be harvesters of kelp. And you can manufacture it into some kind of biostimulant and then I don’t know how the chemistry of this but I, I imagine you could use that chemical that the kelp residual material to put in with the rock dust and the biochar. And the biochar would hold it all together so it wouldn’t all erode. Now, my reason for, one additional reason for thinking that the kelp would be a good thing is that as I understand it, one of the things that the farmers need fertilizer for is the nitrogen. And, if you make kelp into biochar, all the nitrogen is burned off. So, the the biochar made from kelp is not itself a good source of or any source of nitrogen, but it’s good for a lot of other things and we could get this bio biostimulant made from the from the kelp and mix it in with the stone, you know, the pulverized rock and with the biochar and and in various combinations, depending on the quality of the soil and what it needs, use that as the amendment and encourage farmers all over Canada to to begin to apply that as a mixture instead of or at least replacing some of the synthetic fertilizers. So that’s what I’m wondering, can you comment on whether this idea is goofy?
Albert Bates 31:16
Great idea. And I would recommend you might consider as someone to interview on this podcast is Dr. Brian von Herzen and the Climate Foundation.
Metta Spencer 31:26
I have had him on three times he’s been on at least three times.
Albert Bates 31:30
Okay, well, he’s doing marine permaculture, which is involving kelp grown in farms in the tropics, and you think of forests we tend to think of forests on land, but there are forests in the ocean, and a lot of the ocean has become desertified. And these kelp forests, especially in coastal areas are very important ecosystems because a lot of the lot of them are spawning areas for fish, they provide nutrients, and he’s part of a big carbon pump that takes carbon into the ocean from the atmosphere. So having kelp in the systems that we’re using is very important. And I would add this this idea that you just proposed about turning soil in the kelp into biochar. That’s something I’ve been pursuing in dark in Brian’s been also, which is the idea, you know, we have we have to think in scale. How do we get trillions of tons of legacy carbon back out of the atmosphere in decadal timeframes rather than waiting centuries or millennia? And we need to do that. So I in my book, burn with caffeine Draper. This one, we, we talked about how biochar
Metta Spencer 32:44
and run it a little longer, hold it up a little longer.
Albert Bates 32:47
Biochar and the products and the markets that it creates, not just in agriculture, but lots of different markets could could withdraw 50 or more gigatons billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year from the atmosphere, just that one product. And however, the limiting factor is feedstocks. So even if we start to add up all of the biochar we could make from municipal solid waste or from sewage. We have to start thinking beyond agricultural waste streams. What do you waste matter? We have to think about maybe the seaweed that washes up on beaches and there’s more of this Sargassum blooms happening because of climate change. Maybe we need to think about farming in the oceans like kelp, where we could take the kelp extract nutrient like leaf protein from it, use it for all these nutriceuticals and Bioceuticals and different things that are so valuable, and then also take the waste woody cellulosic matter and turn that into biochar. So now we have another feedstock. And when you multiply the area of the ocean, and that can be done in this way productively, and the extra ecosystem benefits that that provides to the ocean. It also helps with salinity and helps with issues having to do with pollution of various forms in the ocean as well as the loss of fish. Well, now you can actually justify it for cost basis to go through the process of extracting and turning that in to biochar. Now, one thing I will also say about anything that comes out of the ocean, it’s going to be contaminated with microplastics. We know this now. And this is an issue if you’re making biochar for something that’s going into your garden, or going into a field that’s going to produce food for you, because you’re keeping those microplastics in the food system. And you don’t want to do that you want to stop that you want to arrest that you want to deal with that issue of contamination. And this also happens if you’re getting your biochar from sewage, where you’re getting heavy metals, you’re getting other kinds of contaminants that may be pharmaceutical contaminants may be biological parasites that don’t that survive the pyrolysis process and make it into the some portion, make it into the food system back again, if you put it as a fertilizer, so you want to avoid that. And for this reason, when you start to talk about adding biochar to say, a concrete mix, where 5% addition of biochar gives you a significant strength improvement in the concrete, or you have what I’m doing this this summer in Tennessee, is we are pouring the first kilometer in North America of a biochar highway. So we’re going to do a kilometer of road taking out the asphalt and replacing all of that with biochar, that gets mixed with the gravel. And then you have a one person emulsion, and that’s a plasticizer, that brings it all and solidifies it. It’s 40% less expensive, it’s carbon sequestering, it has lower maintenance, it resists cracking it, it has a higher heat tolerance, and it has strong is stronger than either concrete or asphalt. And so we’re going to do this first demonstration North America, which will allow us to get into the engineering codes, the civil codes that allow highway engineers to, to use this system. And because you want to do it for carbon withdrawal, or carbon dioxide removal, you want to source it locally, because if you go too far away, then the transportation costs are going to wipe out any gains. So it makes industry makes small businesses for farmers who can produce 10 tonnes 100 tons from crops from bamboo from forestry waste, adds the income stream in rural areas for farmers and foresters, and then provides that for local county roads and state roads and province roads and so forth. So all of that sort of benefits. But here’s another one, it doesn’t have to be food grade. So if your sources are contaminated, like sewage, or municipal solids, municipal wastes, and they maybe have microplastics, or toxins of some form, that can go into a road surface, it’s fine. It’ll stay there for 1000s of years. And that’s, that’s a way of sequestering and taking those things back out of the environment.
Metta Spencer 37:30
Okay, well, you I would be leaping with joy, except what you have just wandered into is creating a situation where two of my four interventions that we’re investigating are in competition. And I’m not sure that you’re aware that the one of the one of the things that we’re looking at is carbon negative concrete, what you are talking about, we’ve had a number of shows about how to reduce the carbon emissions from producing concrete. And our favorite by all odds is the production of something called Blue Planet concrete, which is the creation of carbon negative aggregate, which would not only be gravel size as a substitute for the gravel, but also substitute for the sand. So here you’ve you’ve got your biochar in competition with our other. The other product that we’re promoting, which is Oh, actually, we have to get sand.
Albert Bates 38:34
We actually have to buy aggregate to mix in with the biochar. The biochar is 10% of the of the mix of asphalt and the other 80 89% is aggregate that we’re going to have to acquire typically quarry stone, and instead we could use your product and then have have that next with 1% emulsion and we get an asphalt that was 10% biochar and 89% of your product. All right,
Metta Spencer 38:59
so So in other words, we’re going to take instead of having the aggregate be made either from carbon negative product that blue planet produces ore from biochar, you do a mixture of the two is that it
Albert Bates 39:17
biochar is not the aggregate. Biochar is like its substitute for the bitumen part. And the aggregate which is the bitumen that’s in the asphalt, black asphalt that’s a tare mix
Metta Spencer 39:31
concrete though, because concrete is a mixture of cement, and aggregate which and we can now blue planet can make carbon negative aggregate and in sand, but if you want to replace the sand part, which is what Ben was saying, with, with biochar, and it sounds like you’re in competition with
Albert Bates 39:59
the only the only so far the studies that we’ve seen that have done this extensive testing on concrete mixes is somewhere in the 2% to 5% range of biochar content. So it wouldn’t replace the sand. In the aggregate, it would only be two or 5%, which strengthens the and reduces cracking and spalling, and so forth. So it provides some different qualities, but it’s only two to 5% of the mixing concrete, whereas 10% mix in asphalt, and then you have the normal amount of sand and aggregate pea gravel. And that could be provided by this blue carbon. So there’s no reason why you couldn’t have 100% drawdown highway from this point of the combined process of blue carbon and the 10%. Biochar. All right, this is
Metta Spencer 40:45
way beyond where I think I ought to be trying to opine, I don’t have not sufficiently sophisticated to try to imagine the chemical formulas for for concrete. But it’s you know, this is one of the things that I had to put you in touch with is the shows that the most recent one we did about concrete, a guy named Brent Constantz, who invented this stuff in is highly highly carbon negative, so much so as to offset the carbon emissions that goes into producing the cement, which is where most of the carbon gets into the atmosphere.
Albert Bates 41:27
Okay, so 547, I’ve got it here. And going back also to Episode 546, which is chilling Hudson Bay, which is using that kelp. And let’s take that kelp and make the biochar. And now we’ve got a way that can can be our airport or a bridge or a port, that can be made entirely negative.
Metta Spencer 41:48
You know, the problem is all of these just sound wonderful. And I 1,000% enthusiastic about it. But you got to look at the cost. And you know, how much can you get the government to subsidize these things? Not, not entirely, a lot of these things have to be made self sufficient, so that there’s a market to actually get people to pay for doing this. And I can’t imagine how we’re going to get roads made at a very price, cost effective way. Have you and Benoit, I think has maybe spent more time thinking about the practicalities of economics of how to pay for these things. But have you thought about how, what is realistic financially, given the fact that already, you know, the government is hardly doing a damn thing to really combat climate crisis, and getting them to invest? Trillions of dollars, which is probably about what is going to take is going to be one big challenge. How do we get there from here?
Albert Bates 43:07
Well, you know, you also have to ask what is the cost of not changing. And one of those costs is the fossil fuels, which the prices will continue to fluctuate and probably rise for a good while. And, you know, right now, these roads that I’ve been talking about that we’re going to do the first one in North America, they’ve already been done in Africa for 20 years, and they’ve been done in Australia and in Southeast Asia. And we don’t have the licensing structure in place to do them in North America yet, but or Europe, but we’re going that direction. And one of the things we’ve learned is that they’re about 40%, cheaper, and they’re they have lower maintenance costs, which is good news for counties and provinces and places that pay for these things, and pay for the maintenance on them. And they’re especially good in areas where you have a heavy snow load and the possibility of potholes and things in the winter cracking in the winter. Because the temperature range is so much better, they’re more flexible in that way. And so they, they are cheaper. And this is kind of a win win solution for getting scaled, getting it rolled out into and more than just lab scale demonstrations but out into actual commercial use. So I think I see the future very bright in terms of the industrial zation of this these kinds of processes. And of course, these hardscapes are just one of 1000s of uses for biochar because we’re talking about batteries and fuel cells and composites and epoxies and replacing plastics and replacing various electronics and carbon fiber and carbon fiber wraps that you can put on bridges and overpasses that are in hurricane prone areas or earthquake prone areas. And there’s lots of new and interesting products that we’ve described in the book look that I think will be coming in these are disruptive industries. And honestly, the whole paradigm has to shift because we’ve been burning carbon fossiliferous fuels for 200 years and putting that into the atmosphere as a big dump and then into the ocean. And if that’s has to reverse completely, so that we need to build an industrial paradigm that is based on drawdown, where we are actually making our money, making our energy, producing our hardscape, and our infrastructure and our built environment, by taking carbon and mining from the air, mining it from the ocean, making energy in the process, and then getting the things we need, and all of that it are disruptive industries. So as these new startups come in, and they get a little bit of venture capital, or government funds, or whatever, and they get going, and they produce their Unicorns of billion dollar startups, we’re gonna see all this happen in the next decade or so. And it’s how I see it as a very hopeful sign among many dismal signs. This is one hopeful one
Metta Spencer 46:06
is true. The only thing is we got to speed it up, you know, I’m everything that I picked is one of the four interventions that we’re investigating as Pugwashites are chosen, because there are things that can be done within, at least get going within five years. And I think that, you know, when I talk to the people, especially, who are concerned about the methane release in the Arctic, and the melting permafrost, that’s the place that I think that it is so urgent, that we don’t have any time left, we have to be ready to do some drastic things that we probably wouldn’t even consider doing if we had enough time to explore them more thoroughly and more carefully. But we don’t have time to play around anymore. We’ve used up our time. So that now let me let me go to
Albert Bates 46:57
why you make that point about using up our time, let me point back to this book. Why but in crisis that came out in 1990, by Albert Bates, the greenhouse effect and what we can do with a foreword by Senator Al Gore. And I started in on this whole issue of climate back in the 1980s, when I was an environmental attorney, and I had a case involving toxic waste, polluting an aquifer. And I had to bring in and the the chemical companies that were agro chemical companies, were all saying, well, we’ve got plenty of groundwater, you don’t need to worry about wasting one aquifer. And I said, Honestly, it’s going to change because population continues to rise and climate change is coming. And I had to talk in court to a judge in 1980, about how climate change was going to change everything, and we’re gonna need all that fresh water. And so I had to bring in experts. And when I brought in the experts, I blew my mind. And after that case, was over, I retired as a lawyer, I just didn’t have the stomach for wasting my time. And I went to work full time on this climate issue, and wrote this book. And, and I later, I did another book on the Paris Agreement, and how that came into being all the years of work that went into making the Paris agreement. And then solution side, I visited the Amazon. And it was the first time I actually had a ray of hope, where I actually saw Oh, there might be a way out of this, there might actually be something we can do, that would make a difference on a timescale that matters. And that’s recovering ancient practices, and turning them to to our benefit.
Metta Spencer 48:49
That but that’s not an easy thing. You can’t I’m thinking I still hung up on in the Rockies, where I’m thinking of hundreds of miles of red trees. How I mean the labor involved in in doing that and and not to mention creating these tank like things are you going to bring into to the logs and stuff? Holy smoke? Who’s gonna pay for that? And, and how are we gonna get that done?
Albert Bates 49:17
Well, and when you see the red trees, I’m I’m always a brings to mind the Red Forest, outside of the Chernobyl nuclear plant that they just ran through with the Russian army. And it’s kind of the same kind of thing where you have this great, huge human damage being done to the earth. And it’s going on as we speak. It doesn’t seem to be abating. It’s not hardly even slowing down. There are all these hopeful signs about renewable energy and so forth, being cheaper than its alternatives. But it seems that we’re just continuing on are wicked ways without turning around fast enough. And so the kind of work you’re doing with this podcast, with getting the word out with the news that you spread through the peacemakers and so forth all so helpful, that we really need to keep on pushing that, that information war.
Metta Spencer 50:07
Yeah, I think so. Now you showed something I want to ask you about that paralyzer, that backyard thing that you made. I, you know, one of the four interventions that we’re working on has is about forestry. But we’re talking about urban forestry. And in this case, we were not really discussing as much the creation, you know, Canada has agreed to plant 2 billion trees, which is, you know, it sounds like a lot. But when they say we really need a trillion trees, that’s 1000 billion, and I can’t see how we’re gonna get 1000 billion trees planted and looked after and watered, and we didn’t stop, so that they have a good chance of survival. But we need trees in the city more, and we have people who are willing to actually go out and water them and take care of them. And so what we’re proposing is that the government sponsor, you know, take some of those two, 2 billion trees and sponsor having urban forestry promoted, so that people along roads along city streets, and I think, you know, we’re going to have as soon as we have these driverless taxis that are electric, which are coming within five years, that’s going to mean, nobody’s going to want to own a car anymore. If they have good sense, it’d be so much cheaper to take an electric taxi wherever you want to go. And those guys are not going to park you know, they let you out, they pick you up and they go their own way and then they never stop they never Park which means that all the parking space it places in front of markets, you know, as well as the long streets in the cities, we can dig those up and put trees there so and I think we can get the all the communities to come out and each one each adopted tree and look after it until it’s grown and healthy and so on. So what am I notion was that they can even continue the the nurturing of trees after they’re fully grown because they have to be, you know, they have to be somebody has to sort of pay attention to these trees. And we all have waste products anyway, around our gardens and you know, households, so I was thinking, why don’t we have every city park have a pirate lizer and every Saturday, you can bring your little red wagon full of waste products, carbon stuff, and there’ll be a guy on hand person who will do the paralyzing for you and then you can take home a bag full of last week’s biochar. So I was trying to think well, how can we get some cheap bio prior lasers? And I thought, well, you know, there are these dumpsters. I live in a high rise and the the these a guy comes with a prong of the front of his his truck and he sticks it in and he lifts the dumpster and dumps it in the garbage dump. And so, so these are movable movable things. I think you could get some used dumpsters and sort of drill a few holes in the bottom, and they can make pretty good paralyzer so we could have those in the city parks. And we could pay some money to be on hand every Saturday to do the paralyzing and that crazy.
Albert Bates 53:36
No, that’s a great idea. Are you familiar with what the Stockholm biochar project accomplished in Stockholm, Sweden?
Metta Spencer 53:43
No. I’m familiar with the the reforestation. They did though I did see the guy who was in charge of planting those trees and I think we’re
Albert Bates 53:54
okay. Yeah, yeah, beyond him, for him was the forester for Stockholm. And he was noticing that the trees were doing poorly. Of course, climate change was affecting Stockholm and also the urban pollution and the trees that should look like they’re 30 years old. Were looking like they were three years old. And so he started taking municipal waste from the city dump in there in Stockholm and changing it to biochar taking the woody wastes and turning it into biochar. And they started doing collections just like you described of a biochar project with municipal waste. And then they apply that around they dug up around the roots of the trees that were in the sidewalks along the roadways, in the verge in the median strips, and they put biochar down around the base of all those trees. And pretty soon three year old trees look like they were 30 years old. And they had beautiful growth and and they were resilient in the dry months and they were holding up well in winter. And suddenly he had this flourishing urban forest in Stockholm with biochar at the base, and then they started taking up the sidewalks and taking up the roadways, and putting biochar down as a sub sub pavement. We they were doing that for water filtration. So that toxic runoff from salting the roads in this in the winter and so forth, did not get into the urban waters, runways and I to the bay and pollute the bay. And so they began to clean up their effluent all over the city by putting biochar along the verges of the highways and under the highways, they tore a vast amounts. And it was so popular and so successful. They ran out of source material in the city waste stream, and had to bring in wastes from Norway and Sweden, or Norway and Finland. And then Finland started doing it. The Helsinki looked at that and said, Wow, look what they did in Stockholm. Other cities, Sweden started doing it. And pretty soon that was all over the Nordics now of the same waste to biochar urban environment reforestation programs that are all over the Nordic countries. Now,
Metta Spencer 56:05
that is wonderful. That is so wonderful. I have not, I thought I knew about what this people who are doing in Stockholm, but it’s only a fraction of what you just said, because I thought I saw a video made by the guy who was showing how they plant trees along the street, you know, they had a certain routine where they, I think a machine would come and dig a hole. And I think they would put rocks, you know, crushed rocks at the bottom and then biochar Allah sera, sera, several levels of stuff before they put their tree plant, you know, tree roots in and then at the surface, they would have a grill, sort of a metal grill around the around the tree so the water could get into get into the hole from the sidewalk or whatever. But that’s I saw, but I didn’t know about the rest. Let’s put me in touch with whatever sources I can refer to for this because it sounds like something we need to put into our project on. Urban Forestry. I, maybe I should even invite the guys who did that in in Stockholm. If you aren’t
Albert Bates 57:17
yet furnace, and forester, I think he’s retired now. But he goes around the world for the UN doing slideshows on this whole process.
Metta Spencer 57:26
Oh, I want to get him on a talk show one more talk show about, about urban forestry. That’s terrific.
Albert Bates 57:32
There’s this is a big subject and dear to my heart. Because like I said, I was a young attorney, back fighting chemical companies and nuclear power plants and things like that back in the 1980s. And I found myself going through a life change because I got shocked by what was happening with climate, with the climate and what was coming our way during my lifetime, and certainly the lifetime of my children and grandchildren. And it changed my life and made it so that it necessary to figure out how can we find a way out of this. And there are many strategies you mentioned re mineralization that’s, that’s wonderful in combination with biochar, in combination with regenerative agriculture, and forestry, you know, permaculture, you know, natural building, using the things that we know how to do very well, that can solve multiple problems at the same time. Most of these are even profitable, so they can move into industrial use and be scaled. And you can, we just have to think outside the box a little bit, because we’ve become sort of inured to white waste of the past, to where we’re sort of stuck in patterns that are self destructive, without willingness to just look around the corner and try to break out. And I think that’s the real key here is the social inertia, that we this is our own utility impediment. There’s no technological impediments to solving this problems. Now, the problem is the social inertia that we have to get, we have to overcome our behavioral bias and start to change the patterns of how we live. And we actually have a better life. Like one of the areas that I’ve gone into that I’ve been involved with there. 2030 years now is the global eco village network. We just had a very nice article written about us from the Mother Jones magazine, the newest publication, has a story about how we started resettling Ukrainian war refugees in Eco villages, more than 1000 Now, eco villages all over Europe. And the thing about that is you take a child who’s coming from a war torn situation, or maybe an earthquake refugee from Syria, and you have the take them into an eco village And they’re now living in a way that we all will have to live eventually, if we’re going to survive. And they’re thinking every day about water and food, and how it’s all connected to the earth, and how we need biodiversity and all these things, because it’s all around you in an eco village. It’s all the conscious decisions that were made by the founders and developers of the Eco village. And so now a child who comes into that environment out of this terrible catastrophe that they’re coming from damaged as they may be, psychologically, they rebuild their mentality based on this new paradigm. And they go out into the world as a seed spreader to begin to change and repair the whole world. And I really think that, you know, just the small part we made in Eco villages to try to demonstrate that a new way of living was possible. And these can be urban, they don’t have to be rural. And just to show that you can actually live this way. And not only that, it’s more fun. It’s happier, it’s more fulfilling, you have a better quality of life you have, it’s not a hair shirt approach is not doing without, it’s not self sacrifice. It’s actually getting more out of life and having a better deeper relationship with your fellows. And having shared vision and a sense of purpose. When you jump out of bed in the morning.
Metta Spencer 1:01:23
All of John John Liu was on our show, you know, he has been doing that in terms of building. I don’t know whether he calls it eco village, but it’s the sound sounds what you’re saying.
Albert Bates 1:01:35
He’s doing ecosystem regeneration camps, and I’m on his advisory board. And we on the global eco village network, have a partnership with the his ecosystem restoration camps, where we come into his camps that are doing the ecosystem regeneration work, and we teach them to technology, the things we’ve learned from eco villages like synth, Tropic gardening or consensus decision making or other kinds of OCLS sociocracy techniques that we’ve developed over the last 20 or 30 years.
Metta Spencer 1:02:06
Wonderful. This is just such a treat to meet you and to know you’re doing what you’re doing because I you know, it’s just exactly what we need to be doing. So, it’s great to be sort of your partner now if I may.
Albert Bates 1:02:20
Well, and you as well, you and you’re doing what we need to be doing.
Metta Spencer 1:02:24
Alright, well, thank you so much, and we’ll stay in touch. Okay. See you later out one of these days. Thank you. Bye.
We produce several one-hour-long Zoom conversations each week about various aspects of six issues we address. You can watch them live and send a question to the speakers or watch the edited version later here or on our Youtube channel.