In 2012, America must choose its energy future.
|Full Moon over a Biomass Gas Flare
More important than electing a new President, America must answer the question whether we will continue our obvious addiction to obviously toxic fossil fuels......
Or decide to deliberately, intelligently develop and deploy new technologies to extract energy from sun, wind, water, and biomass.
Biomass gasification produces clean, smokeless heat, leaving charred carbon (charcoal, or biochar), plus assorted gases, vapors and liquids.
If we capture the chemicals distilled out of biomass by pyrolysis, these become gas and liquid fuels.
carbon-negative birthday candle
This controlled combustion in a closed container is our best method to extract energy from biomass.
This energy strategy to produce renewable, sustainable heat and gas is our best alternative to the catastrophic extraction called "hydraulic fracturing", or "fracking."
The simple, primitive gasifier at left is a 55-gallon barrel, with 8-inch hole in bottom, 4-inch hole in lid, wrapped in 6-inch fiberglass insulation, two lengths of stovepipe, one length of vent pipe. The wire fence, chimney cap and sheet metal windshield we found on the farm.
The barrel was loaded within three inches of its top with twigs, stems and small diameter limbs from a brushpile. One cup of wood pellets soaked in mineral spirits were scattered on the top of this loosely packed biomass, then ignited with a single kitchen.
In ten minutes, the chimney cap was lit up by a fiery halo of flickering flames (above), accompanied at times by very low frequency chatter, roar and whoosh. My carbon-negative birthday candle shone a pale red light, and radiated an intense heat field.
The fire & light show had just begun. Flaming gas rushed up the 8-inch stovepipe to flare out as a fiery aura that grew steadily for 30 minutes, eventually extending two feet in a dancing, twisting vortex. Then, when all the wood was burnt to the barrel bottom, flames shifted toward blue and the flare rapidly ran out of gas.
Every spectator was awed by the huge, very visible volume of energy extracted from a loosely packed barrel of twigs. During the burn, I detected more than one conversation on how to harness that outburst of energy to heat the farm's nearby 40x100 greenhouse.
|Liberty's Torch as a Biomass Gas Flare
Community Food & Energy Independence
Globally, if we convert waste from farms, forestry, sawmills, landscaping, municipal greenwastes, and other sources to biochar and biofuels, significant energy will be generated, and significant carbon sequestered. As energy, one ton of woodchips roughly equals 5.5 barrels of oil.
A biochar-making biomass burner is at least a space heaterÑa 21st Century upgrade of a farmhouse woodstove. But combustible exhausts captured while making biochar can generate electricity, cook food, fuel engines, heat water, or other chores.
In soil, biochar is no inert ingredient, but soaks up water and nutrients to regenerate soil food webs, grow more plant biomass, fix more carbon into carbohydrates, improve plant health and crop quality, increase food nutrient density, reduce fertilizers, reduce nitrate and phosphate leaching, reduce methane and nitrous oxide emission, increase nitrogen fixation, and other services.
in a burn barrel bottom
Our choice of gas technology can't be clearer. Energy extraction from biomass is cleaner, greener, local, sustainable, and really regenerates the natural environment. Hydrofracking bedrock is itself fractured with questions, controversy, uncertainty, high finance, insider deals, and other infections of big business buying its way to profits, power and control.
The challenge is for communities to wean away from dependence on imported food, fertilizer and fossil fuels, and cultivate self reliance and resilience in fundamental resources. Don't wait for government programs, discounts at Walmart, or contractor packages at Home Depot. Considerable creative human initiative is needed to pioneer ideas into hardware and projects to create authentic change in households, neighborhoods and communities.
|Biochar & Burn Barrel
carbon-negative soil enhancer
At Four Oaks Community Farm, we choose to make biochar to create sustainable soil fertility, sequester carbon and grow nutrient-dense food. Later, we will learn to extract energy while we make biochar, and use it to heat and power the farm. We will grow as much food and energy on the farm or locally as we can for our community, and keep that wealth within our economy.
Learn to burn carbon-negative
Learn to live in the 21st Century
Co-create a carbon accountable culture
Build a sustainable community in Kansas