Ithaka Institut

Ithaka in the Finger Lakes - The Blog


Kathleen Draper, the director of Ithaka US, writes a refreshing, highly motivating Blog from the Finger Lakes in Western New York. Have a look at her distinctive biochar musings which include plenty of new ideas for biochar.

 

Acidic Soils & Biochar

I suspect that many people don’t yet realize it, but acidic soils are a growing problem (so to speak!) around the world, already impacting more than 50% of soils used or suitable for agriculture.  Humans are both the cause and the …

Reinventing Math: turning negatives to positives

Remember those ridiculous word problems in math class that were laughably convoluted and unrealistic? What if we were to inject a bit of reality combined with some consciousness-raising into word problems. We could get kids motivated to solve real world problems and …

The walls we should really be building: C-walls!

Recently my ‘charmigo’ Ramon, who hails from Mexico, told me the only way he would support Mexico paying for a wall is if it was made from biochar.  The chuckle I could not suppress was filled with gallows humor. Still …

Biochar vs Activated Carbon

One of the most compelling above-ground markets for biochar is as a substitute for activated carbon. Activated carbon is used in a wide variety of applications from filtration to remediation. Problem is AC comes with a heavy carbon footprint and …

Biochar stability vs Carbon stability

Next up on my reading list from the biochar bible, is Chapter 11 “Movement of Biochar in the Environment”.  Rather unsurprisingly something light and fluffy such as biochar is fairly mobile.  It can move both vertically down into the soil …

Biochar & Heavy Metals

I recently took the plunge and purchased the updated ‘Biochar for Environmental Management’ (Lehmann & Joseph 2015), which I often refer to as the ‘biochar bible’.  Any book with more than 900 pages would be daunting, but this one is …

How not to pound sand

Sand. How in the world can we be running out of sand? The world seems full of it, right? River-beds, oceans and deserts are full of sand.  Yet according to a number of recent articles, certain types of sand are …

How the sea can help rebalance C

This week I happened upon some fascinating biochar research focusing on charring seagrass wrack as a more sustainable means of disposal.  Not only is this environmentally preferable as compared to landfilling it, which causes all sorts of GHG emissions from …

2016 USBI Biochar Conference Recap

The 2016 USBI Biochar Conference flew by in a flash this week.  It was great to see old friends, meet so many folks that I’ve corresponded with but never met in the flesh and to see so many new people …

Towards a Biochar Ethos

Jonathan Shapiro’s book “Lawyers, Liars, and the Art of Storytelling: Using Stories to Advocate, Influence and Persuade” has a great perspective on ethos as it relates to Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle.  The biochar world would be well served to understand his …

Time to update the Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy!

The US EPA created the Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy (FWRH) in an effort to divert various organics towards the highest and best end uses. Sadly an inordinate amount of food waste, roughly 65% of the total waste stream, still ends …

Biochar for Mercury Detox?

This weekend I tabled at a local event to keep spreading the word on biochar.  A woman came up and was simply gushing about biochar so I asked her why she was so enthusiastic. Most people that have ever heard …

Biochar: “Tiz bit dear”

The question of how to price biochar has come up many, many times in conversations over the past several years.  While there is no perfect answer, I would argue that the current price is still too expensive for biochar to …

The CharCone: a great little kiln that will cook your food and help uncook the planet!

I am always flattered and excited when asked to do product reviews related to biochar.  Recently Bruce F. designed the CharCone, a mini Kon-Tiki geared towards the cooking crowd and asked if I’d be interested in taking it out for …

Debunking the biochar = deforestation myth

The notion that scaling up biochar could lead to deforestation came up again recently in a discussion amongst some very well regarded biochar experts when we were talking about barriers to building the biochar industry.  While it is feasible that …

The Biochar Displacement Strategy

Recently I had the honor of joining some of the gurus of biochar research at Cornell University at their one day Biochar/Bioenergy seminar.  I was asked to talk about something new & interesting so I took the liberty to talk about something …

Could biochar roof tiles be coming soon to a roof near you?

As the college year comes to a close the RIT senior design team focusing on biochar based roof tiles that I have been working with is showing some exciting results.  The team was tasked with coming up with a tile …

Displacing desiccants with biochar

I hate to desecrate those supposedly ‘harmless’ desiccant packs that are found in an increasing number of packages, but there is a much more benign alternative!  Allow me to explain… Desiccants are materials used to prevent spoilage, mold, mildew, odors, …

The Quest for the Killer “Biochar” App

Discovery of something doesn’t always lead to quick, practical applications of said discovery.  For some game-changing discoveries such as aluminum, practical applications had to wait a few decades for future discoveries (e.g. airplanes) before the real value could be realized.  Electricity …

Tapping into the wisdom of the (char) crowd

As I mentioned in the previous post, the amount of biochar research happening around the world these days is growing exponentially.  It is no longer feasible, if in fact it ever was, for one person or even a single organization, …

Support the International Biochar Initiative

You know that feeling of excited anticipation you get when something arrives after you have been waiting for days or weeks?  I get that feeling every time the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) newsletter arrives in my email box. Why?  Because …

The ‘4 pour 1000’ Initiative & Biochar

2015 was dubbed the ‘Year of Soils’ by the UN, but sadly the biochar world let the opportunity of celebrating what biochar could do for soils pass relatively unpromoted. The French are offering up another great opportunity for soils to …

A Biochar Salute to COP21

As the Climate Talks begin in Paris today, I thought it might be worthwhile to provide a biochar ‘greatest hits’ to highlight just how helpful biochar can be in terms of climate change. There is a fast growing body of …

E. coli & Biochar

E. coli has been in the news again of late thanks to the Chipotle outbreak in the Pacific North West. Not only are such outbreaks expensive to business but they can sometimes prove deadly to consumers. E. coli, the pathogenic variety …

Harvesting Heat from the Kon-Tiki

This academic year I am very excited to be working with two different engineering teams from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). One team is looking at how to optimize heat capture while carbonizing biomass. The other is prototyping the …

Toxic Mining Waste & Biochar

One would think that the sight of a river of gold would fill one with awe. But the recent golden rivers that flowed in Colorado carried toxic ghostly remains from abandoned gold mines inspired horror, not awe. Of course people …

BIOCHAR + MELTED POLYSTYRENE

For the past several years I have been very focused on upcycling organic waste streams through carbonization but lately the question of inorganic waste streams has begun to interest me as well. This is due in no small part to …

Grass & Biochar

There has been a lot of buzz, so to speak, in the past year about using biochar to grow marijuana, but I’d like to address biochar usage with a far more common herbaceous ‘weed’. I am talking about grass, the …

Landscaping & Biochar

I’ve been asked more than once recently how landscapers could incorporate the use of biochar into their businesses. Not being in the biz myself, I decided to do some investigating to understand a bit more about the specific services landscapers …

Acid Rain & Biochar

Acid rain has been on my mind of late for a few reasons. Firstly, the recent Supreme Court case ruling against regulating power plants means that power belchers may continue to pollute our air ad nauseum -and I mean that …

Biocharlie

A new biochar friend of mine from Western NY has just started manufacturing a nifty little retort for making biochar called the ‘Biocharlie’. I’ve used it a few times now and I have to say it is the easiest way …

Storm water management and biochar

Rain, rain, go away! I hate to say this too loudly especially since so many areas are suffering from drought, but we are under water siege in the Finger Lakes these days. One of the worst climate change impacts for …

Managing the upcoming biochar tsunami

In the last few weeks no fewer than five new biochar projects/companies have come to my attention that have the capability, or are in fact are already producing thousands, or in a few cases, tens of thousands of tons of …

Biochar & evaporative cooling

With all these heat waves happening around the world I got to wondering if there is any possible way that biochar might be able to help people chill out (beyond the whole climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration aspect of …

The Precautionary Principal & Biochar & Climate

The topic of the precautionary principle came up in a recent email stream, not specifically about its use in soils, but still it got me thinking about the current dichotomy between academics and commercializers in the world of biochar. The …

“Pret-a-Potties”

Every year RIT holds a great event called Imagine RIT where students display creative and innovative projects from all different disciplines. This year it was even more fun for my daughter & I to attend over the past weekend as …

Combined Heat & Biochar (CHAB) Markets

[Part II of a recent presentation I gave at the NE Biomass conference. Given the emergent nature of markets for biochar at this point in time, my personal opinion is that in the short term it might be best to …

Dr. James Hansen & Biochar

This week I attended a presentation that Dr. James Hansen gave to a packed house at a local community college. As with most things I’ve heard or read from the likes of Dr. Hansen or Al Gore or Bill McGibben, …

Markets for Biochar

Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting at the NE Biomass Conference in Portland, ME – which is simply a gorgeous place. [A major hat tip to all the good folks at ClearStak that are really helping to bring biochar …

Patently Ridiculous

At the last North American Biochar Symposium I gave an Ignite presentation called ‘Balancing the Hope & Hype of Biochar’. One of the subjects within the presentation was the influence of patents on the biochar markets. Quoting myself, I said: …

Disaster Recovery & Biochar Part II

The recent devastation in Vanuatu and the availability of low cost biochar producing kilns has spawned some more serious and targeted conversations amongst some of my favorite biochar people in the land down under. Many organizations play critical roles in …

Aging Infrastructure = Carbon Sequestration Opportunity

  John Oliver recently had the most brilliant riff on the sorry state of U.S. infrastructure. Dams, bridges, tunnels and roads are crumbling around us. The need for repair is undeniable. The cost for repair is astronomical. The funding mechanism …

Could biochar perc up your leach field?

Recently Justin, an uber green urban planner I know that is optimizing his new homes’ footprint, asked me about the possible benefits of using biochar to improve the longevity and efficiency of a septic system. Great question! I’m not actually …

Biochar and snow

Like nearly everyone in the northeast, I am just a tad tired of the white stuff at this stage of the winter. My sympathies go to Boston as they have been particularly hard hit this year having welcomed 77” of …

Paving the way to a more sustainable future

The combination of biochar and permeable pavements may just provide a very viable, not to mention green, path to fighting & adapting to climate change. Permeable pavements provide a plethora of economic and environmental benefits over traditional fossil fuel based …

Biochar as an Acoustics Insulator

Joining random LinkedIn groups does wonders for creative thinking. In my inbox today was a LinkedIn discussion email about the Acoustic Insulation (AI) market, something I have given exactly zero previous thought to in my life. Apparently this market is …

AllTrials Campaign for Biochar

Ben Goldacre, a UK physician, writer and bad science debunker, has helped found an excellent initiative called the AllTrials Campaign. The aim of the campaign is to correct many of the funding inefficiencies as well as much of the mis-(or …

Could the next biochar frontier be ‘Sea-questration’?

Sadly it’s been a long while since I read The Economist but I was unable to resist this week’s cover on the battle of the junkyard dogs (aka oil sheikhs vs fracksters). My m.o. when reading this particular magazine is …

Biochar: Enabling the ‘F’ word

No not that ‘F’ word. I’m talking about Fracking. Recently yet another person I really respect in the biochar world has been talking about optimizing biochar to mitigate the harm created by fracking. This is one of those uses of …

Giving Thanks to Biochar’s Sherpas, Shamans & Scientists

When the biochar industry does finally take off, it will be in no small part due to biochar’s Sherpas, Shamans and Scientists. The Sherpas include not only those with enough foresight and fortitude (not to mention cash) to invest in …