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.

 

Dwelling on Drawdown Part III – C walls

Converting walls to carbon caches could be compelling when you consider just how much wall space there is in the average US home. Shifting from a high embodied carbon material such as drywall, to a carbon storing material could create …

2020 was not all doom, gloom & zoom for the US Biochar Industry

Good riddance 2020! Though I am not sad to see 2020 ride off into the history books, upon reflection there were a few highlights within the US Biochar Industry that should not go unacknowledged.  Here are a five worth celebrating …

From Wildcatter to Carbon Capper

Hopefully, for the sake of a livable planet, the days of wildcatting are nearly over. Prospectors drilling for oil and gas in regions not generally known to contain these materials came to be called wildcatters in the late 1800s. Prior …

Dwelling on Drawdown – Draining the Swamp

Biochar in drain fields a huge carbon sink opportunity with additional benefits beyond sequestration

Biochar in the time of Coronavirus

I have lost count of the number of people that have asked if or how biochar might be able to help when it comes to our current pandemic. Years ago I wrote about how biochar might be able to help …

Sensitizing the sanitation community to sequestration (and biochar!)

I was recently asked by the NYC Department of Sanitation to keynote at their SOAR Strategic Partnership Breakfast which was also highlighting International Women’s Day. It was a great opportunity to enlighten urban sanitation folks about biochar. With a few …

5 Stages of Falling in Love with Biochar

Perhaps it is because of the ominous stage of the climate crisis and the understandable desire to rescue civilization from an increasingly dire future. Or perhaps it is because of more mundane motivators such as reducing organics sent to landfills, …

Biochar: Crossing the “Finnish” Line

Last week I hosted roughly 120 people for the latest biochar study tour in Finland. We had participants from 18 different countries, from students to CEOs, from the biochar litterati to those very new to the topic, from academia to …

Dwelling on Drawdown – Part I

Last week marked my first big step in my latest project (and perhaps next book) which I’ve dubbed “dwelling on drawdown”. It involves researching, designing and building my forever home with an eye towards maximizing carbon sequestration and minimizing the …

How Thermochemical Conversion can help New York address its Climate Goals

This week Cornell University hosted an excellent event focusing on the topic of how thermochemical conversion could help NYS reach the ambitious goals set forth in the recently passed Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act (CLCPA).  In short, the new …

Top 3 reasons for not calling biochar a fertilizer

Unlike biochar fertilizers come with one major upside and many downsides Using the word fertilizer to describe man-made chemicals that are spread or sprayed on soils is perhaps the most unintended oxymoronic word choice ever, except for maybe plasticulture which …

The anti-dote for anti-biotic overload: biochar

Antibiotics, the wonder drug that has mended millions if not billions of us, may just be our undoing if we don’t act quickly to curb its contagion.  A recent article revealed that nearly 2/3 of rivers surveyed were tainted with …

Raising Ambition: tangible climate action with biochar

The UN is hosting a Climate Action Summit in NYC in September with a catchy title of “A Race We Can Win”. One would hope that emphasizing optimism over the ever escalating doom will be a more effective motivator to …

BURN: Using Fire to Cool the Earth by Albert Bates & Kathleen Draper

Fire, perhaps more than the other classical elements, can completely change all carbon-based materials. That transformation may sometimes be devastating but at other times it can be hugely beneficial. Most people tend to dwell on its wilder nature when it …

Biochar Bright Spots: Biochar Bricks

David Derbowka is one of my favorite kinds of charistas; creative, collaborative and cares about what matters most – a better climate future. David is an environmental engineer heading up his own company, PRSI, in a faraway place in Western …

NET Gestalt

Three NETs are better than one. Reforestation, biochar & soil carbon sequestration can regenerate mine lands. Every week more & more peer reviewed literature on biochar is published and 2019 will see the debut of a peer reviewed journal dedicated …

Safety NETs & Biochar

Humanity is in need of a safety net to pull us back from the carbon brink. But what might this net, or more likely nets, look like? The recent IPCC report may provide some clues. The IPCC’s recent Special Report …

Biochar at COP24

Last week I attended the UNFCCC (COP24) in Katowice, Poland as an observer on behalf of the International Biochar Initiative (IBI). It was my first time attending and the first time in a long time for IBI. The intent was …

Biochar: The Rx for drug disposal?

This week I attended an eye-opening local meeting related to reigning in substance abuse within my County. I learned a ton, not least of which was that the people that work in this field deserve the utmost resect. More and …

Biochar Workshop – April 28th – JOIN US!

Do you have a hankering to learn how to convert your hard-to-compost organics into something useful? This upcoming workshop will not only show you how to carbonize all sorts of unloved biomass that you have littering your yard or farm, …

Incineration vs Pyrolysis: pariah vs pioneer

Recently I met with my State Senator to discuss a proposed incineration plant for a beautiful part of the Finger Lakes; the home of the white deer, the former Seneca Army Depot.  My goal for the meeting was to provide …

Biochar’s unmatched versatility in mitigating & adapting to climate change

Listening to a webinar on Agriculture & Climate Change Adaptation hosted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, I was at once enlightened and yet disheartened.  Sadly biochar received nary a mention. To fill the void, allow me …

Biochar’s boundless versatility: from ‘fillee’ to filler

The versatility of biochar seems, at times, limitless. As the ever expanding uses of biochar continues, research is showing that biochar can be used either as something to be filled by other substances or as something to fill in other …

Following the biochar bright spots

  Early in September I had the privilege of leading a biochar study tour to Stockholm, Sweden on behalf of the IBI. I have long been enamored with the Stockholm Biochar Project (SBP) for many reasons and was thrilled at …

Creating a Biochar Brigade using the Master Gardener program model

Master Gardening Volunteer (MGV) programs have existed in many parts of the US for more than 40 years. They serve as a train the trainer program for gardening education where interested volunteers learn about many different aspects of horticulture including; …

Biochar Industry SWOT: When a ban becomes a boon

Increasingly I am fielding calls from larger and larger companies expressing interest in diving into the biochar world.  What they all want to know ‘Is this the right time?’, which prompted me to put together my perspective of the biochar …

The Meaning of Drawdown: Reduce & Replace or Rebalance & Remove?

Finally, finally, after what seemed like months, the recently debuted book ‘Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming’ became available on my library wish list.  I was eager to pick it up and dive in, especially …

NYS Methane Reduction Plan & Biochar

In May New York State announced a Methane Reduction Plan (MRP) aimed at reducing methane (CH4) by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.  Going beyond the Federal EPA’s MRP and even California’s plan which largely target only Oil & …

Biochar From the Ground Up recap

Last week I visited a small slice of heaven; The Farm in Summertown, TN.  The Farm is the oldest intentional community in the country and has been home to Albert Bates, author of The Biochar Solution amongst other books, for …

Biochar Plaster

In preparation for an upcoming workshop on Biochar From the Ground Up to be held at The Farm in Summertown, TN this week I have been experimenting with the use of biochar and different materials. While I’ve been researching biochar …

The 1G Mission

Late last year the Board of the International Biochar Initiative (IBI), of which I am honored to be a member, decided it was high time to get ambitious when it comes to biochar production.  We set a goal to help …

Carbon Farming & Biochar Workshop Recap

Last Saturday we had the first of what may, if there is sufficient help and interest, be an annual event for the region; a gathering of those interested in carbon farming and biochar.  Thanks to our gracious host Peter Arena, …

How Biochar supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations are focused on ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all by 2030.  These are what are sometimes called BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) in the business world. …

Char putty

DIY slime is all the rage these days.  It’s fun and funny and just plain weird. You can kneed it, bounce it and break it over and over yet it always returns to a gelatinous blob. My teenage daughter has …

It is Not the Critic Who Counts

Recently someone claiming to have ‘spent years’ researching biochar wrote a rather lengthy blog/report about his viewpoint on the prospects for biochar as a viable solution for climate change mitigation. I won’t mention the title as it seems to have …

Join me at the Carbon Farming & Biochar Workshop!

Exciting news!  Legislators in the NYS Assembly recently introduced the ‘Carbon Farming Act’ (A3281) which seeks to reward farmers for practices that maximize carbon sequestration in New York.  The bill acknowledges that ‘soil & vegetation management can significantly enhance soil …

One big benefit of adding biochar to livestock feed: healthier milk

While doing some research recently a collaborator asked if biochar fed to dairy cows impacts the quality of milk.  Given that the purpose of adding biochar to livestock feed is to bind toxins and other nasties, it seemed logical but …

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 …