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Topics - AlanPage

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General / Necessary Petition 20130815
« on: August 15, 2013, 02:49:49 PM »
This link is a necessary step to bring climate stability. I encourage everyone to sign it.

Shared Correspondence / FEMA Commentary from July 29, 2013
« on: July 29, 2013, 06:10:52 AM »
HI All:
The FEMA Biochar Initiative has an "open" site on Linked In, but they choose what they will allow to be presented as posts on their site.  For now (until the censor comes to PVBI) this area can serve as an external discussion point.  The following item was provided this AM:
To Whom It May Concern:
It would help to understand what FEMA considers the various categories mentioned above to consist of:
For instance how local does FEMA consider a fundable grant to be appropriate?  Does the project have to be mobile to cover a region, State, a county, a town, or a neighborhood?
If the latter could the neighborhood project be both permanent and mobile - I have been operating a 10kw organic material fueled carbon negative combined heat and power portable unit.  It makes char as a by product and needs to be tuned to take particular fuels.  Yesterday it went 50 miles to a picnic, ran a 10 hp motor on pellets, wood chips, and lunch waste including paper plates, corn husks, corn cobs, butter scraps, chiken bones, etc, plastic utensils and paper napkins all quite wet.

What does "Mitigation" include?  If char is used broadly enough the likelihood of extensive damage from increasingly intensive and more frequent storms may be lessened - it depends on the global extent of the usage.  The carbon negative distributed generation system mentioned above if available to any who were able to maintain it would go a long way toward such a possible outcome.

So where are the guidelines?  What limits on a project size are there?  What rationale is used in deciding what to fund?  If something needs a stable experiential base to function in a disaster what is the willingness of FEMA to make sure that the appropriate base is present in potentially disaster prone areas?

My posts here are also copied on the PVBI/ forum on the general tab so any who care make comments that may be deleted can go there for an open forum if needed.
Alan Page

General / Questions to the FEMA Biochar Intitative
« on: July 27, 2013, 09:03:25 AM »
Mr. Straw,
I have watched this group since its establishment. Like many others it has laudable goals, but little connection to the gravity of the situation.

The USBI and PVBI have teamed up with UMASS at Amherst, MA to hold the 2nd Bichar Symposium with the commitment to make the information developed recently and collected historically to be permanently available with hands on experience via long term functional demonstrations of those areas worth consideration.

Unfortunately, the whole community has not found the way to back this effort with enough resources to carry out a quarter of the goal. Business as usual, including enabling the rich to become richer, is all we can point to to date.

Chris Martenson's Peak Prosperity column has some excellent material this week at:

We should pay close attention to the remarks at the portion where Dr. Cochrane talks about what we can do and what is coming. We are all living in Nirvana - the 1950s.

WHY DO WE NOT HAVE DEMONSTRATIONS OF CARBON NEGATIVE COMBINED HEAT AND POWER SYSTEMS RUNNING IN EVERY COUNTY? (I run the UMASS Power Pallet, but have to use my own funds to repair and demonstrate it.)

Event Announcements / July 2013 Monthly PVBI Meeting Agenda
« on: July 21, 2013, 07:28:34 PM »
The normal Monthly PVBI Meeting will be held at NESFI Jackson St. Belchertown, MA on July 30, 2013 at 7:00PM.

The agenda is being collected so if you have any areas for consideration pease add them as a comment or send them to me, Alan Page at;

Issues to date:
Symposium update by Karen Ribeiro
Progress on Biochar documentary by Dick Stein
Renewable energy hearing and fall out from that by Alan Page

Community News / Important Discussions
« on: July 13, 2013, 08:07:12 AM »
Biochar Discussions July 12, 2013
For those of you who are not familiar with biochar there are many resources.  The one I am closest to is the Pioneer Valley Biochar Initiative. Check out their website for other links and a full range of factual information and events, particularly the 2nd USBI North American Biochar Symposium, October 13-16, 2013 at UMASS Amherst, MA. 
The work that Karen Ribeiro, 2013 Symposium Coordinator, is doing to pull all the threads of biochar topics together is a herculean task – not because of the power needed to connect these strands of information or the weight of the physical topic, rather because there are so many ways to look at the problems and issues that present themselves at every turn.  In each meeting she patiently listens and challenges all participants to think outside the box all the while knowing that she has an imminent deadline for some portion of a very real and pragmatic outcome.
The biochar banquet considerations offer a case in point:
A fish dish was being considered.  A local company had started in a hill town and had originally planned to raise fish there from eggs gathered 12,000 miles away.  The local source of fish was a draw.  How was biochar involved with fish raising?  What was the current business model?  Should fish be involved in a largely agrarian solution model?  Was local sourcing actually more energy efficient than shipping frozen containers of harvested fish half-way around the world?
These questions and more took up a substantial portion of one meeting, and a lot was learned in the discussion and more was still on the table when the decision to have a fish dish was tabled.
One of the areas that developed was, “what should the role of the banquet be for those who attend?”
A well-researched argument was made for the importation of non-local produce on the grounds that local production of small quantities of any product would always be more energy intensive than “efficiently” organized large scale production with container sized distribution capabilities.
This left me with the dilemma of contradicting my strongly held belief that for sustainability of any activity there must be an overwhelming and significant component of the activity that is done on or near the site of the organic portion of the activity.  Walmart has claimed “green” status by delivering massive amounts of product from very distant production points to any point of the globe. This claim could lull almost anyone into acceptance of the profit potential of these transactions for Walmart as a necessary component of “sustainability”.
While I may not be able to refute the energetic claims of Walmart I reject the use of this argument when considering real long term sustainable systems.  The reality is that large entities exist on cheap energy and the “profit” that they can skim off of transactions where they maximize the “externalities” that they can impose on others.  When their profit cannot be sustained their presence will disappear, and those who came to depend on that presence will have to fend for themselves.
The production of biochar has similar difficulties. Biochar cannot exist without forming charcoal first. There are many ways to make char, the natural ones have ancient histories – forest fires, deep burial of organic matter and subsequent up lift, volcanic eruptions flowing over organic matter.  The human caused production methods may mimic nature in the open burning of organic debris or they can involve recovery of many different components of the organic matter during the process of getting to the char.  The char may be a primary product or a secondary by-product of another more rewarding process.
The Biochar banquet at the Symposium has many possible functions. For Karen it is an information platform which is as important as the “normal” banquet function of feeding a large group in an orderly and peaceful manner. The question of what is biochar comes up everywhere! One of the uses of charcoal involves functions that must be performed before the char should be called biochar. At the banquet planning discussions the question of how char should be presented in its original (unmodified) state was discussed.  Char is frequently used to remove toxins from organic systems – people do not hear much about this until they need it and then it is administered in a very private setting.  Animals of other kinds may seek it out themselves or be fed it on a regular or as needed basis.  Dairy farmers generally keep a supply of charcoal tablets to give cows who have been poisoned by something they ate. Should the diners be presented with the opportunity to consume some raw charcoal? If so how and should they know it, seek it, smell it??? Should it be called “biochar” at that point?
My hat is permanently removed to Karen for her persistence in following this goal of communicating these conundrums to us all.
For me local inefficient commodity distribution calls for innovation of sustainable energy source identification and enabling proactivity rather than endorsing bigness because it works today. Thank you, Karen, for keeping this discussion going.
Alan Page

The attached paper discusses the use of CO2 in a fuel cycle.  Such information could be helpful to designers of char making systems.

Biochar related / New Uses for graphene sheets
« on: June 28, 2013, 01:56:01 PM »
From MIT News:
Solar power heads in a new direction: thinner
Atom-thick photovoltaic sheets could pack hundreds of times more power per weight than conventional solar cells.
David L. Chandler, MIT News Office

Most efforts at improving solar cells have focused on increasing the efficiency of their energy conversion, or on lowering the cost of manufacturing. But now MIT researchers are opening another avenue for improvement, aiming to produce the thinnest and most lightweight solar panels possible.

Such panels, which have the potential to surpass any substance other than reactor-grade uranium in terms of energy produced per pound of material, could be made from stacked sheets of one-molecule-thick materials such as graphene or molybdenum disulfide.

Jeffrey Grossman, the Carl Richard Soderberg Associate Professor of Power Engineering at MIT, says the new approach “pushes towards the ultimate power conversion possible from a material” for solar power. Grossman is the senior author of anew paper describing this approach, published in the journal Nano Letters.

Although scientists have devoted considerable attention in recent years to the potential of two-dimensional materials such as graphene, Grossman says, there has been little study of their potential for solar applications.  It turns out, he says, “they’re not only OK, but it’s amazing how well they do.”

Using two layers of such atom-thick materials, Grossman says, his team has predicted solar cells with 1 to 2 percent efficiency in converting sunlight to electricity, That’s low compared to the 15 to 20 percent efficiency of standard silicon solar cells, he says, but it’s achieved using material that is thousands of times thinner and lighter than tissue paper. The two-layer solar cell is only 1 nanometer thick, while typical silicon solar cells can be hundreds of thousands of times that. The stacking of several of these two-dimensional layers  could boost the efficiency significantly.

“Stacking a few layers could allow for higher efficiency, one that competes with other well-established solar cell technologies,” says Marco Bernardi, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Materials Science who was the lead author of the paper. Maurizia Palummo, a senior researcher at the University of Rome visiting MIT through the MISTI Italy program, was also a co-author.

For applications where weight is a crucial factor — such as in spacecraft, aviation or for use in remote areas of the developing world where transportation costs are significant — such lightweight cells could already have great potential, Bernardi says.

Pound for pound, he says, the new solar cells produce up to 1,000 times more power than conventional photovoltaics. At about one nanometer (billionth of a meter) in thickness, “It’s 20 to 50 times thinner than the thinnest solar cell that can be made today,” Grossman adds. “You couldn’t make a solar cell any thinner.”

This slenderness is not only advantageous in shipping, but also in ease of mounting solar panels. About half the cost of today’s panels is in support structures, installation, wiring and control systems, expenses that could be reduced through the use of lighter structures. 

In addition, the material itself is much less expensive than the highly purified silicon used for standard solar cells — and because the sheets are so thin, they require only minuscule amounts of the raw materials. 

John Hart, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, chemical engineering and art and design at the University of Michigan, says, "This is an exciting new approach to designing solar cells, and moreover an impressive example of how complementary nanostructured materials can be engineered to create new energy devices." Hart, who will be joining the MIT faculty this summer but had no involvement in this research, adds that, "I expect the mechanical flexibility and robustness of these thin layers would also be attractive."

The MIT team’s work so far to demonstrate the potential of atom-thick materials for solar generation is “just the start,” Grossman says. For one thing, molybdenum disulfide and molybdenum diselenide, the materials used in this work, are just two of many 2-D materials whose potential could be studied, to say nothing of different combinations of materials sandwiched together. “There’s a whole zoo of these materials that can be explored,” Grossman says. “My hope is that this work sets the stage for people to think about these materials in a new way.”

While no large-scale methods of producing molybdenum disulfide and molybdenum diselenide exist at this point, this is an active area of research. Manufacturability is “an essential question,” Grossman says, “but I think it’s a solvable problem.”

An additional advantage of such materials is their long-term stability, even in open air; other solar-cell materials must be protected under heavy and expensive layers of glass. “It’s essentially stable in air, under ultraviolet light, and in moisture,” Grossman says. “It’s very robust.”

The work so far has been based on computer modeling of the materials, Grossman says, adding that his group is now trying to produce such devices. “I think this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of utilizing 2-D materials for clean energy” he says.

This work was supported by the MIT Energy Initiative.

Biochar & Eutrophication Mitigation / Simple Fertilizer Uptake Test
« on: June 23, 2013, 05:02:47 PM »
See the link to an Evernote "note" below the message.
PVBI members might be interested in this very basic experiment that shows how Power
Pallet char removes Miracle Gro fertilizer from a concentrated solution.

The two bucket system is a syphon that takes liquid from the bottom of the upper bucket when the liquid added is above the sealed tube port (the orange band around the tube).
I built hygrometers from several gallon jugs, and bought a gallon of distilled water as a reference. The pictures show the comparison of the various jugs. The Miracle Gro solution was much heavier and the jug sank to the bottom of the lower bucket.
One can show that it is easy to tell when the char is fully charged with fertilizer by watching when the jug of distilled water floats higher than the reference band for pure water. This simple test will help define the value of char for use as a soil amendment.

Evernote  Power Pallet Char Fertilizer Retention Test -
Alan Page

The Filed Day will be held in the same location at the end of Forest Road (left at the stop light just North of the Mullen Center) at 4PM until all questions are asked on 4/25/13 rain or shine.  (Answers may take a little longer.)

Setup can happen from about noon on
Please bring any systems, ideas construction techniques for making or using biochar that you have been working on.  Contained open fires are permissible.

We will have the pot trials available for analysis,
The Power Pallet,
Ted's camp fire systems

It would be nice to have the Adam Retort if possible

2013 Biochar Seminar Series at UMASS Amherst / PVBI Outreach letter
« on: April 06, 2013, 11:29:05 AM »
There has developed the understanding that many who are familiar with the problems dealt with in this Seminar have no useable way to either communicate what they know or understand where to get information about what they can do at home.  At the same time those of us at PVBI are overwhelmed with both possibilities and the difficulties that everyone else has.  So we have decided to try to build a broad base of informed team members.  You can share in creating the messages and with the outreach by working on the linked letters and then carrying copies of them with you wherever you go and giving them out!

Links for your use:
1) The current distribution copy of the Founders Outreach letter

Dr. Richard Stein will discuss the chemistry of biochar activity using the attached presentation material and other assets.  please come with questions and suggestions.  See you at 4PM at Stockbridge Room 301.

The sequence of planting trials is available to all via the following link:
Evernote BiocharSeminar Greenhouse Trials

To use this link you will be asked to download the Evernote App from Intel.  I have used Evernote for several years and have found it to be a very effective and efficient way to gather data and share it with others.  The link above is a sharing of the whole Climate, Energy, Biochar and Agriculture Seminar Evernote folder that has the files for the weekly record of the greenhouse trials plus a little of the early Canadian charcoal records.  Unfortunately if you do not have mush room on your hard drive this app will add 50 to 100MB of additional storage.  So you may want to install it look at the items of interest and then erase all of it?
Alan Page

More reading on climate:
There are many public institutions with positions on Global Warming, Climate Change.
The newest addition comes from the NE Conference of the Methodist Church Board of Church and Society - this is a 2007 document that set the stage for more effective measures, but it is now out of date and most Methodists have never seen it.

Program clarification for March 7, 2013:
The speaker will be Cynthia Castro who is working on "microbial fuel cells (MFCs), how they general work, and the study I've conducted to produce a MFC that treats human waste and generates electricity in the laboratory and in Africa. The actual MFC does not use biochar but we do think that it would be possible to use it."

This is important because there is copious information that biochar is a stable site for bacteria to colonize where there is little likelihood of predation.

We will also spend a little time reviewing the important points made in the presentations by Dr. Hall.  Come with questions.

Unfortunately, Kate Ballentine is not able to attend the February 28th session.  We will meet in Stockbridge 301 at 4PM as usual.

We will take the first part of the period to discuss issues that have arisen for anyone as a result of the presentations or reading that you may have done.  Please come with detailed questions.  The following will be used if there is a shortage of questions from others:
Ten minutes Q&A:

Has anyone stopped by the greenhouse to look at the pot trials?

What is an aliquot? Have you set up any aliquot tests at home?  How are they different from pot trials?

What is AMEG?      NCADAC? Why should we care?

How far did Dr. Herbert's peaches travel? Why?

What do these questions have to do with: Climate, Energy, Biochar or Agriculture? (CEBA)

What could Dr. Mulcahey have done to assure that the fire alarm would not have gone off last week?

What value does a continuous Lucia stove offer?  How could you build one?

What is the limiting factor for IBI?  What is IBI?  Why is it important?

What role does greed play in the current situation with regards to each component of CEBA?

What is value?


The formal presentation included a PARTIAL PRESENTATION by Dr. Charles Hall
- we did have some technical connection issues, but that did not stop a lively discussion of Energy and Economics.  The link is to be followed for the full presentation at your convenience.  You may also follow this with the session on Q&A with Dr. Hall.

A series of questions for helping to  set these points will follow below later.

Dr. Hall is the founder of the Biophysical Economics Group at SUNY Syracuse.  He is an ecologist and studies energy flow in all kinds of ecosystems.

In a few weeks we will review of the possible expectations that one might have for forest application of biochar and how we hope to recognize these opportunities in a large test of char application in Plainfield, MA.,

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