Re: The Drawdown Review, New Website, Our Team is Growing. #drawdown


Your capacity for detail is just remarkable. It took me more than a few times through this to make all the pieces fall into place and i am normally a pretty good close reader.

My only major concern with both the CDR crowd and your response is the continued assumption that biochar is the plaything of only the developed world (as suggested by the suggestion that biochar production can be accurately measured by counting the assumed number of biochar production factories, and so on). 

f one divides the global population between rich and poor (North and South) according to the simple rule of thumb that is you make $10 a day or more you are rich and if you make $10 a day or less you are poor, global population splits roughly 20:80. Looking to the far future - say 2050 - then the rich are in big trouble because they can expect the poor to be both very hot and very hungry. In fact, if another few billion people and 5 or 10 degrees are added between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, it is quite likely that there will be nothing to eat. The fish are already decampting. The major staple crops such as rice, corn and millet lose 10% of their productivity with ever consistent 1 degree C rise in temperature, Soil, already degraded, is degrading faster in the heat and losing humous at an accelerated rate with increasingly savage rain storms. Why do I say this?

Because I believe that developing world production of biochar may be all that stands between the rich and the massive migration of the hungry.

It is preventing this hunger that is my project.

Let's consider, for a moment, the crop waste figures I shared a while ago. 
  • If we accept 2017 as our base year and agree that 2017 production levels will continue at least until 2050.
  • And if we accepts that we are going to talk only about cereals and and coarse grains as defined by FAO
  • And if we accept that FAOSTAT is the source of all true knowledge about the quantities of such production
  • And if we accept that today farmers routinely burn just 50% of their cereals and coarse grains waste globally
  • Then total cereals and coarse grains production is 2 billion tonnes annually and waste is 4.2 billion tonnes annually
  • And then the 50% of this that is burned is 2.1 billion tonnes annually.
  • And then, if we can convince the farmers to convert this 2.1 billion tonnes of waste into char at the miserable rate of just 20%, we have 420 million tonnes of biochar annually. (Note, just in passing that this is already 25% of the 1.6 billion tonnes of char that these folks suggest will be total biochar production in 2050)
So what, you ask?

Well, this is 2020, leaving 30 years until 2050, and as this is annual, we have the potential to produce 30*420,000,000 or 12.6 billion tonnes of biochar.

Now, let us assume that smart outside players finally catch on to this gold mine and actually begin to buy small farmer biochar. Let assume that companies come in and buy three quarters of this char, 9.45 billion tonnes), this still leaves 3.15 billion tonnes in the hands of small farmers. 

What are they going to do with it?

  • They can briquette it and use it for cooking and heating.
  • They can sell it to local soap and toothpaste and so on manufacturers.
  • But many will either sell it to fertilizer makers or make their own fertilizer.

Suppose just 1 billion tonnes is used for this purpose directly, the only use the meets the "proper" definition of "biochar." What do we get?

  • 1 billion tonnes of "biochar" sequesters more than 3 billion tonnes of CO2
  • 1 billion tonnes of "biochar" averted the production of 1,073,200,000‬ tonnes of CO2E defined as just CH4 and NOx
  • This sums to a positive climate impact of more than 4 billion tonnes of GHGs.
And hunger?

There are approximately 1.8 billion hectares of arable land in the developing world and the number is falling fast. If we assume that half of it is OK and does not need biochar or will soon be paved over, then round up, we are left with 1 billion hectares. On this one billion hectares, we have about 500 million small farms.

This, however, is probably not a useful way to look at the food security/hunger/make your own biochar picture. Why? Because "small farms" (less than 1 ha) make up 72% of farms worldwide and another 12% lie between 1 and 2 ha. At the same time, in the poorest countries, slightly more than 80% of farms 1 ha or less covered just 20% of arable land. (Interestingly, the richer the country, the more pronounced this pattern such that in the richest countries there are only very large holdings.)

So what?

Well, if we make the crude assumption that the smallest farms are the most marginal and on the worst land, then we are talking about dividing our 1 billion tonnes of real biochar (biochar buried in the ground) to the land that these farms are on. The result is not the golden 1 kg/m2 required to up the performance of the pampered soils of New York and the Rhone Valley, but in Asia and Africa, as little 125 or 250 g/ m2 ought to boost the yields of most crops by 30% or so.

What's the message?

The developed world better get its butt in gear and begin teaching the developing world about biochar. And not the fat boy elites. What do they do? They are like the Senators in DC who collect the big agricultural support checks. This is a message that needs to get out the all the nobodies on the fringe. If THEY make biochar, and the CDR's definition be damned, a hell of a lot of CO2 can get sucked out of the atmosphere, a hell of a lot of food can get grown and hell of a lot of people kept in place, food secure.

I would also like to add a note about costs. 

Those cited are astronomically high compared to the costs we work with. To convert branches pruned off of orchard trees into biochar - branches that would otherwise have to be burned because of the extreme labor, transportation and carbon costs of collecting them), a team of three uses a $160 machine and earns the Thai minimum wage (three times the local wage, if there was work) to make 250 kg a day. Total cost per tonne, including single season debt repayment, $140. Without debt repayment, $133. And note, Thailand is a very high cost country, in which both workers and owner want to make money. (In this case, workers make twice the area average daily income and $60 per six day week. The owner clears $20 after debt repayment without doing a damn thing.)

Please excuse the long rant, but these guys really irritate me both because they just don't get it about biochar and because of their insistence on a North-centric world view. Hello? Where do all the people live? Who is actually dying from climate change right now? For whom is this not just a scary abstraction?

I appreciate all the science and all the advances in technology, but let me tell you, for the folks mentioned above, it is all a matter of indifference. There is simply not enough money in the world to bring technology and all the good stuff to all these people anytime in the next 20 years or so. This means that we can allow them to go on burning and starving or we can introduce them to simple, small-scale, DIY biochar and let them help cool the climate, clean the environment, improve their own health and raise their quality of life.


On Mon, Mar 9, 2020 at 1:41 PM Ron Larson <rongretlarson@...> wrote:
Lists:   (Adding CDR - which has received all of the subsequent responses - from Benoit,  Thomas,  etc.)
Apologies in advance for including all of the Drawdown material on biochar (In italics with some added bolding and underlining) - but it should help others wishing to add their thoughts.   My comments always start with bold  RWL 

Project Drawdown defines biochar as: a biosequestration process for converting biomass to long-lived charcoal (and energy) which can be used as a soil amendment. This solution provides an alternative to disposing of unused biomass through burning or decomposition.

RWL1:   Good start, but they are missing use of biochar in concrete, asphalt, etc.   Also uses for water quality, etc - not discussed below.

Biochar is a carbon-rich, highly stable charcoal soil amendment produced as a byproduct of pyrolysis, a bioenergy generation process. The production of biochar effectively stabilizes photosynthetic carbon by abating emissions that would otherwise occur if biomass feedstocks were allowed to follow their typical decomposition and disposal pathways, particularly for the great quantity of crop residues that are burned today.

RWL2:  Also mostly OK, but missing forests, grasslands, urban wastes, etc. Maybe low here by a factor of 3-4.

Applying biochar to soils further stabilizes its carbon by protecting it from alternate loss pathways and can reduce other soil greenhouse gas emissions (though this emissions reduction impact is not modeled in this study). In infertile soils, such as sandy soils with low cation exchange capacity, biochar can reduce loss of nutrients through leaching.

RWL3:   Not yet giving any credit for methane and N2O reductions.  Rest OK.  This could add 25%.

Biochar is something of a new category and is not precisely replacing a current practice, but can be seen as an alternative to other uses of biomass such as burning.

RWL4:   Not sure why they felt the need here to throw these caveats in.    Biochar is getting the vast majority of papers on CDR and has had its present name for more than a dozen years.


Total Addressable Market[1]

Total demand for biochar in 2050 is estimated at 1615.57 million metric tons.  

RWL5a:  I haven’t found this yet.  See Cite “#1” for a comment below.   This 1.6 Gt number is apparently for biochar, not C or CO2.

 Current biochar production is estimated at 0.0075 million metric tons. 

RWL5b:  This is only 7500 metric tonnes per year - way low.  (out of date data).  Not clear if they know of lead role now being played by China

Biochar availability was calculated using the method (residue production = grain production * straw to grain ratio) given for crop residue estimation from the crop production by Lal 2005 and Woolf 2010. Crop production data was taken for the year 1991, 2001, and 2014 and future availability of biochar was estimated by the interpolation of this data set.

RWL5c:   Availability is not given here - but they are maybe using only one crop (wheat)?   I’ll try to figure this out later.  These are two old reports and seem to leave out forests.  Woolf says no change in yield.

The implementation unit for this solution is biochar production facilities.    {SOK}

Future adoption of biochar was based on interpolation of data from biochar sales data from 2013-2015 (International Biochar Initiative, 2015). Four custom scenarios were developed.

[RWL6:  I only see two scenarios;  It might be helpful to see what they chose not to use.   Not clear what they were working from to interpolate - but linear interpolation (must be extrapolation?) would be a big mistake. 

Adoption Scenarios[2]

Impacts of increased adoption of biochar from 2020-2050 were generated based on two growth scenarios, which were assessed in comparison to a Reference Scenario where the solution’s market share was fixed at the current levels.

RWL7:   I haven’t found much on this third “Reference Scenario” - No “assessed” number found yet below.

Scenario 1: This scenario leads to the production of 6,487.8 biochar facilities.

  • Scenario 2: As the carbon benefits of biochar are much higher than those of crop residues left lying on the fields, an aggressive production of 12,527.3 biochar facilities was considered under this scenario.
  • [RWL8:   Both of these numbers are (sort of) discussed below.  Obviously these over-specified (6 significant digits?) numbers came from some other simpler assumption - which I havent yet determined.  

Emissions, Sequestration, and Yield Model

Avoided emissions from biochar are estimated at 0.95 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent per ton of feedstock. This reflects the amount of carbon dioxide-equivalent sequestered in the form of biochar, that would otherwise have been emitted from the biomass used as feedstock if it had been burned or decomposed. This figure is the result of meta-analysis of 13 data points from 5 sources.

[RWL9:  0.95 is OK.  1 ton (dry!) feedstock is about 50% carbon - and we can get about half of that as char.   To go between carbon and carbon dioxide we use the molecular weight ratio 44/12 = 3.67  The value of .95 says that Drawdown is saying the carbon content of their biochar is 25.9% of the original biomass weight.  Replacing the .95 by 1.0 equates to a statement that the pyrolysis yield was 27.2 percent Carbon.  This avoids having to state the percentage of the char that is carbon.  If that number was 90% (a high temperature char), then this would say the char yield was something like 0.27 / 0.9 = 0.30 - still quite plausible.

An 18 percent yield gain was modeled for biochar-amended soils, based on figures used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate `Change (IPCC).

[RWL10:   This could be a bit on the low side.  But not enough of the costing methodology is given to see how it was used.  I also find no statement on how many years such a number would be used.  I find no other statement where this 18 % number is used.


Financial Model

The first cost per biochar facility is US$21.63 million.[3] This is based on meta-analysis of 11 data points from 3 review sources. Operating costs are US$194 per ton of biochar produced, based on meta-analysis of 14 data points from 3 review sources. These figures are not comparable with a conventional practice, as biochar represents a new industry.

[RWL11:  Cite 3 says these are 2014 $.   There is not enough data to figure out how this  roughly $20 million number per plant was obtained.  We are given nothing on  the 3 review sources” or the “14 data points”. The first cost total over 30 years is discussed below.  Similarly,  no details on operating costs - nor of plant lifetime, beyond the $194/ton biochar.

A typical way of spreading the first cost out over time is to say 10% per year - or about $2+ million per year.  The first cost is not significant compared to the operating costs.


A key constraint for this solution is the total availability of biomass feedstock. The model assumes that the maximum feedstock available is 50 percent of crop residues that are currently burned, with no dedicated feedstock production. This is because crop residues are utilized in solutions like conservation agriculture, and in the model all dedicated biomass feedstocks are used in biomass energy production, with none available for biochar.

[RWL12:  So here we have no way of knowing the availability.  This may be why they have not much CDR after 30 years.   Cite #4 may have some tonnes biomass per year number related to 50%, but so far I haven’t found it.


Total adoption in the Scenario 1 is 6487.8 biochar facilities producing 133 million metric tons of biochar by 2050. This represents 8 percent of the total addressable market. Climate impact is 2.22 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent sequestered from 2020-2050. Net cost is US$ $195.87 billion and lifetime operational cost is US$734.05 billion.

[RWL13:  It is hard to get useful numbers out of this brief description of what must be a complicated (non linear) growth model (maybe involving an “S”- shaped logistic growth curve - used by Woolf and Amonette).   Some weight units are for biochar and some for CO2 (see RWL9).  I take the first sentence to mean that collectively all the plants together are producing .133 Gt biochar in year 2050.  Multiplying by 3 says about .4 Gt CO2 - much higher than in RWL15.

a).  Net costs:  $195.87 billion/6487.8 = $.0302 billion/unit.  Call this $30 million / unit.  (During the 30 year period - so this is an average - some much larger net cost and some much less.
b).   For 2.22 giga tonnes CO2 this is 2220 Mt CO2/6487.8 = .342MTCO2/unit = 342 kT CO2/unit. (Over  X years). This doesn’t seem to be useful number, since the majority of units are in service for only a few of the 30 years (presumably);

c.  First cost per unit char output:     ($30 million/unit) / (342 kt CO2/unit) = $30,000 k / 342 kt CO2 =  $87.7/t CO2. Since there are about 3 tCO2 per t biochar, this equates to more than $250/t biochar - which is in accord with common numbers.  But using the 10% per year amortization, we get a number like $25/ton biochar.  Again, we need the model

d.  Addressing the 8% value, we can note that their 133 Million t biochar per year equates to (almost exactly, using ratio 3 t CO2/ t biochar)  400 Million t CO2 per year.   Then dividing by .08 gives (0.4 Gt CO2 )/ (.08) = 5 Gt CO2 per year as the “addressable market”. (Same as about 1.36 t C/year)

e.  Further addressing the 8% figure,  we can replace the presumed logistic curve with a straight line over a smaller number of years (getting a triangular shaped introduction - over about 11 years, much shorter than 30 years.  If constant, the time period would be 5.5 years.  (Details not shown.)
f).  I am uncertain how to interpret the last number of $700+ billion.   Presumably this means no new plants after 2050.  Also not clear what the assumed plant lifetime is.

g). In sum - not enough detail to justify their numbers.

Total adoption in the Scenario 2 is 12,527.3 biochar facilities producing 256.8 million metric tons of biochar by 2050. This represents 16 percent of the total addressable market. Climate impact is 4.39 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent sequestered from 2020-2050. Net cost is US$ $383.30 billion and lifetime operational cost is US$1.4 trillion.

[RWL14:  Many costs double or almost so.



Climate impacts produced by the Drawdown model (0.1-0.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent per year in 2050) are much lower than a benchmark reported by the IPCC, which estimates 3.67 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent per year (2014). This is in part based on their estimate of 1.01 gigatons of biomass carbon, four times higher than our maximum feedstock estimate for the drawdown scenario. This benchmark also includes impacts of soil sequestration from biochar application, which this study determined was lacking sufficient data to model effectively.

[RWL15:  Apparently the 0.1 - 0.2 Gt CO2/yr should refer respectively to Scenarios 1 and 2?   Above in RWL 13d, the number seems to be 0.4 Gt CO2/yr - 0.8 Gt CO2/yr.  So I am unable to confirm the “four times higher” statement here.  Seems it might be much higher for the IPCC calculation.

I will next check the 2014 IPCC document.  

Note they talk about 18% yield improvement earlier - but here saying they haven’t used that - which could be a really big difference.  My guess is that the IPCC document ignored it also; most everyone does.


The biochar solution has a number of limitations, most based in the nascent state of the industry. A key area is biomass feedstock availability, which would be useful to model across the many solutions that utilize it (e.g., clean cookstovesbiomassconservation agriculture, etc.). Availability of more robust data on the soil sequestration impact of biochar application would also be useful. More financial data, particularly revenues and profit margins, will be key to economic projections. Future studies could also model the energy production impact of biochar production.

[RWL16:   In other words,  most of the important biochar economic variables have not been considered.


For a period of time, biochar was billed as a "silver bullet" to mitigate climate change. While our model certainly does not show this to be the case, biochar has an important role to play in biosequestration and soil fertility improvement.

[RWL17:  I take this to mean that biochar's place should be much higher than in the 50’s.

I hope someone can see if they can pull more out of this than I have.  There clearly was some complicated model for getting to this point.  I’d be glad to critique that as well, if anyone knows where it is described.
Not mentioned above is the reasonableness of the stated plant cost itself.  Some producers of char have essentially zero capital cost.  Labor costs will be much lower in some countries.   Some char producers are speeding up a moving grate in a power plant to get more char and less ash at the output.

[1] To learn more about the Total Addressable Market for the Food Sector, click the Sector Summary: Food link below.

[RWL:  Not sure where to go.  AT, there are 14 subcategories under “food”

[2] To learn more about Project Drawdown’s three growth scenarios, click the Scenarios link below. For information on Land Use Sector-specific scenarios, click the Sector Summary: Food link.

[RWL:  There is zero information at   The scenario totals on pages 88 and 90 are almost 1000 and 1600 Gt CO2 (for both avoided (almost all) and removed (not much - and it is hard to tell them apart).   For biochar these are 2.2 and 4.4 Gt CO2 (which could have both mitigation and removal aspects).

[3] All monetary values are presented in US2014$.

[4] For more on Project Drawdown’s Food Sector integration model, click the Sector Summary: Food link below.

       [RWL:  Need to try harder to find this.  Might answer many questions above.

End of Monday, 9 March new material  (almost finished on “tomorrow”- Sunday)



On Mar 7, 2020, at 10:20 PM, Ronal Larson <rongretlarson@...> wrote:


This new “Review” version (see below) of Project Drawdown is much improved fo  biochar, I believe.  But still nowhere near to demonstrating much knowledge of biochar.

No fees for downloading.

The previous version had biochar in 72nd place (used to be out of a list approaching 100).   Now it is in places 54 and 51 for two different scenarios (out of a smaller total near 75 options.

Maybe there was some earlier place to find out how this ranking was determined;  I never found it.   After considerable searching today I found the “Review" version - at:   I now at least know how this ranking was achieved,

It being late,  I will offer further comments tomorrow.   As one example, they note that they are a factor of 4 lower than the 2014 IPCC guesstimate for the year 2050
If they had gone with the IPCC value (which most of us probably  thought too low [Idid]) , the ranking as #52 would have been improved to about the 25th to 30th place (two scenarios).

Even if not as high as we might have liked, BECCS and DAC (our two main CDR competitors) didn’t make the list at all.

Many other aspects of biomass and biochar are included (energy, reforestation, soil measures, etc) - quite highly ranked.  So all is not as bad as I had feared.

More tomorrow.


Begin forwarded message:

From: "Dr. Jonathan Foley" <DrJFoley@...>
Subject: The Drawdown Review, New Website, Our Team is Growing
Date: March 7, 2020 at 6:15:03 AM MST
Reply-To: social@...

<snip the announcement>

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