[ADV] Re: [Biochar] Biochar Policy Recommendations to Address Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels

John Miedema


I couldn’t agree more. In my many years of doing research and development around biochar production and utilization I early on cam to the realization that the touting of biochar as what I like to call “The Great Black Panacea” will be seen as snake-oil and not be helpful to what we are doing and trying to do.


As Tom points out,  system integration is a pathway that we need to implement. Development of dedicated “skunkworks” type innovation campuses for advancement of sustainable systems,  is the best way I can think of to figure this out. A simple mass balance tells us pyrolysis of biomass needs hydrogen if there is going to be an economically viable liquid fuel derived from the process. Where is that hydrogen going to come from?  Electrolysis of wastewater via solar or wind derived electrons, methane from biodigesters (or natural gas- Cool Planet)? We don’t know because we have not had the opportunity to build the systems. – One of the main reasons we have lacked the opportunity to do this level of investigation and development is many of the loudest voices around biochar (and therefore the ones who have attracted the largest investments) have been selling the idea of biochar as opposed to doing the work of making and understanding biochar – where it works and where it does not.  




John Miedema

Founder, BioLogical Carbon LLC

Board Vice-president, Dry Farming Institute 








From: main@Biochar.groups.io <main@Biochar.groups.io> On Behalf Of Tom Miles
Sent: Monday, March 15, 2021 11:45 AM
To: main@Biochar.groups.io
Subject: [ADV] Re: [Biochar] Biochar Policy Recommendations to Address Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels




The general policy discussion should remain here in this forum so we can consider the comments at USBI and IBI. This level of discussion is not appropriate to communicate to Bev. Bev Paul is generously acting on behalf of a consortium of 27 representatives from 18 organizations to communicate priority achievable actions to the current US administration to align with current politics. We are currently looking for support through the Federal Register, legislative committees and legislators to launch these short term policy efforts. The timeline has been set by the January 27 Biden administration Executive Order on climate.


We see the need to broaden the conversation to include other processes which compete for the same pool of potential feedstocks. Many of the processes can be complementary, sharing the logistics of a billion tons of biomass (in the US).    







From: main@Biochar.groups.io <main@Biochar.groups.io> On Behalf Of Nando Breiter
Sent: Monday, March 15, 2021 10:19 AM
To: main@biochar.groups.io
Subject: Re: [Biochar] Biochar Policy Recommendations to Address Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels




There's a saying: for someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.


Pyrolysis isn't the right tool for every sustainability issue we face. The farther we go out onto a limb to claim it is, the greater the risk we will not be taken seriously. The right tool implies a viable pathway from concept to widespread implementation, economically, practically, technically. Being able to make some jet fuel in a lab doesn't make pyrolysis a means to replace fossil fuels. As I wrote, 2 well funded efforts to make liquid fuels from pyrolysis as small scale demonstration plants have failed, and the failure points were largely economic and practical rather than technical.


You see, people looking in from the outside of our echo chamber will doubt every claim we make. If I, for instance, make the claim that a certain specially processed mineral can improve soils and increase agricultural productivity, sequester vast amounts of atmospheric CO2, and be used to create carbon neutral jet and transportation fuel, that claim will elicit a substantial amount of doubt, particularly if I'm asking for financial or government support.


So, again, pyrolysis isn't the right / ideal tool for every sustainability issue we face. And the primary human reaction to any new claim is almost always doubt. There is a chance with the Biden administration that biochar can garner federal support for its core claim that it can be used to sequester carbon in a sustainable way. So I think that should be the focus of any policy appeal made.


Is it appropriate to send this comment on to Beverly Paul (bpaul@...)? I don't understand what the original post is asking for in this regard.




On Mon, Mar 15, 2021 at 3:16 AM Kim Chaffee <kim.chaffee2@...> wrote:

Nando and Rick,


Thanks for explaining the major challenges regarding turning organic matter into biofuels thru pyrolysis.  How would you solve the problem of the GHG emissions from aviation fuels?  Do you know of a better way?  Commercial passenger jets will not be replaced by planes powered by batteries and props in the foreseeable future.  


Why couldn’t we take abandoned or degraded farmland, of which there is an enormous amount all over the country and the world, and use it to raise switchgrass, which is a sustainable perennial.  Switchgrass grows quickly and can be harvested very efficiently, using existing mechanical equipment.  Build a biofuel/biochar pyrolysis plant right on the site to minimize transportation costs.  Use the biochar to add carbon to the soil.  The biochar would sequester carbon and improve the soil, while the biofuel could be used in commercial jet passenger planes.  Surplus biochar could be sold into the ag market or for other uses.  


This approach would require carbon credit funding for both the aviation fuel and the biochar, but I expect that will be coming soon, as climate change intensifies.  






On Mar 14, 2021, at 9:02 PM, Rick Wilson via groups.io <rick012@...> wrote:


Nando, You are spot on.


re Cool Planet, I was there ground zero.  I led the team that did the first mass and energy balance, and capital cost.  Then I moved to biochar. 


Fuels.  Capital expenses were extremely high on a per gallon of fuel basis.  They were applying technology used in refining. 

A Biorefinery can not achieve economies of scale that a refinery can because it can only procure biomass from a small area before trucking costs kill variable costs. 


And you can not produce liquid fuels, which have very high energy density, from biomass because wood has low energy density.  (Unless you find a way to violate the first law of thermodynamics)

So the system needs to be energized (with natural gas)   The use of natural gas to energize the think kills carbon negativity. 


The economies and energy balance started to look acceptable if you make more biochar, and less biofuels.  Problem is, a large market for biochar does not exist. 


I completely agree with our perspective that biochar should be focused on carbon sequestration. You can produce biochar at steady state without needing outside energy.  Biochar can also reduce water for degraded soils. 





On Mar 14, 2021, at 1:32 PM, Nando Breiter <nando@...> wrote:


I have a question. Why the emphasis on liquid biofuels in this document? Has there been some innovation since Dynamotive went bankrupt pursuing a very well financed effort to develop and commercialize liquid biofuels via pyrolysis?


I suppose my concern is that if we keep trying to spice up a pitch for biochar carbon sequestration with a we can have our cake and eat it too promise of liquid biofuels, then we may undermine our effort.


There are only so many carbon atoms in a given unit of biomass. If a thermal decomposition process emphasizes the production of flammable oils, most likely with energy intensive fast pyrolysis or high pressure pyrolysis, between the minor amount of char left as a byproduct and the carbon emissions that the entire production process create, a policy emphasis on such a process to replace fossil oil would simply accelerate the decomposition of available biomass to CO2.


I believe that Cool Planet also tried to follow this liquid biofuel path, again with very well financed effort. What happened to them?


While an argument could be made that liquid biofuels are "better" than fossil fuels, our current situation demands a focus on the sequestration of carbon - that biochar is uniquely able to provide. I understand the compromise from years past - maybe if we can get investment from fossil fuel interests looking to transition to biofuels, we'd finally have sufficient funds to make a substantial impact. But should this compromise continue to form a central pillar of our policy proposals, particularly with the Biden administration? Particularly when Dynamotive (and Cool Planet) spent many millions of dollars proving it was not financially viable unless and until oil shortages took hold? Dynamotive had only 2 prototype plants, and as I read, they were already concerned about potential shortages of affordable waste biomass streams. Where does this idea of liquid biofuels from pyrolysis lead in the medium to long term? Shortages of biomass driving up prices, the conversion of arable land from growing food to growing biomass for liquid biofuels?


Good policy should look ahead.


As a policy matter, I think the focus of biochar proponents should be squarely on the sequestration of carbon from available biomass waste streams, particularly now. I would assume that there are people in the Biden administration that are smart enough to recognize that there is something suspicious about a claim that a process using biomass can provide both burnable hydrocarbons and still sequester  carbon. Such a claim certainly sounds like greenwashing.


Am I missing something?








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On Sun, Mar 14, 2021 at 1:26 AM Tom Miles <tmiles@...> wrote:

"America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have an important role to play in combating the climate crisis and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by sequestering carbon in soils, grasses, trees, and other vegetation and sourcing sustainable bioproducts and fuels." J.R. Biden, Executive Order on Climate Jan 27, 2021 


USBI joins farm, forest, scientific, and environmental organizations to recommend policies which promote the production and use of biochar to achieve the natural resource and climate goals of the new administration. A Federal Register notice requesting comment on climate solutions is forthcoming. As many of you may be involved in providing responses to that notice, we are attaching here a short document of policy recommendations that will enable biochar development across cropland and forests. We hope that you will be able to include some or all of these recommendations in your comments.


Please let Beverly Paul (bpaul@...)  know if we can provide any additional background that might help with your comments.<image001.jpg>

Contact Beverly Paul bpaul@... or Chuck Hassebrook hassebrock@...



Tom Miles

Executive Director

U.S. Biochar Initiative

"Promoting the Sustainable Production and Use of Biochar"



Facebook US Biochar Initiative






Nando Breiter
CarbonZero Sagl
Astano, Switzerland



Nando Breiter
CarbonZero Sagl
Astano, Switzerland