Sunday, April 12, 2009

‘Biochar’ could ease Colorado beetle-kill pain

Aspen Times: As the U.S. Forest Service looks for ways to use vast amounts of beetle-killed wood, an ages-old process called biochar is emerging as an option. Pre-Columbian natives in North and South America already knew that adding charcoal to certain soils would help with fertility and water retention. Now, scientists say it can also help prevent the build-up of greenhouse gases.

“I got tuned into a different way of looking at our treatments for biomass,” said Bernie Weingardt, explaining how scientists working at Forest Service research stations started exploring the idea of trying to prevent the decaying wood from adding heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Weingardt is a retired Forest Service ranger who headed Colorado's Dillon Ranger District between 1986 and 1989. He later became the Pacific Southwest regional forester. He spoke Thursday morning at a forest health task force meeting in Frisco.

“We’ve been logging and burning all along and never looked at the carbon emissions issue,” Weingardt said. “So we started some pilot projects to track the carbon footprint.” Scientists with the agency’s research stations used data from biomass and co-generation facilities in the region to get an idea of how much carbon can be captured or used through alternate processes.The biochar process is yet another tool that could be used in conjunction with other treatments, he said.

Along similar lines, Summit County has started an ambitious composting program, combining wood chips from beetle-killed trees with other organic materials to manufacture a marketable product that can used in landscaping and re-vegetation projects.

One byproduct of the biochar process is a synthetic gas that can be used as fuel. Weingardt suggested that the gas could help run a pellet plant, or some other industrial facility that processes beetle-killed wood as part of a big-picture solution. At the end of the process, the charcoal can be used to amend soil. In California, vintners have been using it successfully to boost vineyard productivity, Weingardt said. It could also be used on a broader scale in reforestation projects….

The Pine Forest of Mio, 1858, from 36 Views of Mount Fuji

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