Sunday, October 10, 2010

Energy ... relevant knowledge and its utility

Dear Colleagues

There is a huge amount of knowledge on this planet ... rather little of it being used to best effect. Recently I came across this message at ... a LinkedIn group where I am a member. The group is Biochar Haiti, a subgroup of Biochar Offsets. I do not know whether this link will work for non-members of LinkedIn.

The challenge is for good knowledge to be used more ... and for bad knowledge to be sidelined. As far as I can see there is no easy mechanism to differentiate between good information and misinformation. The modern political process, especially in the United States, is now dominated by money, advertising and misinformation. This is not much different from corporate advertising and PR that aims to sell product and the corporate image no matter what level of misinformation is involved. Corporate advertising is almost always legal ... but its societal value is often highly questionable.

The knowledge in this message is about vegetation that may be used for various valuable purposes ... in this case specifically in Haiti. I am not sure at all how good this information is ... and I do not know how to get a reading on how valuable this is. There ought to be a way.

This is another area where The Burgess Method can help. If a specific instance of the use of this knowledge is documented quite simply using the concepts of value accounting ... then the cost and the progress can be on the record, and the ideas replicated if they work, and ignored if they don't. If what appears to be a good idea based on credible knowledge does not work, it should be possible to learn about it and fix what needs fixing.

There are two information feeds that are needed. There is the one that is purely technical and operational to get the thing working as well as possible. There is another that is simply about progress and performance. TBM starts off with a beginning "state" ... then there is a period of activity ... and then an ending "state". If the ending "state" is better than the beginning "state" there is progress. Performance is the relationship between the cost of the activities and the value of the progress.

My guess is that the following is a good idea. However, I would really like to see some quantified facts about this at a specific time and place to see whether it is really a good idea or not.

Peter Burgess
Vetiver as a biofuel for Biochar
First let me say that I have no claims to being a Biochar expert but I do like what I hear and read. The Vetiver Network International promotes various applications of the Vetiver System (VS) that is dependent on the the use of the unique plant vetiver grass - Chrysopogon zizanioides.

Its taken us some 20 years to get the world to take notice of the VS, due partly because of the very extensive reporting and library archives at TVNI's website at and also to many many users and enthusiasts around the world and the networking that goes with it.. Today a lot of people are using vetiver for all sorts of applications based on proven project work under all sorts of conditions in the tropics and semi tropics.

For those of you involved in Haiti VS does provides one of a number of technologies necessary for the rehabilitation of land and agriculture. That is why Mike Mahowald, the WINNER project and others are expanding the use of vetiver applications. The more vetiver applications that a Haitian farmer can benefit from, the more likely he is to use it. That is why I am excited about the new use of vetiver for composting toilets. It is also why I encourage you Biochar folks to seriously work to find ways of using vetiver as a fuel for cooking. Remember about 200 meters of vetiver hedgerow will provide sufficient fuel for a family of six for one year. Most farmers on sloping lands in Haiti could eventually have much more than 200 meters. Far better to cut vetiver, located on ones doors step for fuel than trudge miles to cut fuel from the fast disappearing forests! I hope that those of you who work in Haiti might partner with Mike and WINNER and move this process forward.
The following comments have been made ... mine will appear also in due course!
From Criss Juliard •
I support Dick Grimshaw's vision of seeing Vetiver used not only for soil erosion control and as a pioneer plant to retain soil humidity in reforestation areas, and compost toilets but also as an ideal plant that households are encouraged to multiply and plant to delimit their farm plots. Haitians in several zones have been using vetiver for that. However, most Haitians know the plant for its roots, which are used in the essential oil sector (but mostly in the in the South/Les Cayes area).

What is not harvested are Vetiver's tall leaves, which when trimmed regularly regrow quickly and can be easily turned into Biochar pellets. A person to contact at WINNER project who coordinates Vetiver activities and who can lead you to sources of vetiver plants is Luders "Junior" Luc (Vetiver Coordinator) at WINNER: email: With the advent of Biochar, we can increase Vetiver's value through a legitimate use of its massive leaf system.

From Otto Formo •
Any type of dry biomass, inclusive Vetiver gras can be used as fuel in a TLUD for cooking. We are planning to bring in moblie units of equipment to make those different types of biomass into pellets to fuel the TLUD ND Peko Pe Energy Unit. One "standard" of fuel need only one "standard" of TLUD`s, thats our philosophy. Just bring Mike to us and we will give it a try, we belive in cooperation. Dont forget that the Peko Pe Energy Unit was introduced by Paal Wendelbo in Uganda in the early 1990`s as the "Grasburner" to be used in Adjumani refugee camp. We will soon release a short documentary from Kampala made in 1996. Criss, I dont get you when you are talking about biochar pellets? You dont mean to make the char into pellets? I have seen some have mentioned that as an option, but why not make the biomass into pellets from the beginning?
Your end product will be "biochar-pellets".


  1. This is my comment at the LinkedIn group!

    Dear Colleagues

    On the face of it, this is a good idea ... these are good ideas. But it would be so much easier to get traction with the ideas, and to get financial support for the ideas if there were some meaningful metrics that everyone can rely on. This is what I am trying to do with The Burgess Method (TBM) of value analytics. The key question that needs an answer is simply the cost of activities versus the progress realized because of the activities. Progress is simply the improvement in the "state" of the community between before the activities and after the activities. All of this is similar to business accounting and reporting, except it is about community value rather then business profit.

  2. Recent NATURE STUDY;
    Sustainable biochar to mitigate global climate change

    Not talked about in this otherwise comprehensive study are the climate and whole ecological implications of new , higher value, applications of chars.

    the in situ remediation of a vast variety of toxic agents in soils and sediments.
    Biochar Sorption of Contaminants;

    Dr. Lima's work; Specialized Characterization Methods for Biochar
    And at USDA;
    The Ultimate Trash To Treasure: *ARS Research Turns Poultry Waste into Toxin-grabbing Char

    the uses as a feed ration for livestock to reduce GHG emissions and increase disease resistance.

    Recent work by C. Steiner showing a 52% reduction of NH3 loss when char is used as a composting accelerator. This will have profound value added consequences for the commercial composting industry by reduction of their GHG emissions and the sale of compost as a nitrogen fertilizer. ,

    Since we have filled the air , filling the seas to full, Soil is the Only Beneficial place left.
    Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.

    Thanks for your efforts.

    Erich J. Knight
    Chairman; Markets and Business Review Committee
    US BiocharConference, at Iowa State University, June 27-30