128: Biochar – Old Carbon Capture is New Again

Matt and Sean discuss biochar and other carbon capture methods that may overlap to help manage human generated CO2. 

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “The Reality of Carbon Capture”: https://youtu.be/HrRq2lzQb08?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7cadIj6qpCWkg-tPzN1sgj

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Hey Everybody on today’s episode of still to be determined, we’re gonna be talking about biochar. Mm delicious. Nutri is biochar as usual. I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I read some sci-fi. I read some stuff for kids. And I’m curious about tech and with me, of course. You wouldn’t be here without him. It’s my brother, Matt of undecided with Matt Ferrell, Matt, how are you doing?

I’m doing pretty well. How about you? Are, are you staying cool? I see the fan

blowing behind you. Yes. The fan is spinning behind me and another fan was just purchased yesterday to sit in the kitchen, which usually our kitchen is just about warm enough to bake bread without using the oven. So we bought a fan in the hope of pulling some of that heat.

Out of the kitchen and so far so good. I, I think there’s a certain point where anytime you get a new fan, the moment you realize the air is moving, you’re like, oh, this is so much better. And then a couple weeks go by and you’re like, oh, it’s not actually doing anything, but right now we’re in the honeymoon phase of, oh, this is so much better.

So , but this is a timely entry into this episode because we’re gonna be talking about let’s write humans, carbon footprints. The very fan that I’m running to cool myself is using electricity, which depending on how it’s produced has produced carbon dioxide and the cycle continues. So , we’re talking about Matt’s most recent episode.

This is the reality of carbon capture. And if memory serves me right, Matt, you can correct me if I’m wrong. This episode dropped on July 26th, 2022. The reason I’m speculating about that is because YouTube has decided who needs dates. Dates are no longer a part of YouTube’s presentation of Matt’s videos.

I’m not sure if that’s a byproduct of Matt having passed 1 million subscribers. Congratulations, Matt, on achieving that lofty gold, but your video did not include a date. So YouTube is basically. It doesn’t matter when you produce this, it’s always gonna be relevant.

so this video was really about those very, very big background changes. Another one. We’ve had a couple of these in the past few weeks. Uh, you seem to be shuffling between. Here are products that you can have in your home and you can see them and you can touch them and you use them and know that I’m doing my part.

And then there are these other things which are systemic and societal and gigantic in scope. And they’re in the background and very hard for us to really know. Am I using this? Is this a part of my, is my community doing, this is, this is one of those things, because what you’re talking about is carbon capture that would be taking place in one of you basically talk about two different methods.

One, which seems basically like scrubbing you, take the, the exhaust out of whatever. uh, production method you’re using and you’re scrubbing the exhaust to remove the carbon and capture it that way. Yep. And the other way, which is you effectively describe it as a shortcut, a speeding up process of naturally occurring carbon capture.

So you have the methods. Yes. That would be, uh, the creation of biochar is one of them. I believe. Would you say that’s the speeding up process. It’s taking the natural breakdown that would take place over thousands of years and saying, let’s do it today. And the other method that’s talked about was the base salt method where you’re, you’re effectively taking erosion.

And speeding up that process. Yep. By adding base all to agricultural settings so that the carbon capture that would naturally take place happens faster. And these technologies, you talk about basically two streams, they kind of overlap. Which one of these is further along in development, it seems like the organic speeding up process is the one that is the newest

approach, sort of the, the organic, like, like, uh, the biochar method is something we’ve known about for an incredibly long period of time.

And there’s a lot of research papers into it. Enhanced weather. is something we’ve known about for a while, but there’s not as much research into it. Right. Um, it’s still kind of early days for having lots of papers that can kind of explain how, like, how much you should be using what kinds of rocks and makeup and soil and all that kind of stuff.

So there’s still some unknowns around that for the impacts that it will have beyond your intended goals. Mm-hmm of using it. But I would, I would kind of say, I don’t think it’s. Necessarily which one of these is newer, like the mechanical scrubbing the air versus the organic. It’s more of a, who’s getting all the attention right now.

Yeah. Where is all the money going to, and right now, when you’re talking about carbon capture technologies, mechanical stuff is the direct air capture is getting all the attention. Lots of funding. That’s where a lot of people look. But the reason I wanted to make this video is cuz it’s like, here’s these natural approaches.

that can have a huge benefit and it can help with things like regenerative farming and help with our agriculture and make our crops better. And then at the same time, there’s sequestering carbon. It’s like we don’t necessarily have to build these gigantic machines to pull all the carbon outta the air we can lean into, we can lean into these natural approaches and it’s, those areas tend to be a little underfunded, not getting all the attention because it’s not very exciting to say here’s a piece of charcoal.

Grind it up. Sprinkle it on your land. Yeah. It’s like, it’s not that exciting to kind of, do you

think it’s a little bit of out of sight out of mind that I do people walk around, drive around, fly over our cities and they’re like, look at all those smokestacks. Look at all those plumes of smoke that are coming out of these things, that is something that they can see in their everyday life.

It’s a little harder to drive past a farm and think, thank goodness that farm is capturing all that carbon mm-hmm it’s it doesn’t have the same tangible quality to it. And I wonder if that’s a part of it.

Well, I, I think there’s also an aspect of, depending on who you talk to, I, I tend to hear this from.

Academics and researchers and scientists tended the point of view of the only way we can get out of this catastrophe we’re rapidly heading towards is, um, large scale regulatory means, um, basically governments coming in saying we’re changing whole swaths of industries. We have to turn. That’s the only way we can make a change.

You can’t do it on an individual level. Right. Then there’s other people that say, and I’m in this. Let’s do it all. It’s like, , it’s like, right. You know, to get people on board, you have to have individuals that are willing to take extra steps to do what they can, which is what you brought up earlier of.

Like I do videos about here’s this thing you can get for your home today and put it in your house. Here’s things you can start doing today to help do your own thing. Right. I think that’s as important as the gigantic regulatory shifts, which is why I’m doing videos that go back and forth between the two, because some of those larger topics are outta sight, outta mind, right.

That you bring up, it’s like, Most people don’t even know this stuff’s happening in the background. And if you don’t know, then you don’t know to go to your Congress person or, you know, representative and say, Hey, what are we doing in our local community about this. It’s like, that’s the whole reason. It’s like, I think it’s important to be bringing up these topics so that more people are aware of it and know what to ask about.

Yeah. And to give a little bit of free advertising for your sponsor for the video. Yeah. The, the website, Ren w R E N is a tool that allows you to see what in your daily life are you doing that is having these kinds of impacts, letting you, and as Matt points out in his. In his reference to the sponsor, they help you understand where you shop, what you purchase, how these things, where you play a part where you bank.

Yeah. All the, how these things play a part, because I mean it divestiture of, of. Fossil fuel stocks in investment portfolios is really only just now starting to really take shape where companies and banks and I work for a place that has a stock portfolio and endowment. And it was just a few years ago that they were like, we’re gonna we’re we’re now fully removing fossil fuel from our.

Investments it is considered such a safe investment. And that is what is enticing. The fact that it is also a key source of the problem, and people don’t know what their personal footprint looks like. So re is a place to go find that out. And I, and I. Made note of that as I was watching the video and realized you were U that they were your sponsor for the video.

I, I wanted to call that out again,

and they’re not a sponsor of this podcast but one of the things I find most interesting about is like how you said they’re, uh, dive divesting from where they’re investing their money. Like there’s an investment company called wealth front, where you can put in money into savings or investment funds, IRAs, things like that for yourself.

And I think it was like a year ago, they introduc. You know, you can actually earmark like saying I want my investments to be going to sustainable, renewable energy. Yeah. Funds not to any businesses that are producing carbon. So you’re seeing this more and more and more. Yeah. And it’s those kind of, this is why I make the argument of individual versus regulatory.

It’s both, it’s not either, or right. It’s like we have to take every tact. I’m making the choice that my investments will go into sustainable energy versus carbon producing oil companies. That’s gonna have an impact when you have hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people that are doing this mm-hmm it’s it’s gonna make a collective impact.

Mm-hmm there was some comments on the video that I thought were stood out as good conversation starters, like this one, which was from Relic, who was responding to a conversation between two other commenters. And Relic asks about biochar. How is this different from normal charcoal, you heat wood or any organic matter, really in a low oxygen environment.

When you make normal charcoal, this biochar sounds like regular charcoal rebranded. So I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond to that. it’s essentially,

it is essentially that you’re, it’s the way you produce the charcoal is the way you produce the charcoal. It’s just referred to as biochar in the industry.

It’s not referred to biochar by the average show on the street. right. Calling it biochar is an industry thing more

than anything else. So when it comes to the protection of biochar, it’s really not about a brand new thing. It’s about utilizing something in a different.

yes. I mean, when you’re creating biochar, you’re creating you’re, you’re like a, a tree that’s biodegrading on, on the land.

It’s just gonna, it’s gonna slowly be rotting and breaking apart. And a lot of that carbon that’s embodied in the tree is gonna be just breaking off and turning back into carbon, uh, covered dioxide mm-hmm when you create biochar, you’re basically creating a stabilized version. of that solid CO2 that will not do that.

Right. So that’s, that’s what happens naturally. Like when a tree gets buried deep underground, and it’s like, you know, all that pressure and thousands of years, and it turns into a charcoal underground, it’s like, that’s what’s happening. And we’re just, this is just a process, like he brings up, but you can do this.

on your own, right. It’s possible to do this in your backyard. It’s not anything brand new. It’s just doing it at a massive. It’s basically mass producing. It is what it, what

it is. Right. And then a big part of it is going to be for those people who are like, well, if this is just charcoal, what’s the big deal.

How is that helping? The thing to remember is that you are then not taking that charcoal and burning it for correct fuel in a grill or. Fuel production somewhere else,

sort of this, this is where it gets like where people get, it gets kind of controversial because you can, it’s like you could take this Bouch car and then you could use it in the power plant or in a power plant mm-hmm to produce electricity.

And you’d say, well, you’re just putting it back in the atmosphere. Well, the whole idea is it’s a closed loop system in theory, because the CO2 goes in, the atmosphere tree grows from that CO2 collapses. You turn into biochar, you burn it. And so it’s like, it’s a closed loop system. Mm-hmm . When we’re sucking up oil from underground, we’re taking sequestered CO2 and adding it back into the atmosphere.

It’s not a closed loop system anymore. So it’s like, there’s, that’s where it’s like, you could burn it. Right. And in theory, you’re not adding, you’re just moving it around. so keep that in mind.

I think that’s the model that escapes it escaped. like what the difference between the two is and recognizing a closed loop system where you, like you said, the tree becomes the fuel.

The fuel becomes the gas, the gas feeds the tree. I can now see that as a closed loop system. So that’s, that’s biochar is

accelerating biochar, basically accelerating that system. So we don’t have to wait thousands of years for that chart to be created. We’re , we’re just stepping our foot on the gas to get it quicker.

there was also this comment from John Jacoby who wrote extraction of CO2 from seawater, seems like a better option since liquid chemistry is more efficient than Gass. There’s also some, there are also some companies proposing using CO2 from seawater to make jet fuel. Please do a video on this. So the second point about companies that are using CO2 to make jet fuel from seawater.

I think that is a fascinating thing. Mm-hmm but I wanted to bring this up mainly because I think that the first point extraction of CO2 from seawater seems like a better option. I think that is a response that indicates that maybe John has missed the key point of the video. The point was not CO2. Usage and where to farm it.

It was how to take what we’re currently producing and keep it from being in the atmosphere, sequestering it so that it does not have that impact. So. John, thank you for the recommendations as far as like the fuel, the jet fuel stuff. And, and also the tech around seawater CO2 extraction is interesting because there is an aspect to CO2 capture in environments where water is basically being poisoned.

So that is an element that is an important thing to. To keep in mind. But ultimately I just wanted to say, from my perspective, it seems like the point of your video was not about where are we gonna get our CO2, but what are we gonna do with all this CO2?

Yeah, we, we, we have too much, we’re making too much, right.

We’re throwing things outta balance. So we gotta find a way to better utilize it and sequester it and get things back in balance.

Also wanted to share this one from Seth who wrote, I was hoping you would talk about regenerative agriculture, rotational grazing. Yeah. Silver pasture, water harvesting, and wetland restoration.

I believe these things could make a massive impact of done on scale. Imagine how much CO2 is held in soils. If we just raise the organic content a few percent. Yeah. So I wanted to bring that up. I imagine these are things that are probably on your.

Yeah, I, I, I kind of mentioned that using biochar leans into regenerative farming.

It’s, it’s, it’s something that’s definitely on my radar. I’ve been reading a lot about talking to people about it. There’s some open questions I have around. It’s not a silver bullet because there’s even with biochar on agricultural land. There’s a saturation point. There’s, it’s not like you just do this every year for every year forever.

And you keep sequestering more carbon. There’s a point at which you kind of saturate it. And you basically stop. Yeah. for a certain period of time. So it’s like, there’s this a benefit, a short term benefit from doing this more widely, but it only gets you so far. And then the benefits start to drop off, right.

As far as sequestering CO2. So there’s, there’s pros and cons to it. My, my thing is. It makes the crops healthier. You know, it makes farming more lucrative. Mm-hmm it’s like for me. So it’s like, it’s not just about the co sequestering CO2. It’s also about the benefit. It brings to the farmer to the food, to the production.

So there there’s a there’s pros. From multiple

angles on this. Speaking of all of those angles, I wanted to share this one from Ferraro who wrote, I would like to see more research into the stability of biochar when it’s used in farming, when it’s eaten or put in the soil, does it actually stay as elemental carbon?

I feel like there’s to be some bacteria that when given nutrients, rich soil and carbon and water is going to do something to the carbon and there are some naturally occurring oxidizing compounds. So. That’s another part of this, you mentioned in your video that they’re putting all this in the farmland, and then they’re saying, how does this impact things larger even to the point of, is it keeping natural biodiversity in the soil from maintaining itself are earth worms not able to function when these things are added to the soil?

Yeah, it, it, it’s a my video goes like this deep into this, but when I talked to Josiah from, uh, about biochar, right? One of the things he raised to me a couple times was there when it comes to biochar, specifically not enhanced weather, but biochar specifically there’s over 15,000 studies and research papers.

Mm-hmm that have been done on this. So it’s not like we don’t know some of the answers to some of. There are some debates as to like around some of this stuff and the stuff I was finding at that skin deep level I was getting into was it really is highly dependent on what materials are used to make the biochar, the exact process of the making, of the biochar and then the soil type and what the chemistry of that soil that you’re actually applying to.

Right. The combinations of those three things can have radically different effects, right? So when you, when you go into this basical, The companies that are doing this, you have chemists and scientists that are figuring out what the makeup is and doing testing to make sure that they’re applying the right stuff to the right things, to get the biggest benefit.

Yeah. So it’s like, it’s, ,

it’s complicated. I was watching, as I watching the video, I was thinking boy, and, and Matt and I come from, uh, farming stock. We have, uh, In our family history, farm owners in Iowa, um, generations of, of farming that took place in our family history. And this was really a video that for the first time made me think, wow, it’s really moved away from your little family farm to, you’ve got to be a chem.

A botanist, a metal gist. You’ve got to like the, the engineering that goes into farming is intense. It is not just a, you dig a, you dig a row and you plant your corn. It is like all the stuff that you’re talking about is, is intensely complicated. And I’m, I’m really in awe of the, the people who have to get into.

I’m I’m,

I’m like, I’m fascinated by farmers because I think they’re like the unsung heroes of the world. It’s like, they have to be engineer. Like you said, engineers, you know, repairing their tractors and their har their mechanical things that break down all the time. They’re having to be, like you said, almost like botanists and chem and chemists to figure out like what materials they need to put on the crops and all that kinda stuff.

Rotating what crops they’re building. And I mean, growing and all that kind of stuff. So it. It’s a very complicated job that I think most people don’t think about or know about. Yeah. Yeah. It’s, it’s incredible.

This last comment from Kent who wrote what is also amazing about biochar is that it preserves the cellular structure of the original plan.

But now it’s almost a hundred percent carbon. This means that very porous carbon products, like it is like a carbon styrofoam. This porosity allows it to retain water near the plant roots, retain fertilizer near the plant roots and create a microbiome that really enhances plant yield. I thought that was an interesting little detail.

Thank you for that Kent. So

I was gonna say there’s so many smart people that watch these videos there are and drop

knowledge. Like that’re speaking of those smart people. You gotta jump into the comments. You can jump into the comments on Matt’s original video, which is where obviously I’ve pulled these comments, or you can also jump into the comments on this podcast.

You can do it through the contact information and the podcast description or on YouTube. You just scroll beneath the video and you can leave a comment there. And I’m curious. What do you all think about this? Speeding up of natural processes as a way to combat our carbon footprints on the planet? Is it like walking on the beach with a broom and just sweeping away your footprints behind you?

Or is it, is it having more of an impact than that? Let us know. Remember, if you’d like to support the show, please consider reviewing us on apple podcast, Google, Spotify, or wherever it was. You found this. And if you’d like to more directly support us, you can go to still tbd.fm and click the, become a supporter button.

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