Lesson plan: Investigating the effects of biochar on soil fertility

Download the lesson plan.

Biochar is a fine-grained, highly-porous charcoal produced from carbon-rich biomass feedstocks, including forestry waste, animal manures and agricultural waste products such as husks, shells and stover.(Stover is the dry stalks of crops such as corn, sorghum or soybean that remain in a field after harvest.) Biochar is produced by pyrolysis or gasification (heating the biomass with little or no air) in a process similar to the production of charcoal. However, the primary use of biochar is as a soil improver rather than a fuel. Biochar has been shown to add value to soils in terms of fertility, particularly to acidic soils. The exact details of the mechanism of action are not fully established, but it may act by filtering out and retaining nutrients from percolating water in the soil or by changing crumb structure. Biochar shows a mean residence time in the soil in the range of hundreds to thousands of years, making it a long-term carbon store (compared with uncharred biomass) and hence a long-term contributor to climate change mitigation. Also, some of the wastes proposed as feedstock for making biochar are currently burned or composted which returns all or part of their carbon to the atmosphere quickly and, in the case of anaerobic composting or landfilling, produces methane which is a more potent “greenhouse gas” than carbon dioxide.

There is a range of possible investigative work that can be done with biochar (or other substances that could affect soils and soil fertility). Some (as described in the IBI Biochar Trial Guide on the IBI website) is beyond the scope of schools. However, a medium-term student project at Advanced level could explore some biochar issues, and even at Introductory level, students could investigate the effect of adding biochar or charcoal to the growing medium used to grow seeds in pots.

April Foolery Redux: April Fool 2011 from Triple Pundit

Triple Pundit has compiled their April Fools stories here. I particularly like the one about McDonalds’ introduction of reusable hamburger buns.

Greenstone Folds ICT Footprinting Into Carbon Management Software

Read the full story at GreenerComputing.

The growing trend toward using IT for sustainability took a slightly recursive loop this week as Greenstone Carbon Management unveiled the latest version of its Acco2unt carbon management software.

Version 2.5 of the company’s enterprise carbon management tool includes analyses of carbon emissions from a range of ICT equipment, allowing companies to more accurately manage energy and emissions from their technology usage.

The Other Half of the Smart Grid Story

Read the full story at GreenerBuildings.

For the past several years, the electric utility industry has been focused on smart grid; and for decades, the automation and controls industry has focused on the efficiency of greener buildings. These two industries have largely operated in silos, despite the literal connections between the electric grid and the electric devices that consume energy.

Despite a tremendous focus on smart grid, there is little attention paid to consumption. If the smart grid industry is so concerned about efficiency on the grid, they should be equally concerned about the way electricity is consumed beyond the grid.

Green Supply Chain Growth a Catalyst for Change

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Earlier this year, IFS North America conducted a study among manufacturing executives to find out how many of them are currently a part of a green supply chain. It turns out that about 77 percent of them were. Most of the rest expect to be a part of a green supply chain in the next few years.

So what is a green supply chain, and why are so many manufacturers finding themselves part of one? A green supply chain takes into consideration not just financial cost of goods purchased from supply chain partners, but also the environmental footprint of the traditional supply chain with raw material supply, manufacturing and distribution — directly to a customer or through channels of distribution. Also taken into account are hazardous goods, consumption of natural resources like water, discharges to the atmosphere and other environmental impacts not only during product manufacture but over the product lifecycle through disposal and recycling.

IBM Reveals How Innovation Drives Sustainability Through Business

Read the full story at GreenBiz.com.

Innovation to help sustainability goals is coming from a variety of directions in some of the world’s largest companies, a panel of executives said today.

The event, sponsored by IBM and Esty Environmental Partners at the beginning of the Fortune Brainstorm: Green conference in Laguna Nigel, Calif., brought together an impressive panel of sustainability and corporate executives. All have participated since last year in the Sustainability Innovators Working Group, formed last year to develop new management systems and approaches to corporate sustainability.

The Carbon Footprint of Email Spam Report

Download the publication from McAfee.

Until now, spam’s impact has been measured in time, money, and aggravation. It turns out there is a massive environmental impact as well. McAfee recently commissioned climate-change consultant ICF International and spam expert Richi Jennings to calculate the environmental impact of spam. The results that came back were startling: The energy consumed in transmitting and deleting spam is equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million U.S. homes, with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions equivalent to 3.1 million passenger cars.

By taking an environmental approach to email spam, McAfee hopes to aid decision makers working to stem the tide of spam and open a timely conversation about how it affects the planet.

The Impacts of Telework Week 2011

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This report from Telework Exchange collects data from nearly 40,000 participants in Telework Week 2011, and finds that employees can save billions in commute costs while boosting productivity by working at home two days per week.

From the report:

  • Telework Week Snapshot: 39,694 employees teleworked during Telework Week – 10% of participants had never teleworked before; 22% previously teleworked on an ad-hoc basis; and 86% work for the Federal government
  • More Productive: Organizations and employees reported increased employee productivity during Telework Week
  • More Time & Money: Telework Week participants realized significant savings – gaining approximately 2 hours back into their lives each day spent teleworking, and saving approximately $2,730,229 total. Teleworking 2 days a week is an equivalent to $3,439 annual raise
  • More Involved: Managers have turned the corner on telework; 60% of organizations say their management is more open to and encouraging of telework vs. one year ago
  • More Telework: If all eligible Feds teleworked 2 days a week for a year, they would avoid driving 5.5 billion miles and save $3.8 billion in commuting costs

How Much Your Green Habits Really Save

Read the full story at Earth911.

Just how much plastic are you saving by toting that stainless steel water bottle around all the time? Did switching to paperless billing really save a tree, or just save you some hassle?

Let’s break it down by numbers. Check out this list of little green habits to try. By the end you’ll be convinced that every little bit does count!

5 Green Gadgets You Can Use Now

Read the full story at Earth911.

Itching for a new gadget? Here are five moderately priced devices you can use in your home to save energy, resources and, best of all, money.