Carbon sequestration 2019

Using a small scale biochar project as a case study

See Carbon Sequestration 2020 Community Event

PROMPT CC4: Net carbon sequestration is an extremely useful action in order to meet the 1.5oC target under the Paris Agreement. Propose carbon sequestration validation schemes - metrics, instruments, oracles. You can be guided directly by a biochar usecase and or consider other forms of direct sequestration.

Prompt Host and Node: Sensorica lab in Montreal Communication: carbon-sequestration channel in Discord. For help, ask Bruce. Prompt management - CoMakery

Prompt Blurb

Stabilizing the climate requires less CO2 emissions and ways to extract carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon sequestration describes long-term storage of carbon dioxide or other forms of carbon. Carbon is naturally captured by the biosphere and stored in biomass. This is part of the Earth’s ecosystem services. Most biomass degrades and releases the carbon back into the atmosphere. Producing biochar from agricultural biomass waste, using a process called pyrolysis, is a way to fix the carbon stored in the biomass into a more stable form. How can the concepts of ecosystem services be integrated with processes of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and integrating it into the soil? How can we reliably measure the elemental carbon sequestered from the weighted biochar? Biochar's role in the continued health, fertility and productivity of the soil likely represents a kind of ecosystem service - especially where it involves the remediation of formerly degraded soils and lands. Furthermore how are the follow-on social and economic benefits of such remediation to be accounted for?

This prompt looks at carbon sequestration, its frameworks and certifications, using a case study of carbon sequestration. The context of our work will be a small project of biochar production and its use in agriculture, initiated by (Toledo, Ohio, USA) and Ndhiwa, a community in Kenya. We are going to consider the hardware and the IT infrastructure required for carbon sequestration accounting, solutions that can be deployed worldwide, while reaching deep into local and low-tech areas, from the small stakeholders Ndhiwa, Kenya to large industrial stakeholders.

Other active collaborators

  • Bruce D. Merlo, Sensorica, Montreal.

  • Jack SoRelle, CEO of Plenty4All

  • Tiberius Brastaviceanu, Sensorica, Montreal.

Considerations & provocations to imagination and learning

The environmental case for biochar: There are many good uses of agricultural biomass waste, but most of it is dumped and goes through a natural process of bio-degradation, which releases most of the carbon back into the atmosphere. Pyrolysis of agricultural biomass waste turns that carbon into a more stable form, biochar.

MRV (measurement, reporting and verification): Metrics can be established for sequestered carbon through the use of biochar, for example by weighing the produced biochar. These metrics can support carbon offset and ecosystem service credits that should be attributed to the end users of biochar. Perhaps new instruments need to be designed for measurement, with built-in validation and auditing processes that can be applied to small stakeholders scattered across the planet, potentially located in areas with low tech infrastructure. Measurements and validation could also be integrated into the pyrolysis kilns used to produce biochar, which can be designed for small scale or industrial scale operations.

The economy of biochar: The pyrolysis process produces biochar, but also combustible gas and pyrolysis liquids. Studies show that spreading biochar onto farm fields improves crop yields in some cases. Furthermore, biochar has other uses: water filtration, air decontamination, electromagnetic radiation protection, insolation, humidity regulation, etc.

In the context of the project with the Ndhiwa community, we are going to look at the whole-systems economy, where the utility of biochar and other pyrolysis derivative products can be amalgamated with the environmental benefits of carbon sequestration to create a model that can sustain biochar production, blending incentives through market exchanges and carbon credits.

Contribution opportunities

  • Propose hardware for production, measurement and validation of carbon sequestration using biochar

  • Propose carbon sequestration validation schemes - metrics, instruments, oracles

  • Propose carbon sequestration certification schemes and infrastructure

  • Propose IT infrastructure for incentivizing carbon sequestration through biochar, using market-based incentives and carbon credits.

  • Economic modeling, game theory

Background and Suggested Reading

Challenge Specifications

Carbon accounting and carbon sequestration, based on a real use case.

The use case

Jack SoRelle, retired educator living in Toledo, Ohio, USA, has created Through a local charity, Plenty4All provides three communities in Kenya with energy, food and water. Jack builds and tests prototypes in Toledo, Ohio, and uses the Internet to transfer his newly acquired knowledge and knowhow to a local communities in Kenya. Through Plenty4All associated with a local charity, Jack funds the replication of the prototype. This is a good example of how quickly low-tech applications can be developed and disseminated throughout the world.

Recently, Jack has designed and built a low cost, DIY biochar kiln (see video). He has sent the funds to Polycap Ogalo, a member of the Ndhiwa community in Kenya, to replicate it. Polycap should begin construction of the biochar kiln by mid-Nov, 2019. He will use it for pyrolysis of agricultural wastes such as grasses, stalks, canes and corn cobs. The biochar produced will be used to improve soils, increase crop yields, reduce runoffs and can be used to filter water.

Jack has plans to use the biochar created in Toledo in a variety of applications, focused on improving soils in raised beds, community gardens and small organic urban farms.

Another important application that will be tested is using biochar to remove agricultural runoffs that go into the Maumee River and flow into Lake Erie that feed the growth of toxic algae. This could help industrial agriculture with future compliance with respect to LEBOR (Lake Erie Bill of Rights) if it is not ultimately struck down.

Materials and budget

Dremel 300 (tool kits)

Extension cord

Dremel blades

55 gallon steel drum

Cement wire 2m

15 gallon steel

4f chimney pipe & base cost

2 pairs gloves

Nuts & Bolts

Pipe 6ft


5 gallon & bags


$ 76

$ 25

$ 23

$ 75

$ 30

$ 38

$ 33

$ 5


$ 15

$ 50




Carbon sequestration with biochar is affordable and accessible even to small farmers and communities, which is a requirement for large impact. New incentives in the form of carbon credits can help this practice to spread even faster, we are testing the model in Sub Saharan Africa.