Here is a question/discussion I posted in several different groups on "LinkedIn" and am curious to see what folks at the Permaculture Forums might have to say.
"Does anyone have any experience or information with making positive use of so-called "Invasive plants" such as Phragmites or Japanese knotweed for Biochar or Biofuels?
More specifically, any precedents for how governments and municipalities might implement such a program as a win-win alternative to the use of and addition of yet even more toxic herbicides to our biosphere?"
For the record:
1. I don't have any personal experience yet with producing either biochar or biofuel.
2. I completed a PDC in August 2008 (taught by Larry Santoyo, Toby Hemenway, Dave Jacke and other guest instructors).
3. I am a landscape architect with several years experience working for the NYC Dept. of Parks & Recreation supervising landscape construction and arboriculture in the field. I have seen the money and labor that is invested into the removal of these opportunistic plants on contracts with goals of natural restoration, not to mention the promotion and use of toxic synthetic herbicides.
4. My question is in no way implying or advocating for the industrial production or monoculture of the opportunistic species in question. This became a heated issue of contention with many on the Ecological Landscaping Association and ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architect) Groups.
5. I am seeking information on how others might have made use of pre-existing stands of these specific "invasive" plants for producing biochar and/or biofuel using appropriately scaled technologies (decentralized, non-toxic, carbon neutral or negative, easily repaired/operated, possibly made from recycled materials, etc...)
6. I am seeking alternatives to the use of synthetic herbicides and the ecological toxicity and corporate/government corruption and apathy there use supports.
7. If biochar or biofuel could be created from the biomass of these plants it could potentially create fuel for machinery/vehicles and biochar (preferably optimized with compost/compost tea) could be added to the soils where restoration and other landscaping efforts are proposed.
I volunteer at a wildlife refuge complex where we deal with a lot of non-native invasive plants (reed canarygrass, Himalayan blackberry, English ivy, false indigobush, japanese knotweed, yellow flag iris, canada thistle, etc. etc. etc.). I am not aware of anyone who has attempted to "harvest" these plants for some other purpose. It is usually kind of tough just to get to them, much less bundling them up and hauling them off.
The one exception at our refuge is hay fields. The main purpose of the refuge is to provide space & food for wintering waterfowl, mainly geese. So there needs to be large areas of short grass in the winter. They achieve this by finding a "cooperator" (farmer) to come hay the fields in the summer. The farmer gets to keep the hay in return for mowing the fields. In previous years they have achieved the same result by allowing a rancher to run their cows in the fields in the summer. However that requires a lot of fencing (& fence maintenance) which is a pain and is also counter to the open/wild feel that a refuge should have.
When possible, we try to cut/mow the plant while it is blooming (i.e. most of its energy is above ground), then when/if it resprouts, we spray just the resprouts with herbicide. Assuming that goes as planned, we come through and plant native plants (the refuge only allows plants that are native). If we don't plant something else, the bare ground just turns back into one of the invasives.
I am trying to get the refuge manager to let me try some more "permie" methods for conversion from non-native invasive plants to native ones, and I am beginning to wear him down but I still have a ways to go. Since I am just a volunteer, not an "expert", my ideas/opinions don't carry as much weight as others. But I have built up quite a bit of credibility over the years so I am optimistic that I will at least be able to do some experimental plots. I think my experiments are in line with your point #6.
In Bungoma, Kenya, Salim Shaban is making fuel and biochar from water hyacinth. He compresses the WH into briquettes that he burns as fuel in one of the new low-pollution pyrolizing stoves that produce charcoal as a byproduct. He has had a great deal of success with the biochar. This means that clearing the weeds (so necessary) doesn't destroy the carbon sink weeds are.
There's a neat video (in French) about the charring of Typha (cattails) into fuel charcoal : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPsw1YOaJDg - charcoal from Typha. They aren't making use of the pyrolysis gases, so the process can be improved. (in French)
Conversion of non food biomass byproducts and waste streams to biochar is certainly welcome. I am coordinator and key technology designer for EU Cimmission official biochar programmes and EU 27 biochar/compost standardization. Using non food biomass waste streams into biochar is OK, subject to that the applied biochar technology is truly environmental friendly and the output biochar products meets high ecological standards. Biochar application require Authority permit in the EU to put the secondary material into open ecological soil environment.
Specific EU biochar platforms: www.3ragrocarbon.com and an other with is coming up by the end of 2011 www.biocharforum.com
I'm interested in finding ecological uses for Japanese knotweed. Experimenting with how long it takes to solarize/steam stems and leaves so it can be safely used as a compost or mulch additive now. Making biochar with it seems like a win all the way around. It's been 8 years since this thread was active. Has anyone had tried either of these methods and could you let us know your findings? Thanks!
I have Japanese honeysuckles, wild nonedible blackberry bush and wild Roses growing along my fence lines. Just cut and dry these invasives, lit the vertical pile from top down. They burn super fast. In just 10 minutes, I got nice charcoal ready for biochar.
Many people advocate for only making biochar out of excess organic material. Invasive plants are certainly in that category. Many people also make biochar out of industrial waste, much of it organic. I don't get enough material out of invasives, but I have a food forest, and I'm always chopping off limbs that are in excess, so I use that.