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Jock Gill

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since Jan 09, 2012
Jock Gill is founder of PhotoPyroWorks, a bioenergy consultancy.  Previously he was the co-founder of Biomass Commodities Corporation (BCC) and President of the Grass Energy Collaborative (GEC).  Since 2005, Jock has been dedicated to the creation of a biofiber energy sector that produces biofuels and land stewardship tools to promote economic development, a healthy environment and energy independence.

Before committing himself to the renewable energy movement, Jock was a leading consultant whose work focused on new media communications, marketing and strategic planning.  His client list included the Hewlett Packard Company, The Black Forest Group, ASCII Corp of Japan, General Motors Europe, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, Highlands Forum and The Dutko Group. In 1993, Jock took a break from consulting to join the Clinton Administration as the Director of Special Projects in the Office of Media Affairs at The White House.

Jock is married to Dr. Johanna Branson and together they have three grown daughters.  They split their time between the Northern Vermont and Boston, Massachusetts.
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Recent posts by Jock Gill

Erica,

I read your note and admire you for admitting your bias. I hope you will not mind if I suggest a few ideas that reflect my pro- biochar bias.

You write: 'There is a central process involved (fermentation and distillation / combustion) but the goals are almost completely opposite (clean complete combustion into gas / smoky pyrolization with non-burned byproducts). And as a rocket stove enthusiast, I am somewhat biased to regard biochar as... well, maybe slightly more attractive than slug bait."

If you were to make a small TLUD, perhaps as shown in the Biochar ACtivity Kit", <http://www.greaterdemocracy.org/archives/1316>; you would see for yourself that even a simple TLUD in a 15 oz can is NOT very smokey. Quite the opposite. A well tuned device burns pyrolytic gases much cleaner than burning solid biomass -- with many fewer nasty by-products than your average wood stove. Particulate matter, especially at the micron level, in the exhaust stream of combustion systems is always an issue. Please watch this video to see how smoke free pyrolysis can be: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg95KYrH8PI>. Further, the byproduct, charcoal, is not unburned at all. Burning = combustion. Pyrolysis is NOT combustion. Rather, the biochar is the harvest of carbon that photosynthesis has pulled from the atmosphere. It also converts the carbon from easily oxidized organic carbon to difficult to oxidize elemental carbon. It is this conversion that give biochar its longevity in the soil. It is this long residence time in the soil, the retardation of the natural carbon cycle, that leads many to say that biochar is carbon negative. Every one pound of biochar put in the ground has removed 3 pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere. This removal of CO2 from the atmosphere is a good thing. Why not embrace it?

Fundamentally, a TLUD is not a Rocket Stove. Nor is a retort a rocket stove. A well designed TLUD, for example, could be used to provide the thermal energy to heat a thermal mass as in a RTM heater. The difference is that it would take more feedstock to offset the carbon being harvested for use as a soil amendement. This extra biomass improves the efficiency of the systems removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. And a TLUD powering a thermal mass heater would be carbon negative, which the Rocket Stove is not. In this way the biomass, perhaps wood, would have at least three functions in the stack: heating your home, providing carbon for your garden, and lessening the CO2 load in the atmosphere. What is not to like?

A consideration I do not see any mention of is simply this: what would be the impact on forests if millions of people started to use large amounts of wood in a HugelKultur raised bed garden? Further, it would appear that the wood and its carbon will need to be restored every few decades. If a mix of biochar and compost were used instead, it would deliver benefits for many times longer than the use of simple raw biomass. Thus the use of biochar and compost would extend the use of the garden without the need for regular infusions of woody biomass. Evidence: the vitality of centuries old terra pretta.

Note: Biochar is sterile and empty when it comes out of the TLUD or retort. It is important to "charge" it with nutrients, minerals, water, and microbes before adding it to your soil. Mixing it with good compost, perhaps with some sea salts, is a great way to "charge" the biochar.

In the above scenario, it is important to understand that the biochar does not have to be made from wood. I have made excellent biochar from grass. Others have done so with many other materials, waste streams, including paper and sewage sludge.

In the end, we both want the same thing: A new world that is better than simply sustainable. Raised beds are great. Thermal mass heaters are great. Compost is great. Being carbon negative is certainly attractive. Food, water and energy security are all highly valuable goals. I suspect we also agree that it is important to do more with less, thus I am sure you too support energy positive housing.

Finally, in the end, the use of biomass for energy is at best a bridge to a future that has found better ways to get the job done. And I do NOT mean nukes

Regards,

Jock





7 years ago
For those who want to learn more about biochar, I recommend a couple of books as a good place to start:

1 The Biochar Revolution
http://biochar-books.com/TBRDetails

2. The Biochar Solution by Albert Bates of "The Farm" in TN.
http://www.biocharsolution.com/

Lastly, master gardener Doris Hamill of NASA/Langley organized "The Biochar Activity Kit" - an educational tool for grades 9 - 12
http://www.greaterdemocracy.org/archives/1316

Have fun,

Jock
7 years ago
Paul,

I am working on developing a set of reinforcing relationships as my family looks at trying to put all of this into action on 40,000 sq. ft. 4 miles from down town Boston. Carbon negative Energy+ houses, permaculture -- on a small scale, perhaps use some ideas from Transition towns and from Co-housing as well. Our potential builder is eager to help as he also wants to expand what it is we mean when we talk about housing, community, food, energy independence, and climate disruption in an urban setting.

I wil also try to find those other threads you mention. I am not really interested in to getting into theoretical arguments about how many angels fit on the head of a pin. I much more oriented to putting ideas into practice. I am a show me, don't tell me type who trusts but verifies. 2012 will be an interesting year of new developments and various transitions.

Cheers,

Jock
Paul,

Your post on using wood as a foundation for gardening looks very interesting. The first season's problem is the same as we see when raw biochr is placed in the soil. It is much better to pre-load it with nutrients, microbes, minerals and water BEFORE it is used as a soil amendment.

Question: Why not add in some red worms, biochar and mycelium? These might just "super charge" the pile. It would also be interesting to try a comparison: 1 mound with trees and 1 mound with lots of biochar and compost. The mound with the oxidation resistant biochar should retain its valuable carbon much longer. See, for example, the staying power of carbon in centuries old Terra Pretta in Amazonia.

Lastly, do you know of the work of Jen Pain in France: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Pain There are already several of his designs implemented in VT.

As for my earlier note: My suggestion was to identify groups with related and complimentary interests and to then reach out to them. It should be possible to develop collaborative relationships to further spread ALL of the ideas. People need shelter, food, water, and, often heat. Hugelkultur only appears to address food. How could it find partners who are interested in Shelter? Energy? Water? As you know, I believe that the co-products of pyrolysis, biochar and thermal energy, do, in fact, support the need for heat, suppor food via gardening, and can help keep water clean as well as clean up already contaminated water. They can also provide the supplemental heat required by Energy+ houses that have no furnaces, thus also supporting innovative housing as well.

Regards,

Jock
Paul,

For starters, I would put a link to the article in the very first post in this thread. Currently it is a pain to have to leave this thread to hunt around for it. Make the "end-user experience" fun an d easy -- not obscure.

Secondly, I would look to find ways to break down silos. Make a list of all of the ideas that are compatible with permaculture and then find leaders in each field and work with them?

Cheers,

Jock
Ernie,

Thank you for your long reply so I will try to respond to a few key points. Glad you liked the links. I hope others will also study them.

1. Biochar is not activated carbon. Pyrolysis does, however, convert basic organic carbon into elemental carbon which is far more resistant to oxidation than organic carbon. Thus burying biochar has a much longer payoff in terms of carbon sequestration than simply burying biomass.

2. I am not sure what you mean by not saving much. Hoever, we do NOT combust the biomass. If we did, it would not be pyrolysis and we would create ash, not charcoal. I would argue that the resulting biochar has far more value than simple mineral ash. Biochar is now selling for between $200 and $1,200 per ton. I do not believe there is even a market for mineral ash from combustion.

3. Question: How well does chicken litter work in a RMH? We can pyrolyize it just fine, altho the biochar does have a high ash content.

4. I concur about the problem with methan hydrates. A very serious problem indeed.

5. I concur. There is no silver bullet. Neither RMH nor Biochar. We need all of the buckshot we can get.

6. As we can use most any feedstock in a pyrolysis process, there is no need to use wood at all. It is a red herring to argue, as Biofuels Watch often does, that biochar is a threat to the forests of the world. Quite the opposite. Pyrolysis, by not using wood fuels, promotes aforestation.

7. All of the above will become more clear when you play around with the Biochar Kit. You will find the collection of references to be most useful. If you have any questions at all about the kit, please ask me and I can get answers from the team that assembled it. I know that Paul Stamets inoculates biochar with mycelium and calls it mycrochar. It appears to be a wonderful combo. He has even TMed the name.

As I sometimes say, I play with fire and put folks in touch with their inner pyro. I really look forward to your results from fooling around with pyrolysis. Do be careful. Even small iCans develop temps around 1,000 degrees F.

Many thanks for a stimulating conversation.

Cheers,

Jock




7 years ago
Ernie,

Glad to hear from you.

I am also glad for you if you live where there is abundant charcoal in the soils! if you follow the postings of Erich Knight, you would learn of many other uses for biochar: aquaculture, animal feed, storm water runoff mitigation, soil remediation for various contaminants, nutrient management on farms, use in latrines, water filtration, and much more.

As for energy, once started, a very simple and easy process, pyrolysis basically sustains itself via a parasitic load on the thermal energy created during the pyrolysis process or on the heat generated by combusting the pyrolytic gases. For example, a simple TLUD could quite easily be configured to power a masonry heater. To learn more about TLUDs, please check out this very simple design:

http://www.greaterdemocracy.org/archives/1393

This video shows how simple it is to get a TLUD in a 55 gallon barrel started:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg95KYrH8PI

A few photos of a simple iCan TLUD being used for cooking. When the meal is cooked, you have also produced some biochar for your compost pile.

7 years ago
Ted,

It is true that biochar is not readily available just yet. This will change quite rapidly, perhaps starting as soon as 2013. Recently, the Sonoma Biochar Initiative took delivery of 11 tons of biochar. So the availability issue is already starting to be solved. Meanwhile, please take a look at Doug's video mentioned above.

As biochar should be mixed with compost before adding to the soil, I expect that the replenishment you speak of is well covered. And of course pyrolysis also solves the methane problem as well.

In any case, the transition from combustion to pyrolysis is just getting started.

Regards,

Jock
7 years ago
Gents,

Many thanks for the comments.

Ken: Worth trying. The gases contain vaporized tars and such that are prone to condensing into a hot mess. Best to combust the pyrolysis gases as they emerge from the pyrolysis chamber. Keeps thing much simpler.

Dale: We are still pretty much in stealth mode and do not have any formal literature at this time. I expect that we will build 4 or 5 of the energy+ houses on our site about 4 miles from down town Boston within the next 12 -18 months. I concur that rocket stoves are far superior to all fossil fuel based solutions. Combustion, however, does accelerate the carbon cycle and is not carbon negative. Why not take the wood waste stream you currently combust but transition to pyrolysis? You'd get all of the benefits you currently get, plus you would be retarding the carbon cycle by sequestering the biochar in your compost/garden? To say nothing of improving soil health etc.

The developer's web site is here: http://transformations-inc.com/

You might find this video on a TLUD heating a retort to be of interest. Thanks to Doug Clayton & Hugh McLaughlin.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg95KYrH8PI

For those who want to learn more about pyrolysis, biochar & gardening, and hopefully teach it to others, the Biochar Activity Kit, organized by Doris Hamill of NASA Langley, may be of interest:

http://www.greaterdemocracy.org/archives/1316

Regards,

Jock





7 years ago
I note that there was some conversation of transitioning from combustion to pyrolysis to provide the thermal energy to heat a masonry mass. I was asked to post this comment:

Paul,

I find the rocket stove mass heater of interest. However, it appears to be a combustion device
that depends on a narrow range of fuels -- mainly wood. As such, it accelerates the natural
carbon cycle. That is, the carbon in the wood, if left alone in nature, would take decades of
decay before it fully returned to the atmosphere.

Combustion rockets it right back into the atmosphere in very short order.
What I would like to see is a pyrolysis unit heating the masonry mass and
the resulting biochar added to the compost on its way to the garden. This
will retard the carbon cycle by keeping the carbon out of the atmosphere for
a much longer time than the natural carbon cycle. And MUCH longer than
energy systems based on combustion.

Additionally, the pyrolysis system could use many feedstocks and might even
dispense with wood as a heat source altogether.

What progress on this transition as been made?

Full disclosure: I am working with Jerry Whitfield, the inventor of the first practical wood pellet stove in 1984, on a very scalable continuous feed biochar reactor. We expect to show a parlor stove rated at 25K btus per hour in late 2012. We will also have larger units for industrial applications. We hope to see the parlor stove used in energy+ homes, homes that create more energy than they use, in such a way as to integrate heating with gardening with cooking & eating. Our hope is to arrange configurations of these homes that will creatively implement ideas from permaculture, co-housing, transition towns, carbon negative energy, etc. For the record, in Massachusetts, 11 energy+ house are currently under construction and 100 more are in the pipe line.

All comments, suggestions, and inquiries are welcome.

Cheers,

Jock
7 years ago