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Keeping you informed about TecEco sustainability projects.  Issue 67, 23 May 2007

John Harrison to Speak at GREX 07

1-3 June, Australian Technology Park, Sydney 2007

Some of the speakers at this years GREX are not to be missed. Included are Charlie Hargroves (Charlie is a co-author and co-editor of The Natural Advantage of Nations (Earthscan 2005)), Dr David Baggs (Technical Director of Ecospecifier), Dr Mark Diesendorf and Senator Christine Milne. I am humbled to be amongst them and will be talking about Gaia Engineering.


Nano Composites of Magnesium

The structure of a layered double hydroxide nano or mechano composites based on brucite layers from D’Souza, N. A., P. Braterman, et al. "Flame retardant nano composites with layer double hydroxides."   Retrieved 15 October 2006, 2006.

Many magnesium compounds are characterised by the ability to form polar bonds at the surface and internally with other compounds. This is especially so of Brucite which consists of layers of magnesium ions coordinated octahedrally by OH groups with the hydrogen pointing in the direction of the next layer. Each layer is held to the layer above and below it by hydrogen bonds which are a special case of polar bonds. The outside layers also have projecting hydrogen's which is why so many magnesium cements are so good for “sticking” to other surfaces.

Compounds like brucite with a divalent cation and two hydroxides are known as layered double hydroxides or LDH compounds. They are are particular interest because of their ability to form nano composites with a wide range of added components. LDH nano or mechano composites have been known for many years and there are literally and endless number of them. There are also many patents in the area some of which are mentioned in this article.

Brucite type nano or mechano composites are of the general structure depicted in the above diagram from D’Souza et. al. and can contain a vast array of ions between the brucite like layers as long as the principle of electronic neutrality is observed. Carbonate, chloride, sulfate, silicates (as in talc, vermiculite and montmorillonite which are all smectite type clays) organic citrate and carboxylate, etc can all potentially be accommodated as long as balancing cations such as aluminium, magnesium iron, zinc, copper, sodium or potassium are included between the layers. This is what makes such nano composites useful for toxic and hazardous waste immobilization.

Many cementitious formulations should properly be considered as a permutations of the above described structural group of layered double hydroxide (LDH) nano or mechano composites which are “material systems of layered nano composites comprising of brucite-like sheets and intercalated anions.” Zeng, H. C. (2006). "A World First: First Solid-State Synthesis of Carbon Nanotubes at NUS." 15 Oct 06, from http://www.eng.nus.edu.sg/EResnews/0102/hl/highlight.html.

Nano composites have properties that depend on the ions trapped in the layers, and can be very strong. One problem often encountered is that water, which also has a high hydrogen bonding potential, tends to break up the layers. Claims that this problem has been overcome are really only relevant for the shorter term.

“Layered solids have interesting physical properties, because of their structural anisotropy, and can be easily functionalised by intercalation of species with specific properties. It should be pointed out that these properties generally differ from those of the pure guest species, being affected by guest organisation in the interlayer region as well as by the host - guest interactions.” (Schollhorn, R. (1994). Progress in Intercalation Research. Kluwer Academic Publishers. W. Muller-Warmuth and R. Schollhorn, Dordrecht. quoted by Aloisi, G., U. Constantino, et al. (2002). "Preparation and photo-physical characterisation of nano composites obtained by intercalation and co-intercalation of organic chromophores into hydrotalcite-like compounds." Journal of Materials Chemistry 12: 3316 - 3323.)

The magnesium ion has a high charge density on a small ion of only 86 pico metres compared to a large size for most other positive divalent ions. (See the table below)

Radii are quoted for common oxidation states up to +3 (4 for Hf, Th, Ti, U, and Zr). 






























































































































































*Low spin and high spin values (section 8.2.3)

Source: Shannon, R.D. (1976) `Revised effective ionic radii in halides and chalcogenides’, Acta Cryst. A32, 751. This includes further oxidation states and coordination numbers.

The key to understanding nano or mechno composites is to appreciate the strong polar bonding that magnesium induces due to it's high charge density. The high positive charge density of Mg++ drags electrons from other ions and for example causes magnesium to be strongly polar bonded to the oxygen end of water which has a strongly negative charge density. This strong polarity affects many compositions that it is involved in with the high charge density on magnesium causing strongly regionalised positive and negative charge densities in most compounds. In magnesium hydroxide for example this results in a strong ability to form hydrogen bonds with other atoms a little like wet newspaper can hold pressed flowers between and stuck to the surface.

In compounds the strong charge on magnesium is propagated through the molecule it is incorporated in and this is why the hydrogen bonding in brucite and nesquehonite, a hydrated magnesium carbonate is sufficient to hold the crystal together.

The strong polar or hydrogen bonding capability of brucite as it forms is also how brucite interacts with so many other compounds added whereby nano composites with different properties are formed. It is the basis of Sorel type cements such as JP 52‑138522a, EP 352096 A (Falk), US4760039, JP55-037469A2, US4572862, AU 55715/73 (Horley), US 4838941 (Hill), WO90/11976 (Magnacrete), GB938853, US5180429, CN1247177, RU2158718 C1, GB1160029, DE908837 C, JP57188439, US1456667, US6200381, US6200381, WO9854107, RU2089525 C1, WO0024688, JP 57056364 which use salts and JP 57056364, EP352096 A, WO97/20784, US4003752, AU 55715/73, WO90/11976, GB938853, CN1247177 wherein magnesia reacts as a base with chlorides or sulfates.

Other cements such as EP 0 650 940 A1, WO97/20784 (Rechichi), AU 55715/73 (Horley), GB1160029 (Mayer), US1456667 (Berry) and US6200381 (Rechichi), WO9854107, RU2089525 C1 and US5669968 include an agent that produces carbon dioxide which can also form part of a nano composite with brucite in combination with a suitable anion as in the graphic cited above from D’Souza et. al. or possibly even trapped in the layers.

Some organic groups can also be incorporated in nano composites and this could include citrate from citric acid, carboxylates form polycarboxylate or other organic acids etc. as in US 7070647B2, WO97/20784 and US 7070647B2

Nano composites are an important sub-group of magnesium compounds, not just because they are a vast array of compounds with cementitious properties but because when heated the metal hydroxides become oxides intimately in juxtaposition with the components trapped between the layers and catalyse reactions that may not otherwise occur between layer components.

Special interests are the one big obstacle Jim Hansen: Viewpoint

From The Times March 12, 2007, with Jim Hansen's permission

Special interests are the one big obstacle Jim Hansen: Viewpoint
The need for action to save the planet has become urgent. Yet, in a sense, there is good news in that urgency. It implies that most people may live to see the bright side of the industrial revolution. We can help to restore wonders of the natural world, of creation, while maintaining and expanding the benefits of advanced technology.

When the first industrial revolution began in Britain it was powered by coal, the most abundant of the fossil fuels. Later discovery of oil provided an energy source that helped to power the developed world to ever greater productivity and living standards.

We did not face up to the dark side of the industrial revolution until it was thrust in our face. London choked on smog. A river in the United States burnt. Forests were damaged by acid rain. Fish died in many lakes, all problems traced to pollutants from fossil fuels.

We have solved, or are solving, those pollution problems, at least in developed countries. But we did not address them until they hit us with full force. That approach, to wait and see and fix the problems post facto, will not work in the case of global climate change. Ignoring the problem would lock in future catastrophic and irreversible climatic change that would unfold during the remainder of this century and beyond.

The climate system has great inertia, responding only slowly to forcings such as the gases that humans are adding to the atmosphere. The inertia is due to the large mass of the ocean and the ice sheets that cover Antarctica and Greenland. This inertia may seem to be a boon, as it reduces near-term change, but it also allows a dangerous level of gases to build up, causing far greater problems in the long term.

The gravest threat to humanity, almost surely, lies in the great ice sheets. They can disintegrate rapidly, raising sea level by several metres per century, as we know from the Earth’s history.

If we burn all the fossil fuels, global warming would exceed that of the Pliocene era, three million years ago, when sea level was 25 metres higher than today. Consequences of such a sea level rise would be too severe to manage: a quarter of a billion Chinese live within 25 metres of sea level, there are major cities on the East Coast of the United States, and about one billion people worldwide. Damage from rising seas would occur irregularly, at the time of storm surges. Considering the recovery time of the small city of New Orleans, with a population of only a few hundred thousand, it is easy to imagine the effects of globally rising seas.

The profound implication, which must be learnt by politicians and the public, is that we cannot burn all the fossil fuels. To do so would create a totally different planet, one without ice in the Arctic, with extreme heat and drought in the Mediterranean region, the American West and parts of Africa, and most important, with sea level beginning to rise uncontrollably.

A low limit on allowable carbon dioxide has a bright side. Such a limit requires changes to our energy systems that would do more than solve the sea level problem. They would leave ice in the Arctic and avoid dramatic climate changes in other parts of the world. Air pollutants produced by fossil fuels, especially soot and low-level ozone, also would be reduced, restoring a more pristine, healthy planet.

A low emissions limit is achievable, but only if the trend towards a different energy future begins promptly. A new direction requires governments to encourage change by gradually but certainly increasing the price of carbon emissions, improving efficiency standards and removing barriers to efficiency.

A gradually increasing price on carbon emissions will not prevent readily available oil and gas from being used, but the lifetime of these valuable energy resources would be stretched, allowing alternative energies to be developed. Coal could still be a long-term energy source for power plants, if the carbon dioxide is captured and sequestered underground.

The efforts that are needed to solve the climate problem paint a bright picture of the future for almost everyone. Restoration of clean air is universally beneficial. New energy sources and energy efficiency produce high-tech jobs. Growing plants for bio fuels provides a big boost for farming.

But there is one big obstacle to achieving this brighter future for the planet: the special interests that have such a strong influence on policies, especially in the United States. Exxon Mobil, for example, says about carbon dioxide: “You call it pollution, we call it life.” They insist on remaining a fossil fuel company, rather than becoming an energy company. By larding the campaign coffers of numerous politicians, the fossil fuel industry has succeeded in subverting the democratic principle.

The best hope for the planet is a grass roots movement. People concerned about climate change and the legacy that we will leave should consider having a date with the planet. Until the public indicates sufficient interest, and puts pressure on political systems, special interests will continue to rule.

-The author heads Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies

The Environmental Revolution

Adapted with permission from Chapter 12, "Building a New Economy," in Lester R. Brown, Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006), available on-line at www.earthpolicy.org/Books/PB2/index.htm. Additional information available at www.earthpolicy.org

Restructuring the global economy according to the principles of ecology represents the greatest investment opportunity in history. In scale, the Environmental Revolution is comparable to the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions that preceded it.

The Agricultural Revolution involved restructuring the food economy, shifting from a nomadic life-style based on hunting and gathering to a settled life-style based on tilling the soil. Although agriculture started as a supplement to hunting and gathering, it eventually replaced it almost entirely. The Agricultural Revolution eventually cleared one tenth of the earth's land surface of either grass or trees so it could be plowed and planted to crops. Unlike the hunter-gatherer culture that had little effect on the earth, this new farming culture literally transformed the earth's surface.

The Industrial Revolution has been under way for two centuries, although in some countries it is still in its early stages. At its foundation was a shift from wood to fossil fuels, a shift that set the stage for a massive expansion in economic activity. Indeed, its distinguishing feature is the harnessing of vast amounts of solar energy stored beneath the earth's surface as fossil fuels. While the Agricultural Revolution transformed the earth's surface, the Industrial Revolution is transforming the earth's atmosphere.

The additional productivity that the Industrial Revolution made possible unleashed enormous creative energies. It also gave birth to new life-styles and to the most environmentally destructive era in human history, setting the world firmly on a course of eventual economic decline.

The Environmental Revolution resembles the Industrial Revolution in that each is dependent on the shift to a new energy source. And like both earlier revolutions, the Environmental Revolution will affect the entire world.

There are differences in scale, timing, and origin among the three revolutions. Unlike the first two, the Environmental Revolution must be compressed into a matter of decades. The other revolutions were driven by new discoveries, by advances in technology, whereas this revolution, while it will be facilitated by new technologies, is being driven by our need to make peace with nature.

There has not been an investment situation like this before. The $1.7 trillion that the world spends now each year on oil, the leading source of energy, provides some insight into how much it could spend on energy in the eco-economy. One difference between the investments in fossil fuels and those in wind power, solar cells, and geothermal energy is that the latter are not depletable.

For developing countries dependent on imported oil, the new energy sources promise to free up capital for investment in domestic energy sources. Not many countries have their own oil fields, but all have wind and solar energy waiting to be harnessed. In terms of economic expansion and job generation, these new energy technologies are a godsend. Investments in energy efficiency will grow rapidly simply because they are profitable. In virtually all countries, saved energy is the cheapest source of new energy.

No sector of the global economy will be untouched by the Environmental Revolution. In this new economy, some companies will be winners and some will be losers. Those who participate in building the new economy will be the winners. Those who cling to the past risk becoming part of it.

Putting Carbon back into our Soils to Help Reverse Global Warming?

Fertilizing the Deserts

Written by Danny Day / Eprida 2004 and in our newsletter thanks to John Dahlen, Chickasaw, Alabama, USA

A recent symposium (EACU) at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA, USA brought together a group representing scientists from chemistry, archeology, physics, anthropology, microbiology, soil scientists, agronomists, renewable energy research, and representatives from DOE, USDA and industry. The focus was to look at the evidence for massive historical carbon utilization, current research and how carbon negative energy could be economically deployed today. (http://www.georgiaitp.org/carbon)

The ability to consider agricultural carbon applications arises from the fact that up to one half of the carbon in our cropland soils has been lost due to intensive agriculture and human induced degradation.

The initial phase of the meetings started with a review of the current knowledge of man made soils called terra preta occupying an area of the Amazon that total to twice the size of Britain. Carbon was added to these soils in the form of a low temperature charcoal. Using low intensity smoldering fires created these charcoals. By analysis, we can tell that they were created 1000-2000 years ago and were part of a soil management practice designed to take a yellow clay soil of limited biological productivity and convert it into some of the richest soil in the world. A thousand years after its creation it is so well known in Brazil, that it is dug up and sold as potting soil.

Dr. Ogawa, from Kansai Environmental in Japan, a division of Kansai Power the 2nd largest electric producer in that country, presented their research on charcoal addition to the soil. Their work, which has been ongoing for more than 15 years, has been studying the causes of the charcoal effect and led to thee Japanese government approving charcoal as an official land management practice. The impact of many studies in Brazil to Thailand to Japan, showing increased crop yields of 20-50% and total biomass yields increasing as much 280%, led Kansai Electric to fund a reforestation research plantation in Australia with Dr. Syd Shea for producing charcoal and returning it to grow more trees and crops in the arid west of that country.

Low temperature woody charcoal (not grass or high cellulose) has an interior layer of bio-oil condensates that microbes consume and is equal to glucose in its effect on microbial growth (Christoph Steiner, EACU 2004). High temp char loses this layer and does not promote soil fertility very well. Tests by Finnish researcher Janna Pitkien, on highly porous materials like zeolite, activated carbon and charcoal show that microbial growth is substantially improved with charcoal (opposite to her expectations). Evidence of terra preta's ability to grow and sequester more carbon was undercovered by soil scientist William Woods (U. Illinois). The work is still under investigation in Brazil by over the last 20 years mining terra preta for potting soil has not decreased its availability. Farmers have learned it recovers a centimeter per year. The possibility those small fractions of char continually migrate down, providing housing for microbes as they process surface-cover biomass. The microbes and fungi live and die inside the porous media increasing its carbon content. What are the limits, we do not know but work at Cornell under the guidance of Johannes Lehman and W. Zech, Bruno Glaser at the University of Bayreuth (Germany) and Emprapa (Manus, Brazil) are investigating these phenomena.

What we know now is that the properly prepared charcoal can increase crop yields and sequester carbon for thousands of years (5000 years is an estimate by Dan Gavin, charcoal dating researcher.(U. of Ill). Its properties can allow even more carbon to be sequestered with more biomass growth and soil carbon from microbial-fungi proliferation.

The economics of this type of carbon utilization can be very simply viewed as the use between carbon-oxygen conversion for energy (ie burning) or its use as a soil amendment. Our estimates using coal as a comparison, at $1.50/MBTU, showed that at 1000lbs/acre with direct injection would be alternately using 10MBTU of carbon in a sequestered form or $15/acre even at double these rates a small increase in crop yields and decreased fertilizer use produce a positive economic gain for the farm and for future generations are top soils are restored. Add carbon credits and positive environmental impacts and the rewards justify what a few of us are calling a global Manhattan project of climate change.

But this is just half the story. In 2002 we demonstrated the production of this charcoal from 50kg/hr of biomass while simultaneously producing hydrogen in pilot scale equipment (http://www.eprida.com ) One of the largest uses of hydrogen today is for food production via its conversion to ammonia. A demonstration in October 2002 for the use of this charcoal to create a scrubbing system exhaust for CO2, (&, SOx, NOx) (Patent US AP#20040111968 ) while producing a nitrogen fertilizer provides a technique for producing a off gas stream of hydrogen and CO which can be processed into hydrogen, ammonia and diesel. The efficiency of this system is enhanced by the combination of exothermic and endothermic processes. The conversion of 40% of the hydrogen to ammonia for creating a sequestering carbon value added product leaves a 2.7 moles of H2 to 1 of CO meeting the requirements for a Fischer-Tropsch biomass conversion process to produce a carbon negative diesel. The resulting carbon sequestration off sets the CO2 produced from the diesel by more than two to one.

If additional biomass or microbial biomass growth is added, and/or the replacement of some non-renewable streams, the impact is substantial.

The questions arise as to the availability of biomass and the areas for usage of this type of soil amendment/fertilizer. On available biomass, (there is a good diagram of this prepared by Michael Obersteiner of the International Institute for Advanced Systems Analysis, Austria) found in the July 7th DC luncheon presentation. "Cutting-Edge Biomass Technologies For Mitigating Acute Climate Change" http://www.eprida.com/hydro/ecoss/presentations/symposiums.htm

The net is that using current biomass production (in the future we will have much more as we restore our worlds topsoil with essential carbon) we have the capability to go carbon negative today. As we make the switch, it will need to be a global effort as positive feedbacks are kicking in and will likely accelerate.

What about areas for use? Considering the 6.1 gigatons of CO2 accumulation, we would need to utilize this land and biomass production technique on only 10% of the total of biologically productive and human degraded lands per year to attain carbon negative status. If we added desert lands for reclamation the number declines further. Is is a big number, yes, but it is doable and a culture from 2000 years ago clearly understood its value then. Considering that the majority of new emissions will come from developing countries, what ever we choose, needs to be simple and profitable.

What can you do? Read up on terra preta (some of the published works made a part of the above patent application), look at references in the Eprida website or convince yourself by testing. Grow your favorite plant in two pots, one with 1/3 wood charcoal (soak this in fertilizer for several days), 1/3 sand and 1/3 available soil. Plant the other with your normal method for potting plants. Fertilize and watch them grow. Watch it for three seasons and note the differences. (Many have noted their best results in the second year as microbial populations increase) Alternately, use a microbe/fungi inoculation to speed the response.

Then tell everyone you know. Even if we can't stop avoid the climate shift we will begun to build an awareness of a solution. If we broaden the understanding that we can produce carbon negative fuels, scrub fossil fuel exhaust of pollutants and C02, reverse the effect of mining our soil, depleting soil carbon, trace minerals and losing agricultural productivity then we will effect many generations to come. In our lifetime, a 2000-year-old secret is being reborn and its timeliness could never have been more appropriate. It now up to this generation to embrace a plan to work with nature to restore lost soil carbon and rebuild the incredible life at work in our soils. Working together, we can achieve the possible.