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Climate Change: The Delicate Balance
R. Jerry Adams, Ph.D., Evaluation and Development Institute (

Before 10,000 years ago, the climate was so unstable that agriculture was very difficult. Then a beautiful, delicate balance occurred: The polar caps, ocean currents, greenhouse gases, volcanic activity, and other factors became just right for stable temperatures. Agriculture flourished. The amount of carbon dioxide going into the air (over 300 gigatons per year) was countered by natural sinks that pulled an equal amount of carbon dioxide out of the air. The primary cause of carbon dioxide going into the air was decaying vegetation. The primary sinks pulling carbon dioxide out of the air were the oceans, growing vegetation, and the soil. All was well.

The industrial revolution has changed that balance. We now have over 40% more carbon dioxide in the air than we had just 150 years ago. The climate is changing. The primary human cause of the change is the use of fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels puts carbon dioxide into the air and carbon dioxide can stay in the air for hundreds of years. The carbon dioxide is building up in the air very fast.

The most effective way we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air is to pyrolize decaying vegetation.

Here is why:

Vegetation pulls carbon dioxide out of the air each year as it grows. In fact, growing vegetation pulls out many times more carbon dioxide from the air than human activity puts into the air. However, vegetation emits carbon dioxide back into the air as it decays. We can prevent decaying vegetation from releasing carbon dioxide back into the air through pyrolysis.

To "pyrolize" means to heat to at least 500 degrees C without oxygen. Pyrolysis converts the carbon in decaying vegetation into a solid that can be put in the ground to enhance the soil. Pyrolysis prevents decaying vegetation from emitting carbon dioxide back into the air. Pyrolysis of decaying vegetation reduces the carbon dioxide in the air; it is a "carbon-negative" fuel.

The single biggest human cause of excessive carbon dioxide in the air is coal-fired power stations. If, however, we pyrolize decaying vegetation at coal-fired power stations, we can reverse the amount of human-caused carbon dioxide going into the air. In addition, we will have an economical fuel for power, decaying vegetation (biomass).

Coal-fired power stations can be adapted to become "biomass pyrolysis" power stations economically. Coal-fired power stations already have the furnaces, the generators, the railroad systems, the electrical distribution systems, and other infrastructure for becoming biomass pyrolysis power stations. Further, the coal industry is losing its competition with less expensive natural gas and needs a new focus to continue to retain its current level of employment.

It should be noted that some coal-fired power stations are already using biomass in addition to coal as fuel. Such stations are incinerating the biomass, releasing the carbon dioxide in the biomass back into the air. If coal-fired power stations incinerate biomass instead of coal, they will become "carbon neutral," neither adding to nor subtracting from the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. If, however, power stations pyrolyze the biomass, they will substantially reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.

We have a huge supply of inexpensive biomass currently in the form of dead trees killed by beetles. Agricultural waste is another source of inexpensive biomass and yard waste is still another source. We can cultivate and harvest prairie grass, such as Miscanthus x giganteus, for another huge source of biomass for carbon-negative fuel. The grass is also very efficient at pulling carbon dioxide out of the air.

Reversing the accumulation of carbon in the air is the most important task humanity now faces. We are headed toward catastrophic climate change unless we reverse the accumulation.

We do have an economically-defensible method at hand to reverse the accumulation of carbon in the air: We can convert our coal-fired power stations into biomass pyrolyzing power stations. We can cultivate prairie grass as a biomass fuel and as a method of pulling vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the air.


1. Environmental organizations need to make pyrolysis of biomass a priority.
2. Governments at all levels need to make support of pyrolysis an urgent priority.
3. Humanity needs to make the conversion of at least 1,000 coal-fired plants a priority globally.

Web Address

Provides an approach to using vegetation waste (grass and straw) as a fuel for a 3 million watt (megawatt) pyrolysis power station. The station also keeps carbon dioxide in the waste from entering the air by conveting it to a solid carbon, biochar, that can be used to improve soil productivity."

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