Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Bamboo Biochar Stove Pilot Project- El Salvador 2016-2017

Our Story

Laura Hoffman, Organizer

Executive Summary:

-Decrease levels of acute and chronic respiratory disease in women and children 
-Increased Carbon Sequestration via biochar as soil amendment and bamboo cultivation
-Poverty alleviation for Salvadoran women in rural areas
-Popular Ecological Education for the communities
-Decrease deforestation; promoting bamboo as a renewable alternative source

To introduce cleaner and efficient stoves to families in Santiago Nonualco. The pilot project will consist of working closely with the families for a few months. We will track progress through interviews, workshops, and fieldwork notes. With the help of Dr. Varela we will test the quality of biochar and work with the families to best allocate the biochar according to their needs. An Asper bamboo propagation bank will be expanded as a source of renewable biomass. Each family will be given their own bamboo and will be instructed with the care at the end of the pilot project. 

Your contribution will help:

- Provide stoves for the families* 
- Bamboo plants 
- Natural Fertilizers
- Cover technicians costs
-Educational zines

any additional funds will go to:
- Gas (travel costs)
- Light Refreshments for the workshops 

*Our hope is that in a future endeavor the community could produce their own stoves. 


(Picture taken in a kitchen in Santiago Nonualco)

In rural areas, meals are cooked over open wood burning fires. The use of wood is exacerbating an already severe problem of deforestation, contributing in turn to greater water stress. With two to three billion people worldwide utilizing open air stoves with non-renewable feedstock, the emission of carbon dioxide is significant, adding to further climate change. This cooking method generates high levels of acute respiratory episodes and chronic respiratory illness. This is true for both the women who cook and the young children they care for in the proximity of the stoves. Respiratory illness accounts for more than half of the illness episodes reported in El Salvador and more than half the deaths of children under five years of age. Nationally, pneumonia is one of the most common causes of morbidity and mortality.

Explanation of Pilot Project: 

We plan to start working with several families in Santiago Nonualco, department of La Paz, promoting the use of low cost, environmentally sound, user friendly stoves with negligible smoke and carbon dioxide emissions. The stoves produce highly efficient, clean, powerful and sustained flames. We will attempt to utilize locally grown bamboo as a renewable feedstock, to reduce the pressure on non-renewable tree sources. 

We will be working closely with the families as they adapt to the stoves. The stoves operate with enclosed deposits in the absence of oxygen as opposed to open air combustion of biomass typical of hearths in the countryside. An initial flame set on top of the biomass placed in a virtually enclosed container is then covered, leaving a chimney spout on top. The initial flame heats the biomass, forcing oils from their pores that float to the top spout where the initial flame was set. The oils ignite and sustain the flames that are clean, without the clouds of hazardous smoke that are a virtually universal feature of cooking with firewood in the countryside. The absence of oxygen in the deposit precludes the union between carbon and oxygen and subsequent emission of greenhouse gases. 

Healthy, smokeless cooking is based on a mode of combustion called pyrolysis. An essential feature of pyrolysis is the fact that it leaves a residue that is distinct from ash. The residual byproduct of the pyrolytic stove is an extremely valuable and versatile material that only recently has gained some recognition. That residual is called biochar. 

Biochar is a material that retains its carbon content and retains the original structure of the biomass. The emptied pores serve as long tunnels that become an attractive home to microorganisms that bring nutrients to plant life. The pores also become reservoirs of water helping to retain soil moisture, a critical factor in a climatically altered world where droughts, dry corridors and desertification are becoming commonplace. Biochar has chemical features that make it an extremely useful material in highly degraded and contaminated environments. Biochar attracts, adsorbs and maintains hold of heavy metals and other toxic pollutants that are byproducts of modern-day industrial and agricultural production. Once retained by the biochar, microorganisms digest and process the contaminants, leaving a benign residue. Instead of adding to an already carbonized atmosphere, the carbon is retained in the ground to enhance food security in a food insecure world.

(Bamboo biochar)

[Using a base of biochar, a simple water filter that is made locally in Tecoluca, El Salvador, was sent to Taiwan for testing of its effectiveness. The test in Taiwan found that the filter was able to remove 99% of the contaminants including pesticides and heavy metals. The biochar was found to be effective in the conversion of very highly contaminated water into potable water. 

In another practical experience, the Hope Mine, an abandoned site in Colorado remained an almost barren desert of grey and toxic tailings after closure of operations approximately 60 years before. The hill was sprayed with a large amount of biochar derived from nearby pine trees that succumbed to an infestation of the pine beetle. After several months, the desolate grey terrain became a lush green as the biochar was able to trap and degrade the contaminants, leaving a restored environment without the threat that mine tailings present to adjacent water supplies. ]


The Project:

We intend to work with the families discovering the virtues of biochar. We plan to collect samples of the biochar to run quality control testing in order to assure that it is not converted to ash. We seek to create quality biochar with a high level of porosity which serves as a valuable soil amendment, adding fertility to the land, creating an excellent environment for soil microorganisms and for maintenance of soil humidity.  

Nonprofits have shown their interest in buying and promoting stoves in other areas. We hope to create a model in Santiago Nonualco to enable the women to understand the benefits of a pyrolytic stove over open hearth stoves. We hope to reach a point where the families involved in the project will definitively replace harmful cooking techniques with safe, healthy and sustainable techniques. We feel that creating a successful model will enable us to expand and popularize the project in other communities around the country. 


Nations like El Salvador are much more vulnerable to the ravages of climate change. El Salvador is located on a thin isthmus between two great ocean bodies and subject to the storm surges that emanate from ever heating seas. Already extended droughts, widespread crop losses, disappearing rivers, generalized contamination and massive deforestation are all elements that place El Salvador at a much greater disadvantage. Nations like El Salvador with few economic resources, make real recovery from each extreme climatic event a virtual impossibility.

Climate chaos is largely the result of the fact that the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases has swelled to dangerous levels. The intense rise of atmospheric greenhouse gases has come about as a result of a double edged sword. While emissions have increased to astronomical levels, the capacity of the earth to sequester carbon dioxide has notably declined with the massive destruction of planetary lungs in the form of strategic forest areas. Consequently, in our modern world, we are encapsulated by a layer of gases that are trapping a dangerous excess of heat. Instead of the historic concentration of 280 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide, in May of 2013, the earth surpassed 400 parts per million. Since human civilization has caused the increase in numbers, it must assume responsibility to lower those numbers. Lowering atmospheric carbon levels implies lowering carbon emissions and increasing natural mechanisms favoring carbon absorption back into the earth. With urgency, humankind needs to adopt a carbon negative mode of living, where productive activity and energy generation do not violate natural laws and do not overheat our only place of residence: planet earth.

El Salvador has contributed very little to climate change with relatively very limited emissions of greenhouse gases. By itself, El Salvador has no capacity to undo the damage. Nonetheless, neither the physical size of a nation, nor the size of its GNP has anything to do with its ability to provide leadership and to create an effective alternative model for humanity. El Salvador can help to lay the foundation for a successful exit strategy, showing the pathway to safe ground in an epoch that promises unprecedented turbulence. 

An alternative is needed that seeks to stop the hemorrhage of carbon pollution. That alternative must recognize the cross section between environmental recovery and human dignity. That alternative should aim to heal the fallout that stems from the current model that is generating the migration of large numbers of disenfranchised adolescents and adults to the United States. Furthermore, the lack of opportunities or perspectives for a future has been the incubator for a disturbingly high rate of crime and criminal activity. Crime on the street has maintained the population at large in a state of continual insecurity, making small business enterprise special prey to extortion and breakdown.    

The problems that are currently confronting El Salvador are clearly deep set and appear to be intractable.  They elude solution as resources remain scarce and the appeal of gangs remains strong. An integral solution that provides appealing healthy alternatives must aim to build what has been broken, economically, socially, emotionally and environmentally.

On an economic level, an impoverished and dependent country, lacking raw materials, a trained work force and a capital base, is much more vulnerable and subject to the whims of powerful global forces. On a social level, a massive housing deficit, high levels of unemployment and poverty are an explosive mixture feeding the gang sub-culture. On an emotional level, a pervasive sense of frustration is growing over dim prospects of achieving any measure of a dignified existence. On an environmental level, rivers are tending to disappear along with all the vestiges of original forest cover. The rivers are increasingly becoming toxic cesspools, unfit for human or animal consumption.  A perfect storm is brewing with an explosive mixture of factors that are immensely profitable for the few and devastating for the majority.

Climate change mitigation in El Salvador requires a locally sustainable economic model that is environmentally friendly. Reconstituting the nation’s strategic lungs is the cornerstone of a carbon negative nation. Forest areas constitute the most efficient mechanisms for carbon sequestration and watershed recovery.  A nation that falls into a chronic state of water stress will nullify all possibilities of future development. That model can create opportunities as a source of value added goods, created by a trained work force utilizing locally cultivated raw materials. Structural bamboo can serve as a valuable source of manufacturing of goods and construction material for dignified, hurricane and earthquake resistant housing. The municipality of Tecoluca will send architects and engineers to Cali, Colombia to learn to work with structural bamboo in October! (yet another reason to have the raw material at our disposal).

The bamboo can also serve as a valuable energy source and feedstock for cooking. The bamboo as a renewable grass can alleviate pressure on trees and forests and allow for their regeneration. These forests can help to deepen and fortify existing biodiversity and to critically rescue species of fruit and edible nut trees to help protect food security in this epoch of climate change. Unlike trees, the cutting, or harvesting of bamboo does not affect root function and the plant continues to grow. The bamboo family is a renewable source that comes in a broad spectrum of species, each with particular characteristics. Of all the varieties, Dendrocalamus Asper bamboo which is well suited to the climatic and soil conditions in El Salvador has been classified as “vegetable steel” fulfilling and surpassing rigid construction codes for structural purposes.

(Annie with her babies)

It has been estimated that a bamboo forest is able to sequester 35% more carbon dioxide and release 35% more oxygen than an equivalent size of wooded forest area. The bamboo root systems are particularly effective natural flood gates, absorbing and storing excess water during periods of oversaturation of the land. When the bamboo senses the land is parched, it releases the water. Bamboo along river shores is a natural regulator of river flows. Furthermore, its root system prevents erosion and its leafy canopy helps to generate rich, topsoil in a matter of years.

Making the leap from a conventional carbon positive to a carbon negative mode of growth and development requires a conversion on a much deeper level. The conversion is not a simplistic mechanical transformation. It represents a rejection of the values, aspirations and prejudices of old world thinking. It represents a break from individualistic egotism that divides peoples and that nullifies a collective response to a collective dilemma. 

The pathology we must root out is the social pathology that has brought us to the edge of disaster. Together, we must pull back from the edge. Regaining sanity has to be based on collective action of a people, aware and conscious of the stakes for this upcoming generation and most certainly for the seventh generation, if there ever will be one. The price of conformity will be between catastrophic and apocalyptic. The prize for real change will go to those who are slated to inherit this earth, our sole homeland.

This project could not be possible without the help of the amazing people and organizations, particularly:

-Dr. Odette Varela, biochar expert and a wonderful mentor and friend
-Gustavo Peña,  Stove Team International; creator of the stoves that we are promoting
-Humberto Hernandez, bamboo specialist in the Ministery of Agriculture and Livestock, who has dedicated his personal time teaching us everything from the very technical aspects of bamboo production to it’s thousands potential benefits.
-Art Donelly, founder of SeaChar, a biochar company based in Seattle, whose experience in Costa Rica has given us hope to recreate a similar model here in El Salvador. 
-The municipality of Tecoluca, CRIPDES, CONFRAS, The Agronomy Department of the National University.
-The families in Santiago Nonualco, for their receptivity 
-Our Mami, for bringing us back to her roots and connecting us to her community.
-Our Papa, "Abuelito Bamboo" for sharing his passion and instilling in us the love for this world.

Thank YOU for being part of healing la Pachamama! If you would personally like to know more, please feel free to contact Ana Maria or Laura at: https://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/bamboo-biochar-stove-pilot-project-el-salvador

No comments:

Post a Comment