Hope Mine cleanup banking on biochar

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenOctober 6, 2010
An abandoned mine on the back side of Aspen Mountain could become a model for biochar cleanups.

John Bennett

Former Aspen Mayor John Bennett, who introduced Pour La France! to Colorado in the late 1980s and followed it up with verbenone last year, is now helping oversee a project featuring biochar, a natural soil-regenerating additive made from biomass like yard waste, corn stalks and beetle-killed trees.

The former mayor and executive director of Aspen-based For The Forest is teaming up with biochar expert Flux Farm Foundation, based in Carbondale, and the U.S. Forest Service to clean Hope Mine. The abandoned site has large tailings piles containing heavy metals that fan down a steep hillside directly into Castle Creek, one of the two primary sources for Aspen's drinking water.

“The Aspen Water Department has not recorded any increase in dissolved metals at its drinking water plant, which takes water from the creek downstream from the Hope Mine,” a press release announcing the Hope Mine Biochar Reclamation Project said. “For The Forest, Flux Farm and the U.S. Forest Service think the reclamation project will add an extra dimension of safety by stabilizing the tailings slope to avoid the possibility of any future catastrophic event that might dump a large quantity of tailings into Castle Creek all at once.”

More tailings slid closer to the creek during the heavy rainfall in July and August, Bennett noted Wednesday.

The project's organizers main objective is to protect Aspen's water supply by stabilizing the mine tailings with the introduction of biochar and to transform the exposed toxic mine waste site to a stable covering of native grasses and other natural vegetation. They also hope to create a potential market for beetle-killed trees across Colorado and the West by turning the trees into biochar. Another benefit of biochar is that it sequesters carbon in organic materials and over time, environmental scientists say it may reduce the amount of carbon entering the atmosphere.

“This is a great way to take care of an important local environmental concern, create healthier water and forests and work to reduce carbon in the atmosphere,” Bennett said.

For The Forest organizers want to “demonstrate that biochar created from mountain pine beetle-killed trees on Smuggler Mountain and other areas could potentially be used throughout our valley. These trees, if left in the forest, will decompose and emit CO2 into the atmosphere, but if turned into biochar, that CO2 can be sequestered for hundreds or thousands of years,” the press release said.

This photo was taken on July 2, and a significant portion of the tailings in the immediate foreground slid down the slope during the heavy rainstorms of July and August. Stabilizing this slope and restoring the natural ecosystem of this forest area are major goals of the new project.
Photo and caption courtesy of For the Forest
After recently collaborating with For the Forest to battle bark beetles on Smuggler Mountain, the U.S. Forest Service approached the group last spring to organize a reclamation project for Hope Mine. For The Forest, in turn, invited the Flux Farm Foundation to contribute its technical biochar expertise.

Other contributors to the environmental cleanup project include Mark Fuller of the Independence Pass Foundation and Dr. Andrew Harley, a soil scientist and leading biochar researcher based in Denver.

“Scientific evidence suggests that biochar from pine trees can greatly improve the soil quality of drastically disturbed soils like those at the Hope Mine,” Flux Farm Executive Director Morgan Williams said. “Our project intends to show, for the first time, that biochar can be successfully used at scale to reclaim a former mine site. This is a big opportunity for Aspen to make a meaningful contribution to the science of biochar.”

Work on the Hope Mine Biochar Reclamation Project will begin Oct. 10 in conjunction with the 10/10/10 Global Work Party engineered by 350.org as part of an international climate change campaign.

comments: 3 Comments on "Hope Mine cleanup banking on biochar"

erich – Oct. 08, 2010, at 1:20 p.m.

Sustainable biochar to mitigate global climate change

Not talked about in this otherwise comprehensive study are the climate and whole ecological implications of new , higher value, applications of chars.

the in situ remediation of a vast variety of toxic agents in soils and sediments.

Dr. Lima's at USDA;; Specialized Characterization Methods for Biochar,

The uses as a feed ration for livestock to reduce GHG emissions and increase disease resistance.

Recent work by C. Steiner showing a 52% reduction of NH3 loss when char is used as a composting accelerator. This will have profound value added consequences for the commercial composting industry by reduction of their GHG emissions and the sale of compost as a nitrogen fertilizer

Another significant aspect of low cost Biomass cook stoves that produce char is removal of BC aerosols and no respiratory disease emissions. At Scale, replacing "Three Stone" stoves the health benefits would equal eradication of Malaria & Aids combined.
The broad smiles of 1500 subsistence farmers say it all ( that , and the size of the Biochar corn root balls )

State Dept. Release;
100 million clean-burning stoves in kitchens around the world.

Agriculture allowed our cultural accent and Agriculture will now prevent our descent.

Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration (= to 1 Ton CO2e) + Bio-Gas & Bio-oil fuels = to 1MWh exported electricity, so is a totally virtuous, carbon negative energy cycle.

Biochar viewed as soil Infrastructure; The old saw;
"Feed the Soil Not the Plants" becomes;
"Feed, Cloth and House the Soil, utilities included !".
Free Carbon Condominiums with carboxyl group fats in the pantry and hydroxyl alcohol in the mini bar.
Build it and the Wee-Beasties will come.
Microbes like to sit down when they eat.
By setting this table we expand husbandry to whole new orders & Kingdoms of life

landboy09 – Dec. 20, 2010, at 11:59 a.m.

I heard about biochar a few months ago from a friend of mine. I never thought that something as simple as charcoal could do so much for the soil and the environment.

I was amazed after reading "The Biochar Revolution" from http://biochar-books.com/The_Biochar_Revolution.

They have a great discount for Christmas on the book at the moment.

Check it out. It was a great help in opening my mind to issues that affect us all.

BiocharSolutions – Jan. 10, 2012, at 12:44 p.m.

For more information on how we're bringing what we learned at The Hope Mine to broader markets, visit us at: http://www.biocharsolutions.com

-The Biochar Solutions Team

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