Biomass solutions should be clean, affordable, feasible, practical and simultaneously provide as many of these benefits as possible:

1. improve soil health & create compounding increases in annual food production by sequestering in the soil carbon extracted from the atmosphere by photosynthesis then captured in stable form by pyrolysis.

2. improve the conditions and viability of our finite waste sinks in the air, water, and land;

3. yield useful, carbon negative, thermal energy, a co-product of #1 above, for cooking, space conditioning and electrical power generation;

4. remediate desertification and increase useable agricultural lands;

5. be scalable and decentralized to promote local control and local economic activity;

6. a full life cycle accounting with system, end-to-end, net energy value of at least 5:1

The more of these benefits a biomass solution incorporates, the higher its overall “ROI”.

Additionally, I would look for a record of use that tends to suggest long term effectiveness, safety and strategic benefits. For example, for thousands of years the Amerindians in the Amazon safely and effectively covered a land mass the size of France with Terra Preta, the original and unsurpassed use of charred biomass. If they had not done this, it is quite likely they would not have been able to feed a population base that is now estimated to have been in the several of millions.

On the other hand, the use of biomass to create LIQUID biofuels for transportation generally fails the above tests. The state of Massachusetts has effectively banned all uses of biomass for the production of LIQUID fuels from biomass, except from certified waste streams. Certainly we should avoid exploiting the biomass resources in less developed countries for the developed world’s transportation fuels.

If you are not familiar with biochar made from biomass, I have put together an introduction to Biochar in the form of a collection of notes, links, and pointers. This has also been translated into Chinese.