Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is funding a fantastic biochar processing project through the NGOs Radio Lifeline and Black Earth Project in Rwanda. One of the lesser known and most underestimated renewable energy options, biochar is a process that breaks down biomass into a fertilizing substance that sequesters carbon, and that is the stuff that makes the Amazon's soil so productive.
The project is impressive in the many social objectives it accomplishes; it will help Rwandan coffee farmers to reduce their climate impact while increasing agricultural resilience to climate change, it will reduce waste and improve coffee sustainability, and will provide jobs at the social enterprise in Africa that makes the biochar kilns.
Here is how it works. Biochar production is a closed loop process that turns waste (coffee plantation waste, in this case, but also including manure and other organic waste products) into biofuels and char via pyrolysis, the process of oxygen-less decomposition under high pressure and temperature. This is in contrast to biomass incineration, which may use a similar fuel stock but just burns it, ultimately adding carbon to the atmosphere. The resulting biofuels can be used in a number of capacities in place of oil, and the carbon-rich biochar makes an effective fertilizer. The fertilizer benefit is especially important in Rwanda and equatorial Africa generally, where citizens rely on an agriculture-centric subsistence economy that is greatly affected by weather variability. Climate change has already exacerbated rain variability in Rwanda, and has caused increases in pest populations. However, biochar helps to increase water retention in the soil and acts as a natural pest deterrent.
Just to sweeten this sustainability success story, the Black Earth Project will use "Climate Kilns” to cook the biochar. Climate Kilns are a product from Re:Char, a social enterprise that helps shift “small-holders” to kilns made out of recycled oil drums. re:Char claims that every pound of biochar removes three pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The supply chain is located in Africa and has created jobs related to building and distributing these kilns, which of course, are then used to create biofuel, improve the soil, adapt to climate change, and grow coffee more sustainably.
The funding to the Black Earth Project meshes neatly with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' core business and adds to an innovative and precocious portfolio of corporate responsibility efforts. This project is part of their objective to "partner with supply chain communities," but they also show impressive results in the self-defined categories of "protecting the environment, building sustainable demand, working together for change" and "fostering workplace efforts."
Perhaps, thanks to the cooperation between Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, The Black Earth Project, Radio Lifeline and re:Char, our morning coffee will one day help to mitigate climate change.
Photo by agnes1409.