Eprida (Earth, People, Research, Innovation, Development, Acknowledgement) offers a revolutionary new sustainable energy technology that could potentially help solve several of the world's energy crises simultaneously. Their closed-loop system removes CO2 from the air by putting carbon into the topsoil where it is needed to nurture and keep it furtile. The process creates hydrogen rich bio-fuels and a restorative high-carbon fertilizer while removing net carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The technology promises to transform woody biomass into a combination of a restorative high-carbon fertilizer and high-energy green diesel fuel, be carbon negative, i.e. store more long-term carbon in the soil than is released, return all of the minerals from biomass crops to the soil, improve soil fertility and restore depleted land, eliminate the need for ammonium nitrate fertilizer from expensive natural gas, provide energy independence, potentially provide additional carbon credit income to farmers and do all of this for a profit. Sounds pretty good (and kind of complicated) to us. How does it work?The idea is based on the premise that there are four fundamental challenges facing our world:
- Too much carbon in the air, causing global warming and climate change
- Too little carbon in the soil, causing depletion of topsoil and loss of fertility
- Too much nitrogen in the water, causing acidification of the oceans
- Too little oil and gas hydrocarbon reserves underground, causing peak oil
The Eprida process is based on the synergy among three key insights. First, that charcoal can help restore and maintain healthy, productive topsoil. Based on ancient topsoil management techniques discovered in the Amazon basin, the terra preta, or "black earth," soils produced by burying charcoal in the ground still remain bountiful five hundred years later. The charcoal acts like a coral reef for soil organisms and fungi, creating a rich micro ecosystem where organic carbon is bound to minerals to form rich soil.
With modern technology, low temperature charcoal can instead be made by a hybrid pyrolysis process whereby biomass such as wood chips or agricultural waste is heated in a sealed vessel. Once started, this process gives off heat while it drives off steam and hydrogen, which can be captured, purified and used for energy. Hydrogen can be used to make transitional fuels such as GTL biodiesel today, or used directly in a fuel cell to make electricity or power vehicles in the future. So, making a combination of less energy and charcoal from biomass is the second key breakthrough.
Just burying charcoal in the soil is beneficial. Japanese studies have found that adding up to 10% charcoal increases fertility in most soils, but adding even more charcoal won't hurt and if nitrogen is added to the charcoal it produces an even more effective fertilizer. Most fertilizer is currently produced by using natural gas to extract nitrogen from the air to make ammonia, but this releases one molecule of CO2 for each molecule of ammonia produced. Conventional urea based fertilizers, made from this ammonia, also tend to leach out and wash off into waterways, where they become a serious pollutant causing algae bloom and ultimately dangerously acidifying the oceans.
The third breakthrough in creating the Eprida ECOSS process came with the discovery that if ammonia (NH3), carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O), are all combined in the presence of charcoal they will form a solid, ammonium bicarbonate (NH4HCO3) fertilizer inside the pores of the charcoal. About 30% of the hydrogen derived from the biomass will make enough ammonia to combine with all of the charcoal from the same biomass to scrub CO2 flue gases from a power plant, converting all of the ingredients into a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer on charcoal.
The overall process can put almost all of the carbon that was removed from the air by the biomass back into the soil in a stable form, effectively removing net CO2 from the air. When used with biomass and coal, the process will scrub about 60% of the CO2 out of the flue gases from the coal, as well as all of the sulfur and nitrogen oxides, turning these compounds, which would otherwise contribute to acid rain if released into the air, into valuable constituents in the high-carbon fertilizer.