Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I'm pretty interested in this general question of agricultural residue management for carbon capture.  As far as I'm able to determine there are three possibilities of varying degrees of "greenness":
  • Turn the residues into cellulosic ethanol
  • Biochar (briefly mentioned the other day)
  • Turn the residues into building materials
The most famous possibility amongst the last is straw bale construction, but I wanted to briefly mention another version of this which strikes me as having more potential to scale industrially - there's a company called Agriboard in Texas that turns straw into a kind of Structural Insulated Panel used for green buildings.  There's a company in England, Stramit, that's been around a lot longer and does something similar.

At the moment, there's an interesting series on the first house in California being built with Agriboard by the architect, Michael Cobb (from which the picture at right is drawn).

Agriboard seems to be getting some traction (as we say in the startup industry), having done a bunch of bank branches for Wachovia and Bank of America.  On the other hand, the factory burned down in a wildfire last year, and they had to relocate, which has got to have hurt. According to the news article:
Electra Police Chief Johnny Morris has lived and worked in North Texas for many years, but this week threw together circumstances unlike anything he has ever seen.

“I have never in my life,” Morris said, “had this many fires over this many counties start at the same time.”
Strong, straight-line winds carried flames across counties in North Texas and Oklahoma, stretching thin the fire departments — many of them rural, volunteer departments — that were called on to help.

“Mutual aid was requested, but everybody had large fires and couldn’t come help until everybody was done with their fires,” Morris said.
That sounds like a pretty interesting candidate for a new climate change feedback right there...

Given the enormous demand for housing that there's inevitably going to be globally over the next few decades as world population rises to 9-10 billion, I'm interested in understanding the scalability of these options more precisely.  In particular, there are complex issues with how much straw should be left on the field that I'm not on top of yet (see, for example, this discussion in the context of cellulosic ethanol production in Washington State).

1 comment:

Michael Cobb said...

Didn't know about Stramit. I'll have to look into that Stuart. Thanks for the info.