Nov. 27, 2009 – According to a press release from Biofuelwatch and Global Justice
Ecology Project, environmental campaigners warn that a lawsuit over fraud
against a company claiming to be the world's largest manufacturer and
distributor of biochar presents a stark warning of the dangers of the scramble
for funding for unproven climate change techno-fixes.
In the same week that the Obama administration announced a new task force for
investigating financial fraud, Mantria Industries was taken to court by the
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which accuses the company of running
a Ponzi scheme involving fraudulent investment deals targeted at elderly
people. On 16 November 2009, the SEC charged four individuals and two
companies, Mantria Corporation and Speed of Wealth LLC, over allegations that
they had encouraged mainly elderly people to liquidate their pensions for "green"
investments, offering fraudulent securities.
Mantria Industries has been marketing biochar through a joint venture with Hawaii-based
company Carbon Diversions. Biochar is fine-powdered charcoal, which advocates
claim will combat climate change by sequestering carbon when added to the soil.
Scientific studies, however, are inconclusive, and there are concerns that
biochar could potentially make climate change worse.(1) Nonetheless, biochar
advocates, whose main lobby group is the International Biochar Initiative, are
calling for U.S. subsidies and carbon offsets, as well as international carbon
Carbon offsets for biochar have been proposed in the U.S. Senate "Clean Energy
Partnerships" bill recently put forward by Senator Stabenow.(2) A separate
WECHAR bill (S.1713/H.R.3748) proposes mandatory financial support for biochar
developments. Earlier this year, over 150 organizations worldwide urged caution
over biochar and warned against biochar carbon offsets. The potential for
large-scale biochar plantations at the expense of communities, forests, and
other ecosystems and the climate has raised particular concern.
1) Biochar dust can become airborne, contributing to "black soot", a major cause of warming.
Its effects on soils are also highly variable, in some cases causing emissions
from breakdown of soils organic carbon. Mantria's biochar, called
"Eternagreen" was made using tires, plastics, and other materials,
which can result in concentration of dangerous toxins. For more information:
2) Senator Stabenow's bill (S.2729) contains proposals for forestry and agricultural offsets, and unlike
the House climate bill, includes biochar as an eligible technology. The
Senate is expected to make a decision on this proposal early next year.