Dr Christo Miliotis: Make the Problem the SOILution

Today on Unstress, I spoke to Dr Christo Miliotis. If you're a regular listener to this podcast, we did a programme before about his book, Diet for a Cool Planet. Christo is a doctor and scientist who has devoted his life and work to biodynamics.

Christo is always at the cutting edge of how to incorporate agriculture, climate, building, the built environment. He has a holistic view of the world and the problems and the solutions, and that's how he has coined the phrase for the name of this episode: Make the Problem the SOILution.

I hope you enjoyed this conversation I had with Dr Christo Miliotis.

Health Podcast Highlights

Dr Christo Miliotis: Make the Problem the SOILution Introduction

Well, today I’m welcoming back Dr Christo Miliotis, who is the author of that book, we did a programme of A Diet for a Cool Planet. But Christo is always at the cutting edge of how to incorporate agriculture, climate, building, the built environment. He has a holistic view of the world and the problems and the solutions, and that’s how he has coined the phrase for the name of this episode: Make the Problem the SOILution. I hope you enjoyed this conversation I had with Dr Christo Miliotis.

Podcast Transcript

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:00:00] I’d like to acknowledge that I am recording this podcast on the traditional lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation and pay my respects to their elders past, present, and emerging.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:00:18] Hello and welcome to Unstress. My name is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Well, today I’m welcoming back Dr Christo Miliotis, who is the author of that book, we did a programme of A Diet for a Cool Planet

But Christo is always at the cutting edge of how to incorporate agriculture, climate, building, the built environment. He has a holistic view of the world and the problems and the solutions, and that’s how he has coined the phrase for the name of this episode: Make the Problem the SOIL-ution. I hope you enjoyed this conversation I had with Dr Christo Miliotis. Welcome back to the show, Christo.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:01:10] Thank you for inviting me.

Carbon Negative Project

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:01:12] Christo, I know climate change, reducing greenhouse gases, focussing on reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is something I think we all need to be engaged with. Can you tell us about your project to be carbon negative, I think your focus is across three sectors, but I wondered if you could share with us?

The point of departure that I’m introducing is if we reimagine, all the greenhouse gases are actually resources in the wrong place. And we can actually utilise those resources by putting them in the right place, which is the soil. Specifically what is not in the narrative, unfortunately at our great peril is that water vapour has been the thermostat for the planet for millennia.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:02:02] Currently, due to erthogenic gases, it’s like turning up the stove, you know, the gas on the stove with a pot of water, you’re going to produce more water vapour. But water vapour is an amplifying effect, so for every increment of greenhouse gases, collectively, you get up to a fivefold amplifying of the intensity of heat in the atmosphere that’s trapped. 

It’s calculated that the contribution of water vapour to the greenhouse gas effect, which we need to an extent, is 95%. However, the heat, the heat budget, the energy that’s now being trapped is equal to three watts per square metre.

Now, if you put that around the whole sphere of the globe, that’s a lot of energy. There’s a huge transfer of energy that’s being trapped, which is transferred to the oceans, and it’s phenomenal. And it’s not dramatic to say I got the figure in my head, it’s something like 6.27 times 10 to the 29. It’s joules, it’s phenomenal. 

But if you put that in dramatic, but real, terms, it’s equivalent of six atomic bombs, the heat release from six atomic bombs per second. Now, we don’t experience that because there’s a blast body of water, the oceans, but it’s constantly buffering and taking up that excess heat all the time. And of course, not only that, it’s taking up CO2, which is causing acidification. 

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:03:33] Clearly, it’s a race to zero. It’s no longer a debate about, you know, is climate change real? But if we take the position that these greenhouse gases, let’s address water, firstly, as a resource. 

What happens if we divert those rivers in the sky of water vapour into the soil, and we can do that, that has a profound effect on mitigation against climate change, specifically, a 1% increase in soil carbon will allow the soil to increase the capacity to hold water by 1440 litres per hectare. If you go back a step for every litre of water that’s been condensed, it came from 1.76 litres of water vapour and if you multiply that out 1444 by 1.76 it’s around about 435400 litres of water vapour has been sucked out of the atmosphere. 

If we increase the organic content of the soil, it increases their ability

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:04:39] Now you’ve got everybody, Chris, on the, you know, with their calculators out and their pens out, the calculator, but I think the essence of what you’re saying is there’s a lot of energy up there which is being absorbed and carbon dioxide which is being absorbed by the ocean, increasing temperature, increasing acidification. And if we could divert that into the soil and we’ve spoken to many people on this podcast and it bears repeating that if we can increase the organic content of soils, we will increase their ability to absorb water. 

which as we know, as you increase the average atmospheric concentration of CO2, you get a strongly correlated exponential increase in temperature. That’s undeniable. Keeling. When asked by the wonderful president of the US, Jimmy Carter, he said, “What’s the story about burning fossil fuels? And what impact will that have in the future on climate change?” Very forward-thinking. 

And Keeling’s response was, “Look, certainly, carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels will increase the temperature and have an impact on climate change.” However, water vapour also is a greenhouse gas, but it’s so ubiquitous, so ephemeral. It shifts so often. There are so many variables, even if you have dense clouds, you’re going to reflect light. If you have a light cloud, it will, there are just too many variables. I haven’t got that quite right. If you’ve got dense cloud, it will reflect light this way, but also reflect cloud that way. 

There are many variations of cloud formation. There are just too many variables to model. So he made the understandable but significantly fatal error by abstracting it out by saying, “Let’s take water vapour out of the equation, we can ever think, even though I can understand it from a scientific point of view and measuring and develop. But there’s a consequence to telling that story.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:06:48] Now, if we really embraced this graph that I’m going to detail for you and replace it with the Keeling Curve, we will have a substantial different practise to significantly reverse climate change, potentially within 10 years, by the end of this decade, to potentially, assess the word potentially, get to pre-industrial levels of CO2, which is about 280 in 1870. So there is a huge leveraging that can be achieved through managing the water cycle. 

And that’s done by coupling it with the carbon cycle and explaining that graph as referring to if you’ve got on the y-axis, soil moisture, and on the x-axis, you’ve got soil carbon, it’s a linear gradient that goes up with a significant slope. So the more you know, as I said, 1% increase in soil carbon, and 44000 litres, 2% 280000 litres, etc, etc. So and behind that figure is that came from water vapour.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:08:00] So if we introduce that graph as our central focus, and shifted from a headed tectonic shift away from carbon centric perspective on climate change, to a hydro centric perspective on climate change. But including the idea that they work together, water follows carbon, as sure as night follows day. Carbon is the backbone of life, but water is the bearer of life. You can have the best soil in the world without water, and nothing will happen. You can have the worst soil sand, dessert and you’ve got water and of course, you need organic matter to hold it. You’ve got the potassium to grow and that’s being done in a community called Sekem. S-E-K-E-M.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:08:49] It’s worth looking up S-E-K-E-M. Their farming, the desert, has been doing so for 30 years. It’s a community of 2000 people, 20000 surrounding farmers in Sekem. Now engaged in growing organic camomile for etc. It’s just wonderful but the key thing about Sekem is slightly off-topic, but relevant as well, is it basically we’re destroying soil structure by agrochemicals. 

We’re destroying the life of the soil, which is a soul microbiome. So when you use pesticides, you’re killing microbes. When you’re using fertilisers, you’re diminishing the diversity of microbes. Now we know what that does in the gut. If we diminish the number and diversity of microbes, we’re setting up for disease. Similarly, in the soil.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:09:41] So at one stage in Egypt, they were spraying for they grow a lot of cotton and still do. On fields over water bodies where people are living, where there were cattle, where there were et cetera, it was wrong and this community went to the Department of Agriculture in Egypt said, Look, follow it this way. They reduce the pesticide use for the growing of cotton by 95% that has a profound impact on the life of the soil. So we can do things, we’ve just got to rethink it. 

And on that theme of rethinking, let’s envisage greenhouse gases as a resource and principal resource is water vapour, and we can divert those rivers in the sky and make the soil a reservoir. Like a dam to hold that water in, but in a way that it still breathes. 

These soils are suffocating through chemical farming, which denatured the structural integrity of the soil, and we compensate by using steel plow, which actually makes it worse in the long term because we’re exposing carbon to oxygen, hello, you got CO2. And so we’re destroying natural capital. We’re squandering the natural capital of soil at lambing rage..

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:11:09] However, in a positive way, if we, I’ve been working for 17 years in the space, but more concentrated in the last year, which is in my book, A Diet for a Cool Planet, 17 pathways from the sky to soil, 17 ways in which you can take these untapped resources, and three microbes and plants primarily and minerals as well.

Take those excess resources in the atmosphere which came from the Earth anyhow initially and put them back where they belong through primarily microbes and plants as the agents of that fall. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:11:53] And your focus is on these three sectors of agriculture, clean energy production, and carbon negative…

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:11:59] Look, we got a project we’re working up, which obviously is funding dependent. In other words, if we get the funding, we can realise it. But the element, I can’t talk about locations is too early to say, but a significant initiative from the New South Wales government. We probably can’t talk about that too, but we had a very fruitful discussion and the feedback was it was a very well thought out project

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:12:24] So what’s the project? It’s in one of the new hubs that’s been developed hydrogen hubs. And it’s been good fortune that I’ve been working with a Professor of Microbiology in China for seven years, and we’ve established regenerative farming in the form of biodynamic practises. And we’ve been doing that successfully. 

For seven years, we’ve done many trials, both hothouses laboratory and extensive field trials, in every case found increased production, reducing irrigation by 50%, increased nutrient density, increase plant health, almost absence of plant diseases and pests, right, by primarily using a soil inoculant with over 500 identified species, which works synergistically and in a multifunctional way to improve the functioning of the soil microbiome ecosystem. And the consequence is… 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:13:19] This is almost this is like the probiotics of agriculture…

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:13:22] Yeah, yeah, you could say that, but we can… Some of the probiotics, if you want to call them, actually take directly carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. One of the species in the mix of the magic microbes is acetobacter fungi, which takes directly CO2 from the atmosphere. 

And I first heard about this some years ago, when a boffin from a new talked about a real-life situation where someone had compost with presumably these microbes, they would be in the compost, on a tray, on a huge, I assume it could be in a truck, I think, and they went to the waste station in Newcastle and it was X number of tonnes. They went to the waste station outside Sydney and there was X plus tonnes. Right. That didn’t rain. It was being pulled out of the atmosphere. So this is one…

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:14:13] Interesting. 

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:14:15] …That’s one organism that I’m also working with a company that’s developing things called melanizing endophytic fungi, melanizing in melanin when you got sun, you make melanin, that’s carbon. 

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:14:27] Endophytic means it interdigitates through inserts the fungal filaments into the root system to give a better transfer of primarily foods and minerals exchange. 

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:14:44] Fungi, which are extensive networks, and basically if you compared the melanizing endophytic fungi to normal endophytic fungi, you increase the carbon sequestered by an additional 17%. These things stack up, so these 17 different strategies, you’re not going to do them all, you’re going to cost them out and work out the cost benefits. 

And I spent probably three months doing that for each particular one as best I could. And you know, it depends on what sort of investment, what sort of return you’re expecting, and how it’s going to lift productivity, efficiency of nutrient cycling, efficiency of water usage and so on, and improved ecosystem functioning. But they’re all been, you know, very carefully researched, and they’ll all work. I mean, at some stage, in an ideal world, you put them all too many together and see what happens and you work out the relative influence of each but that’s a big task both even the statistics of it, but the costing.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:15:48] So we’re doing modified versions so we’re getting we intentions give most bang for the buck. So on that score, agriculture uses the fastest-growing plants not necessarily monoculture, but the fastest-growing, which have meant multiple uses. And hemp is the one that people mostly refer to as quite 1000+ uses of hemp now, and it’s becoming allowed in more parts of Australia.

Looking to the future – An alternative to hemp

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:16:16] But I’m working with another plant. It’s similar in some ways, but have a complete different family called Kenaf. And Kenaf’s botanical name is hibiscus cannabinus, so it’s got leaf-like cannabis, but it’s not, but it’s got a stem-like bamboo, so it’s a very vertical stem and the stem can grow up to a telephone pole high. You can grow up to three to four crops a year. It’s less thirsty than hemp, which is not that thirsty. You can grow without any external inputs, particularly pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. 

Of course, we use fertilisers, you increase growth, and that’s a thing, you know, which fertilisers and are you going to use nitrogen fertiliser. So I’m working on a system of using rotations because it’s synonymous with a perennial doing rotations which have nitrogen-fixing, deep-rooted grazing plants.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:17:16] So just to give you scope that out so let’s assume we’re well, we’re going to be working on a mining site and we’ve got a precedent. We’ve actually done similar work and I’ll refer to that later. When we take one of the by-products of the liquid that’s left over producing hydrogen from this fast-growing kenaf, and it’s a fertiliser and it revegetates and has a great plant promotion effect. 

So that’s one by-product we’re getting. We’re getting, we’ve got a consortium now where we can monitor carbon dioxide in the ground aboveground. With satellites using far infra-red and then calibrating that to core samples, using particular algorithms so we can monitor cheaply. There’s another independent body that does the accreditation of the carbon credits, and there’s another company which trades on the International Voluntary Carbon Exchange. Currently, the Australian carbon credit was gone from $12 two years ago to now $30.

The Carbon Credits System explained

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:18:26] So does low carbon credit, I mean, I know this was an initiative that came about in the Gillard Times where we had a price on carbon and, boy, talk about a missed opportunity. Thank you to all of those that have followed. What’s the, what are we talking about there, Chris?

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:18:44] Thanks, Ron. It’s a very good question. It’s not to do with the misnamed carbon tax. It’s nothing to do with that. It’s not an impact on emitting carbon, it’s actually giving a credit, a value to carbon that’s drawn out of the atmosphere and it’s paid. Thank you because I forget, I sort of live and breathe and the stuff, I just think… thank you for the question. You’re a good interviewer, Ron.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:19:09] Oh, thank you

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:19:11] It’s worked out per tonne of CO2 that’s put in the ground and has to be stable, because there’s different fractions of carbon. So carbon one is labour, which we need because interestingly, the plants have their stoma, their mouths, their nostrils and really under the leaf. And why is that? Because when bacteria in the soil break down organic matter like us, they expire CO2. So that then goes up and is taken into the plant. And that’s how the magic of photosynthesis happens through sunlight water. 

So it’s actually coming from the ground. That’s why plant cover crops are vital to this whole carbon water cycle integration because if we can reduce the water needs by 50% with our microbes, we can further reduce loss of soil moisture by having the air conditioners, we plant species, which can utilise that carbon. So that’s a 75% total potentially, it cost varies with the species of vegetation.

The true value of ‘carbon farming’

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:20:20] So the picture I’m building is that there’s a value to sequestering carbon or carbon farming. It’s getting more and more profitable. Well, reality the true value of the eco-services rendered by sequestering a tonne of CO2 into the ground. This resource that I keep talking that’s in the wrong place is actually calculated by a professor, Rattan Lal, who’s advised the IPCC is a social scientist of renown. And he said the true value is $125 per tonne. 

Now, in the last year, we’ve got an increase in 13% of our carbon credits in Australia, but it’s way undervalued. It’s got to go. So, but the voluntary international voluntary carbon exchange actually gives more.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:21:13] This is one thing that I just, it staggers me, the poor leadership that we have had and particularly from people that as far as I understand it, or representing people in the country, because, you know, so many of the farmers people in agriculture that I’ve spoken to, whether they’re raising sheep or cattle or growing crops, those that are into regenerative agriculture will always describe themselves as soil farmers. 

They just happen to be growing a crop or or an animal. And they are, I think every farmer in the world, certainly in Australia, is sitting on a gold mind. Because when it’s calculated how much that soil and how much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, that they can drag down into their ground and be paid $125, or even if it’s $30 a tonne. That is the income, and the rest is just icing on the cake. And for the life of me, I can’t understand why there are so so-called representatives on championing that idea

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:22:21] Well, I appreciate your rhetoric and the passion behind the rhetoric.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:22:26] And I couldn’t resist, Chris. I couldn’t resist.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:22:30] I could be provocative, but I won’t. Quite frankly, the conservative government who’s struggling to find their identity and orientation towards carbon issue. They have been champions of soil carbon farming. I mean, Tony Abbott, who misnamed the carbon price, a carbon tax, was very favourable towards carbon farming. 

So it’s agnostic in terms of both sides of the political spectrum agree that soil carbon is a part of the solution. Emphasised SOILution. And what I would say is there’s golden dem day hills, but it’s block coal not yellow gold. Yellow fever, it’s black fever. So certainly it’s the case. It is a sideline, and it rewards farmers for doing things which are positive because around that carbon sequestration, it’s a proxy for measurement of soil health and functionality.

Is this we’ve always in our solar reductionistic way narrowed in on carbon and left out the water cycle and we really get that it’s the integration, the recoupling, however, you want to put it, of this intricately connected water cycle with the carbon cycle. We’re kind of missing 95% of the action and really take that on. We’re still in trouble even as we do carbon economies.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:24:03] But let me proceed on our project. But thank you. So we’re growing, fast-growing crops, not necessarily monoculture. We then harvest that and we can expose the stem to microbes and a medium of nutrients, which can then utilise the carbohydrate chains to produce hydrogen. If you’ve got carbohydrate chain, you’ve got C, C, C, C C, H, H, HO, H, H and these microbes can nip off the H-es. 

And because it’s very volatile, they come together form hydrogen that floats off, and we obviously capture that. So that’s doable and has been done, and my colleague, Professor Chao Dong, has been working in the space of five years with a team of four. And with so much patience, so many experiments over and over again and refining, refining, refining. 

And I’m on the verge of getting him an academic position at a renowned university, we’re seen which one will accept him, but he’s a great asset, whichever university adopts him, so to speak, because he’s been to Australia a number of times, speaking at international renewable energy conferences, and he’s fallen in love with the place. So he wants to live here.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:25:26] And this is the clean, this is the clean energy production of utilising that carbohydrate and breaking the bonds and releasing hydrogen for hydrogen energy. 

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:25:36] Yes, so the carbon dioxide that’s going on in the atmosphere, which was laid down aeons ago from old sun energy, is now being repurposed to convert that carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and produce clean hydrogen. So we’re exchanging carbon for hydrogen and hence decarbonising. 

this is the kicker with carbonising the soil as we decarbonise the economy. We’re working with the economies oAndf nature, we’re building soil capital, we’re building that black gold in the hills. And we’re expecting, we’re mining carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but we’re also diverting the rivers of water vapour in the atmosphere to the soil again, to make it do so.

What are the actual long term effects of methane on our planet? 

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:26:29] Now, with methane. Obviously, methane is of concern. It’s got it lasts for about 20 years. It’s got potentially a global warming capacity of 80 times CO2 per equivalent volume. And of course, you know, poor old cows have been bad pressed. If you look at proper management of herbivores, as has been done, the best soils in the world are where the bison used to roam. Very, very sourced. And it’s the bison poo, and there’s a lot of urine that’s built those prairie grasses until exterminated, almost to extinction. And now people realised.

So if we manage herbivores properly, they’re actually building soil capital carbon and soil structure and water holding capacity, not robbing them. It just depends on management, and I won’t go into all the calculations around that. But there’s a big misinformation, and I’ve got no problem with vegans, I’m mostly vegetarian myself. But, you know, we need to really get a sense two thirds of land today and agriculture is not suitable for horticulture. It’s suitable for right grazing. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:27:38] I know that you would know Allan Savory, of course, and I had the privilege of having him on as a guest, and it still rings in my ears time and time again. And that is, it’s not the resource which is the problem, it’s how the resource is managed.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:27:52] Correct. So getting…

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:27:53] …and this also and I’m guessing you’re going to tell me also that this provides us with a building material?

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:27:58] So we’re pulling these resources out, milking the resources out of the atmosphere through plants and microbes directly, and indirectly by the microbes breaking down the plants to form soil carbon. In our rehabilitation of mining site, which we’ve done before, using the leftover water from making the hydrogen by the microbes to regenerate mining land, profoundly, and we did a comparison with another company. 

And those chalk and cheese the side we treated with without irrigation 100% cover above knee growth. The other one was, at best, a 30% cover above ankle growth with irrigation. So it’s chalk and cheese.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:28:42] So in proper mixed farming, because silver pasture and agroforestry are probably the best land management techniques to sequester the most amount of carbon. So silver pasture just means ideally up to 30% tree cover with pasture. That’s the optimal. That’s a lot of trees to be planted, but farmers think they get more grass, which is not true by knocking down trees. 

It’s just crazy, and we stop the water cycle because trees give off bacteria and certain volatile substances with seed clouds and it’s not cutting down trees. You not got that pulling power to draw moisture headwinds from the ocean in across land to then condense as rainfall. So we’re doing it all wrong. We’re not quite sure, but righteous nature is crying out for us to listen, screaming in fact.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:29:40] We’re getting back to the subject. So what we’re doing, we can grow kenaf because the reason we’re choosing is temperate not kenaf came out of Africa, which is much hotter. And so we’ve got a growing season about eight months. So what do we do with the four months remaining? 

So I’m doing research and working with the most, the CEO of a company to be formed, which call H2H2. Hemp to hydrogen, but think H-es are for hibiscus cannabinus as well. So plants to hydrogen. So we’re looking at particular nitrogen-fixing perennial grass species with deep roots because that puts carbon in the underground and the cattle can graze on that in the offseason, so to speak. 

They chop it down the root that’s more carbon in the ground. And then that’s fertilising through the poo and the, you know, the urine and saliva thing bison. And then we’ve got the nitrogen without putting fertiliser, which can add to nitrous oxide production. And then we grow the kenaf. And then we harvest that kenaf yearly cycle that way.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:30:53] The products we can make and you asked this before is they can then take the fibre, which is actually improved because we’ve etched out, so to speak, the carbohydrate chains, which are not structural. But we left the lignin and the hemicellulose and the silica fibres, which have the structural load-bearing capacity, and improved tensile strength, et cetera.

I call it, I’ve just coined this, it hasn’t been trademarked, but please don’t steal it. It’s called Forever Carbon. I’m very trustworthy. But it’s called Forever Carbon building materials. Every component of the guiding principle behind the formulation besides its functionality is every component will sequester carbon. The kenaf or hemp or we’re going to be doing some work with pine palm oil to try and change the palm oil industry to be carbon negative. 

And we can use the fibre to produce, we can use the fronds, which are cut regularly as an ongoing resource for the microbes produced hydrogen. Then we take the fibre and we can use that for structural incorporation in by a composite material for building. And you can make floorboards, you can make roofs, you can make furniture, you can make houses, and they perform very well. So that’s carbon sequestering.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:32:15] Then we use a mineral element, can’t tell you what it is, which draws down carbon per ton of the mineral, which is very ubiquitous but not mining rare elements like lithium or whatever it’s can make up this class of rock type constitutes about 80% of our Earth’s crust. So there’s plenty of it. We’re not going to run out of it. That’s the second component. And for every ton of that, there’s a couple of options depending on availability, it has to be crushed and then it will absorb one ton of CO2. So that second component. 

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:32:51] The third component is an epoxy bar, is a non-toxic from renewable energies as a by-product from the palm oil industry. And that also sequesters carbon, so it’s called forever carbon for a very good reason, and that what properties does that view, it is fireproof. We’ve got a fire. We’ve got a climate challenge. 

Well, we need to adapt our building based on ancient Rome. But what we’ve got to face, we’ve got to face floods, you’ve got to fight fires, we’ve got to face intense wind speeds. And in our preliminary prototyping of that not necessary that form I just spoke of a similar one without the mineral element, which will only improve function can resist potentially winds up to 200 kilometres an hour. 

Of course, we’ve got a test. Fireproofing, we’re still working on, but most of the elements are fireproof. But we’re going to tweak and tweak that depending on which resin we choose, and that’s going to be a bit of adjusting. But it’s on the way. It’s definitely on the way. And I’m doing work with a university in Sydney.

How do we get off the grid?

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:34:08] Now, Chris, one of the things that I think is appealing on many levels is being off-grid, you know, not being dependent on the grid. And I know that’s something you’re very passionate about. How do we get there? What are the additional inclusions to make, to a dwelling that goes completely off-grid?

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:34:26] Yeah, it’s a team effort, and there’s been a lot of work done in this space. And essentially, we’re going to be using a solar film which would be coating the roofs, the walls, and the windows. Which will collect solar energy on a cloudy day will be 60% more efficient than a conventional photovoltaic solar panel. That’s a great invention. 

So what do you do with a southern facing wall in the southern hemisphere? I’m working and I haven’t got this, I’ve been in discussions with different manufacturers, what is possible now is to take the resource cold water vapour and use particular fabricated cladding, which can harvest water vapour, and condense it to down to 30% relative humidity. 

But the point is we can get decent air and we can produce it around one centilitre of drinkable potable water and potentially depending on what investment you do. Potentially, that could be 200 litres per day for a household. So we’re also working on a bathroom, of industrialised bathroom design, which I actually designed some years ago. 

I don’t want to give away my age, but some years ago when I was young and I designed a system which I’m going to reinvent and ideally working with 3D printing and this photograph of this most beautiful portable loo with the most ascetic design called the throne, look it up the throne, made out of recycled plastic. 

We’re not going to use recycled plastic, we’re going to use kenaf out of fibre, and these bar resins, which should be easy to clean, have a sort of a bumpy surface that’s, you know, it’s anti-slip but easy to clean, no grouting, no mould, et cetera.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:36:41] That’ll be, and it can be built within any it’s a different way of plumbing as well. So it’s a centralised plumbing system and you basically have radiating arms out. One is the toilet, one is basin, one is a shower, and so you can put it in any space. So we’re kind of that’s the first 3D printing project I’m going to undertake because a lot of investment involved in robots, et cetera, and et cetera. But sanitation is a big issue. 

We need to go as Buckminster Fuller, mass production like the T mobile for mass-produced cars changed us from the horse and buggy era to the current motor era, which has got some issues. 

And Henry Ford, actually, built the first team car and look it up on YouTube, and he got they got an axe and it bounced off the ball, that’s how strong it is. And it was run in Kabul in 1945 is run on hemp oil. So I’m just saying he was so ahead of his time, so the only downside of cars, as you know, was producing greenhouse gases. But that’s shifting. But he saw that in 1949. So this, you know, aeroplane bodies, skis, catamarans.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:37:59] Yeah, Christ, the inclusion I’m kind of thinking about this because you’ve coupled this water cycle in the carbon cycle together and you made the point that Keeling, when he was advising President Carter, thought there were just too many variables there. And for anybody that lives their life around a weather report, I think we all know that instinctively that they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

I love the way that Keeling decided to solve that problem by just eliminating it completely from calculations. You’re bringing it back. You’re kind of saying, we need to couple these two things. Is that real? I mean, he did it for a reason, and there are many… Is that doable?

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:38:44] You’re right that by making the false assumption that water vapour is so ubiquitous and vast, there’s no way in hell that man’s activity can influence it. That was back in the 1980s, and I think when the first I look at this seriously or late 70s, but let’s say early 80s, I don’t know the exact history. So let’s forgive him. 

But the problem is we’ve inherited the legacy of misguided perspective. And, you know, in my research and talking to serious soil scientists are taking the hydrological cycle as well. Water cycle. They’re saying that by the end of this decade, we could get back to pre-industrial to 280 parts per million of CO2. 

Now that’s a big ask, but it was one of the 17 pathways planning kenaf on a certain amount the percentage of landmass of Australia. We can wipe out 70% of greenhouse gases. This is one intervention and making any products similar to. I’m actually going to Malaysia. They’ve got 25 industries fledgling industries around kenaf – alternative paper, alternative fabric, alternative toilet paper, alternative building, alternative car body parts, et cetera. These are serious fibres, and we just need to use smart too. Yeah.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:40:15] Now, another thing, Chris, I just want to come back to because I want to understand a little bit more clearly the carbon credit story because perhaps I was off on a bit of a rant there, but I do believe that it has such incredible potential for farmers. Where are we actually at there now? Do our farmers actually earn income from the credits? 

Do farmers earn income from carbon credits?

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:40:36] I’ve been following the story. I first became aware of carbon farming in 2004 and since that time beyond this trajectory, and I’ve spoken to lead researchers in Australia to decrease the cost. Currently, it’s only for the big players. Like a lot of things to buy into that game, so to speak, is $70000 (Australian $) to do an audit because it has to be like it’s like putting money in the bank, like a gold bar in a vault. 

You know, it just happens to be the soil. So they have a lot of assumptions to factor in the labour component we spoke of. And in other words, if you put down a tonne of CO2, they’ll take out 40% because some of that’s low ball depending on what growing system to use and how you work with the soil, you can obviously improve that. 

But that’s an assumption because this is a commodity, this is a currency that is being exchanged. So if someone’s rewarded for that, it has to be scientifically rigorous and it’s quite onerous the monitoring system. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:41:50] Seven more… 

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:41:52] …let’s say a bushfire happens or trees cut whatever, the farm is liable. So if he’s paid money, he has to give it back. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:42:04] So this audit, this audit is literally an audit of the carbon on your land?

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:42:09] Yeah, it’s not attractive, and it’s too expensive and time-consuming unless you’re a big operation. There has been the first carbon farming credits in the world were awarded in Australia in Victoria. But the Angus Taylor, who whips the Minister for Energy, I believe… 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:42:31] But I think he’s, I think he’s the mission’s admissions reduction minister and I and I make that purposefully. It’s not emissions, it’s admissions.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:42:43] Yeah, let’s be apolitical here.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:42:46] Okay. Okay. I can, I get carried away, Chris. I’m sorry.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:42:48] I know I share your frustration, bro.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:42:51] Okay. But go on.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:42:59] Give me a good story about Angus Taylor. Go on.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:43:03] Their aspiration is to get the monitoring of carbon $3 per hectare

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:43:08] Right. Okay.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:43:10] What we are, we have signed an agreement with somebody who has come out of France, which is equivalent to CSIRO. It’s 120 solar scientists and software engineers which have made an app. We can monitor your fluxes of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, water, carbon above and below ground and many other things. It gives you an overall health rating. 

So if you’re doing x y z on your farm, it can tell you you’re going towards a higher score or lower score, so you get feedback. It’s integrated with that, you know, always shifting weather so you can integrate that into your app so you can touch your volume of water irrigation, et cetera.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:44:00] So there are many other layers to it. Emissions from cows, methane. Do you change your feed? You change your management. You can monitor methane that’s coming off. And by the way, that can also be rewarded. For every kind of methane you don’t emit, you get a credit, which is 20 times more than a carbon credit equivalent. 

And if you take, we’re building a case and validating it, if you don’t use synthetic fertilisers, which play havoc and produce nitrous oxide, which lasts for 300 years and has got 296 times global warming capacity due to CO2 equivalent volume, that’s a massive amount. And of course, even with organic systems, you’re still creating some nitrous oxide, but you can minimise that and optimise that. 

So the farmer can be rewarded by change of practise. And the tool to audit is through the combination of the three, this package – monitoring with foreign forage imaging, correlating to a degree initially to validate it with core samples using algorithms, then giving that independently accredited and then trading like a carbon, you know, cryptocurrency instead of its carbon tote, which can be exchanged using blockchain, which is very transparent.

And there’s an engine or there’s a company that does international trading and the voluntary markets worth more per kilo a ton of CO2 or carbon equivalents as in methane and nitrous oxide. Although we have to make the case and validate that. That’s part of our future research and it’s massive, massive amounts of money that the farmer can be rewarded. 

I don’t think it’s going to be paid. We’re not paying farmers $525 per tonne, but we can hit in that direction or and independent of the. The rewards the farmers get just makes sense in terms of maximising and optimising the economies of healthy soil.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:46:07] Hmm. Well, Chris, I think that’s a great note for us to finish on and I always so enjoy talking to you. You’re a visionary. You’ve got a plan. You know, I love to hear about the positives that are available to us and I look forward to following the progress of this initiative as it unfolds. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:46:29] Can I make one statement?

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:46:32] Absolutely.

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:46:32] “Make the problem the SOILution.”

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:46:38] I love it. Thanks, Chris. 

Dr Christo Miliotis: [00:46:40] Thank you. Thanks very much. I’ll keep you updated as we go.


Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:46:47] So there it is. I mean, I always enjoy talking to Christo. His background is he’s a medical practitioner who obviously well, not obviously, he has become passionate about regenerative agriculture, as have I. And with good reason, and I think it’s something we in the city need to be engaging with. I’m going to really look forward to hearing more stories and seeing how this whole project unfolds.

I think one of the challenges for us is we are constantly bombarded by bad news about environmental degradation, about climate change, about the warming planet, about all the things that are imminent, and I think they are real, and I think we need to confront those and face those, and we need to hear those stories constantly. 

But we also need to hear visions of the future which are positive, which can turn this around if only we embrace them. So that’s why I was so keen to connect with Christo and his book, of course, A Diet for a Cool Planet. And I loved his, the problem and make the problem the SOILution. I want that. In fact, we’re going to call this episode just that. I hope this finds you well. Until next time. This is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Be well.


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.