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Biochar: The Oldest New Thing You've Never Heard Of: Wae Nelson at TEDxOrlando

Wae Nelson was employed as a mechanical engineer in the aerospace and defense industries for many years, working both as a designer and as a manager in manufacturing. Now he publishes the magazine beloved by local gardeners, Florida Gardening, and pursues his passion for biochar — a diy, scalable technique to both improve horticultural yields and sequester carbon simultaneously.

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Photographer and Boing Boing reader Tom Blackwell shot a wonderful series of images from a visit to an abandoned coal power plant in the UK: the Thorpe Marsh Power Station. He shared them with us in the BB Flickr pool, and explains about the image above:


I have only ever seen these from a great distance and was always aware of their vast magnitude, but the size becomes breathtakingly apparent when looking directly up at one.

During regular operation they are filled with an array of equipment to assist with the cooling of the moisture that they vent; but many of the towers at Thorpe Marsh have been gutted of their innards and allow superb views right up through the interior.

A few more below, with Tom's notes. Do have a look at the whole set in his Flickr stream.


The crumbling skeleton of this coal-fired giant sits broodingly in low lying fields to the north of Doncaster. The story of Thorpe Marsh Power Station began with its construction in 1959, amid much fanfare heralding its advanced generators and state-of-the-art component technologies.

After decades of faithful service to the National Grid, the station was finally terminated in 1994 and is rapidly succumbing to the ravages of foliage and the British weather. It's one of the more intruiging abandoned places that I've visited.

For many photographers there's always a ghostly awareness of the activities that once transpired in derelict structures but Thorpe Marsh is a truly thrilling spot to visit due to the sheer scale of it. The 45 acres that encompass the property were clearly seething with human activity once upon a time - but now are as still as the grave, awaiting their fate in silence broken only by whistling winds.

Although earmarked for demolition, no action has yet been taken to raze the towers for reasons of safety. It is said that any explosion big enough to bring these things down would generate enough of a shockwave to rupture the wall of the nearby canal, bringing massive disruption to the area. In addition to that concern, the structures are liberally packed with asbestos that would be scattered across farmland for miles around following an exposive demolition. As such, the towers prevail for now at least.

Click here to see an aerial view of this location.


Cooling towers are cast in a hyperboloid shape, which make for some fun perspectives when photographing them. They also generate some incredible echos inside. It was a very windy day when I visited Thorpe Marsh and the rustling of some old debris at the base of the tower turned into a crescendo of loud whispers which was very eerie indeed.

Have a look at this image
to see how these structures appear during construction.


Whilst this site has long since ceased to generate anything, it remains connected to the grid as part of the "Sheffield Ring" - a group of circuits and substations which transport electricity to the Sheffield conurbation and allow the transmission of power more generally across the whole of England. The remaining Thorpe Marsh switching station, a 275 kilovolt unit, was shut down on the week commencing 25th June 2007 when flooding threatened to consume the site.

It is believed that the national grid would have been temporarily knocked out if flood waters had eventually overrun the land here, but it came to pass that the rain receded. It's an interesting thought that there is still a spark of essential electrical life at the heart of this abandoned giant.


All of the towers at the abandoned Thorpe Marsh Power Station are equipped with one of these tiny doorways peeking out from the sheer concrete drop, about a quarter of the way up. They used to provide access to a central inspection walkway over the grid of pipework and cooling equipment in the bottom level. For a sense of scale, one of these doorways can be seen cut into a place near the top of a tower in the lower left of this photograph.


The calling card of an old British industrial manufacturer which was founded in 1918 and largely disbanded in 1968. Old logos and brands are always valued by photographers in abandoned places - they make a great comment on the transient nature of commercialism when you see a powerful company of the past reduced to an obituary in the form of a rusty plaque.


This shed could once be considered the mouth of the power station. When running smoothly, this hungry beast could consume well over half a million tonnes of coal per year so it was important to have consistent and continuous supply. Railway vehicles known as hoppers would roll over the large pits beneath these rails and shed their load of coal to stock up the fuel reserves and keep Yorkshire's light bulbs burning brightly.

Fellow Flickr user Bob Daniels photographed Thorpe Marsh in its final months and captured images all around the area. Some of the photos in his collection include this coal drop point - there's an internal view of the building here and a nice external shot of a coal hopper on the line just outside.


When operational, the interior of these tall hollow cooling towers is honeycombed with a network of pipes and a spray system for venting the steam. After condensation, the water was recycled for return to the nearby river or re-used for industrial processes after it had played its part in driving the turbines. The horizontal concrete bars at the top of this shot are known as 'cooling baffles', and there are many thousands of them radiating out from the centre of the structure.


If you'd like to read more detail about this generation of power plants, click here to browse through an interesting little book detailing the construction of one of Thorpe Marsh's contemporaries. It provides an insight into the earliest days of Connah's Quay, a power station in Wales built to similar standards in the early fifties. Unlike this location, Connah's Quay continued to be developed and is now one of the largest combined cycle generators in the UK.

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