Greentech and Web 2.0 collide with

I’ve got a feature today on a Barbados-based company called PickupPal Online Inc., whose founders are based out of Ontario. The Web service takes a bit of eBay, a bit of Facebook, and a dash of online dating to create a rather slick service that matches up drivers with people who need a drive. Now, there’s no shortage of rideshare services out there, but what makes PickupPal so unique is its global reach and its unique application of Google Maps to find common routes. And unlike other rideshare sites, which tend to be non-profit and encourage workplace carpooling, PickuPal focuses on events: music events, sporting events, or any other gathering where a particular group of people are congregrating at a particular time and place. It’s a great way to reduce the number of cars on the road, and the amount of emissions.

The business model is a bit daring. They plan to take a 7 per cent commission from any driver who charges someone for a ride. The only problem is there’s nothing forcing a drive to charge for a ride, and nothing really forcing a driver to pay — except the fact that PickupPal has a rating system, so if you want repeat business and good reviews you’ve got to be honest. Bottom line is PickupPal is basing its future revenues on good will, and the ability to collect recurring commissions from a growing stable of loyal users. Now, there’s a reason they’re based in the Barbados: not only is it a tax haven, it also offers the company some protection from jurisdictions that frown upon anything that takes business away from buses and taxis. Imagine if people start using this service for airport dropoffs and pickups? Huge.

I also wonder about other legalities. What if somebody is assaulted, abandoned, or wronged somehow during a ride and decides to sue PickupPal? I guess it’s no different than a dating site — user beware. That’s something for the lawyers to deal with.

Biochar sequestration needs a serious look

My Clean Break column today revisits the idea of creating “biochar” out of wood waste using a pyrolysis process, and then blending the char in topsoil as an alternative way of sequestering carbon. We know that, done properly, we can lock about 60 per cent of the biomass’ carbon into the char. We also know the char, when mixed in topsoil, helps with water and nutrient retention. The char is also easy to weigh and package, meaning it’s an ideal substance for calculating carbon offsets as part of carbon-trading efforts. I wrote the column specifically to draw attention to the pine-beetle infestation on the northwest coast and a recent study that said the dead trees — rather than absorbing CO2 — are releasing huge quantities of greenhouse gases as they decay and rot. One solution could be to harvest the dead wood and convert it into biochar. It’s worth a serious look, since carbon capture and sequestration technologies being considered by the oil and coal industries simply can’t be applied outside of specific facilities and locations. With Canada’s emissions growing, not shrinking, we have to consider all approaches.