Biochar: turning waste into wealth

As all gardeners know, manure helps the flowers grow. But that manure also gives off greenhouse gases, contributing to global climate change.

At the newly established Biochar Research Centre at Massey University, researchers are trying to harness the good qualities of waste, while limiting the bad. Biochar is the result.

The project is one of three showcased at Massey University’s stand at National Fieldays this week.

Associate Professor Marta Camps has been recruited to help lead the centre. She says biochar can help in many ways.

“Biochar has the potential of carbon sequestration as it is much more stable than the carbon from the material it is made, and it can remain in soils for hundreds to thousands of years.” she says. “In New Zealand, there are high methane and nitrous oxide emissions as a result of the agriculture industry. The biochar technology may help New Zealand as a country in terms of meeting its international obligations regarding emissions.”

Biochar is a fine-grained charcoal that is produced by a process called pyrolysis, or thermal decomposition under oxygen-limited conditions. “In addition to sequester carbon, biochar has other potential environmental and agronomic benefits when applied to the soils,” Dr Camps says.

Dr Camps and her team, who will be joined by another Professor and five PhD students later in the year, have been working on different biochars in the laboratory and will soon begin trials.

“We’ll begin with sandy soils which are low in nutrients and can’t retain water,” she says. “But ultimately we need to know the responses of all types of soil and also chart the characteristics of different types of biochar.”

To make the process more sustainable, it is important to source the waste material that will from close to where it will end up once converted, she says.

Source: Massey University

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Jun 10, 2009
For those of you who may be interested in obtaining biochar to experiment with at home I'd suggest you try as it is the only place I've found where you can buy biochar. Biochar represents an incredible opportunity to for us to address global greenhouse emission because of it's practical nature.

Jun 11, 2009
Biochar Soil Technology.....Husbandry of whole new orders of life

Biotic Carbon, the carbon transformed by life, should never be combusted, oxidized and destroyed. It deserves more respect, reverence even, and understanding to use it back to the soil where 2/3 of excess atmospheric carbon originally came from.

We all know we are carbon-centered life, we seldom think about the complex web of recycled bio-carbon which is the true center of life. A cradle to cradle, mutually co-evolved biosphere reaching into every crack and crevice on Earth.

It's hard for most to revere microbes and fungus, but from our toes to our gums (onward), their balanced ecology is our health. The greater earth and soils are just as dependent, at much longer time scales. Our farming for over 10,000 years has been responsible for 2/3rds of our excess greenhouse gases. This soil carbon, converted to carbon dioxide, Methane & Nitrous oxide began a slow stable warming that now accelerates with burning of fossil fuel.

Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon,

Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

Biochar, the modern version of an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice called Terra Preta (black earth, TP), is gaining widespread credibility as a way to address world hunger, climate change, rural poverty, deforestation, and energy shortages%u2026 SIMULTANEOUSLY!
Modern Pyrolysis of biomass is a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration,10X Lower Methane & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too.
Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration, Bio-Gas & Bio-oil fuels, so is a totally virtuous, carbon negative energy cycle.

Biochar viewed as soil Infrastructure; The old saw;
"Feed the Soil Not the Plants" becomes;
"Feed, Cloth and House the Soil, utilities included !".
Free Carbon Condominiums with carboxyl group fats in the pantry and hydroxyl alcohol in the mini bar.
Build it and the Wee-Beasties will come.
As one microbiologist said on the Biochar list; "Microbes like to sit down when they eat".
By setting this table we expand husbandry to whole new orders of life.

This is what I try to get across to Farmers, as to how I feel about the act of returning carbon to the soil. An act of pertinence and thankfulness for the civilization we have created. Farmers are the Soil Sink Bankers, once carbon has a price, they will be laughing all the way to it.

One aspect of Biochar systems are Cheap, clean biomass stoves that produce biochar and no respiratory disease. At scale, the health benefits are greater than ending Malaria.
A great example;
http://www.unccd..../Natural Draft Stove.pdf

The biochar Fund is also doing amazing work in the developing world;

Also , I would like Rebut the BioFuelWatch folk's recent criticisms with the petition of 1500 Cameroon Farmers;
The Biochar Fund
and to explain their program;

The USDA-ARS have dozens of studies happening now to ferret out the reasons for char affinity with MYC fungi and microbes, but this synergy is solidly shown by the Japanese work, literally showing 1 1=3

Senator / Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has done the most to nurse this biofuels system in his Biochar provisions in the 07 & 08 farm bill,

Charles Mann ("1491") in the Sept. National Geographic has a wonderful soils article which places Terra Preta / Biochar soils center stage.

Biochar data base; TP-REPP

NASA's Dr. James Hansen Global warming solutions paper and letter to the G-8 conference, placing Biochar / Land management the central technology for carbon negative energy systems.

The many new university programs & field studies, in temperate soils; Cornell, ISU, U of H, U of GA, Virginia Tech, JMU, New Zealand and Australia.

Soil Carbon Sequestration Standards Committee. Hosted by Monsanto, this group of diverse interests has been hammering out issues of definition, validation and protocol. The past week, this group have been pressing soil sequestration's roll for climate legislation to congress.

Along these lines internationally, the work of the IBI fostering the application by 13 countries for UN recognition of soil carbon as a sink with biochar as a clean development mechanism will open the door for programs across the globe.

This new Congressional Research Service report (by analyst Kelsi Bracmort) is the best short summary I have seen so far - both technical and policy oriented.
http://assets.ope...0203.pdf .

This is the single most comprehensive report to date, covering more of the Asian and Australian work;

Given the current "Crisis" atmosphere concerning energy, soil sustainability, food vs. Biofuels, and Climate Change what other subject addresses them all?

This is a Nano technology for the soil that represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.

Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.

Erich J. Knight
Eco Technologies Group Technical Adviser
University of California Riverside advisory board member
Shenandoah Gardens (Owner)
1047 Dave Barry Rd.
McGaheysville, VA. 22840
540 289 9750
Co-Administrator, Biochar Data base & Discussion list TP-REPP

I will be speaking at the first North American Biochar Conference, in Boulder Aug 12-15, about my efforts to network the many disciplines and organizations researching and implementing biochar systems.
Keynote speaker Secretary Tom Vilsack & Dr. Susan Solomon (NOAA's head atmospheric scientist) at.

My attendence is thanks to the folks at EcoTechnologies Group .
( http://www.ecotec...dex.html , they have also fully funded my field trials with the Rodale Institute & JMU)

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