Saturday, August 30, 2008

Biochar - Creating Habitat for Soil Microorganisms

While at the NOFA Conference this past August, I attended a workshop presented by Doug Clayton and David Yarrow on the potential of Biochar, a stabilized form of carbon, to help with soil health and carbon sequestration. I had listened to David speak on the same topic last year and was curious to learn of new developments. It seems there has been quite an activity surge around the topic, from backyard experiments to university led research. Using biochar (basically charcoal) that has been soaked in a nutrient solution (fish fertilizer which is locally available along the Southcoast??) could help bolster the soil health. Both through creating an environment well suited for microbial growth and development (the nooks and craters of the char have been called a "coral reef" for soil life) and also providing a substance to adsorb nutrients in the soil.
The topic is pretty exciting, I had done a bit of background reading last winter in NY and it struck me as a great item to include in future research development. Perhaps this fall we'll begin to amend a few beds for test purposes next growing season. Anybody on the southcoast interested in learning more and experimenting please contact me.

A brief list of Biochar websites:

Biochar International
Johannes Lehmann, Cornell Professor's Website on Biochar
Biochar Discussion List

Biochar provides one more hope for the goal of building dynamically healthy soils capable of producing nutrient dense produce. The foundation for balancing soils chemically was research completed by the late William Albrecht, a soil scientist at the University of Missouri. A prolific writer, Albrecht often hi-lighted the connection between soil health/fertility and personal health. The Soil and Health Library has a number of articles authored by Albrecht available for free downloading. Albrecht was one of many important voices who have contributed to a historical body of knowledge that I rely upon as a young farmer when considering the necessary steps to building soil health.


Erich J. Knight said...

The Rest of the Biochar Story:

Charles Mann ("1491")in the Sept. National Geographic has a wonderful soils article which places Terra Preta / Biochar soils center stage.
I think Biochar has climbed the pinnacle, the Combined English and other language circulation of NGM is nearly nine million monthly with more than fifty million readers monthly!
We need to encourage more coverage now, to ride Mann's coattails to public critical mass.

Please put this (soil) bug in your colleague's ears. These issues need to gain traction among all the various disciplines who have an iron in this fire.

I love the "MEGO" factor theme Mann built the story around. Lord... how I KNOW that reaction.

I like his characterization concerning the pot shards found in Terra Preta soils;

so filled with pottery - "It was as if the river's first inhabitants had
thrown a huge, rowdy frat party, smashing every plate in sight, then
buried the evidence."

A couple of researchers I was not aware of were quoted, and I'll be sending them posts about our Biochar group:

and data base;

I also have been trying to convince Michael Pollan ( NYT Food Columnist, Author ) to do a follow up story, with pleading emails to him

Since the NGM cover reads "WHERE FOOD BEGINS" , I thought this would be right down his alley and focus more attention on Mann's work.

I've admiried his ability since "Botany of Desire" to over come the "MEGO" factor (My Eyes Glaze Over) and make food & agriculture into page turners.

It's what Mann hasn't covered that I thought should interest any writer as a follow up article.

The Biochar provisions by Sen.Ken Salazar in the 07 farm bill,

Dr, James Hansen's Global warming solutions paper and letter to the G-8 conference last month, and coming article in Science,

The new university programs & field studies, in temperate soils

Glomalin's role in soil tilth & Terra Preta,

The International Biochar Initiative Conference Sept 8 in New Castle;

Given the current "Crisis" atmosphere concerning energy, soil sustainability, food vs. Biofuels, and Climate Change what other subject addresses them all?
Biochar, the modern version of an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice called Terra Preta (black earth), is gainitainability.Terra Preta Soils a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, ng widespread credibility as a way to address world hunger, climate change, rural poverty, deforestation, and energy shortages… SIMULTANEOUSLY!

This technology represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sus10X Lower Methane & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too. Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration.

Erich J. Knight said...

Sounds like Danny Day has two units going up soon.
in your part of the country

Cheers ,

Biochar and Bioenergy Production Project,
Phase I: Test & Development (TAD) Facility Installation

& Agronomic Impact Assessment

bathmate said...

Nice work !

I love it !

I like it !

Best work !

Nice post !

Erich J. Knight said...

I thought these update on developments of biochar soils may interest

Hope to see you at ISU for the 2010 USBiochar Conference

Dr. Robert Brown , and the team in Ames Iowa are planing the next national biochar conference. The Conference will be June 27-30 in Ames Iowa Hosted by Iowa State University. The Call for papers; ://

Biochar Soils.....Husbandry of whole new orders & Kingdoms 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.

Agriculture allowed our cultural accent and Agriculture will now prevent our descent.

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 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.
Microbes like to sit down when they eat.
By setting this table we expand husbandry to whole new orders & Kingdoms 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 penitence 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.
Unlike CCS which only reduces emissions, biochar systems draw down CO2 every energy cycle, closing a circle back to support the soil food web. The photosynthetic "capture" collectors are up and running, the "storage" sink is in operation just under our feet. Pyrolysis conversion plants are the only infrastructure we need to build out.

Another significant aspect of bichar and aerosols are the low cost ($3) Biomass cook stoves that produce char but no respiratory disease. ://
The broad smiles of 1500 subsistence farmers say it all ( that , and the root ball size of the Biochar corn )


The Ozzie's for 5 years now in field studies
The future of biochar - Project Rainbow Bee Eater

The Japanese have been at it dacades:
Japan Biochar Association ;

UK Biochar Research Centre

Virginia Tech is in their 4 th year ://

Dr. Rory Maguire,
In first year with Poultry litter char

USDA in their 2 nd year;
ASA-CSSA-SSSA joint meeting;

Nikolaus has been at it 4 years. Nikolaus Foidl,
His current work with aspirin is Amazing in Maize, 250% yield gains, 15 cobs per plant;

My 09 field trials with the Rodale Institute & JMU ;
Alterna Biocarbon and Cowboy Charcoal Virginia field trials '09 ://

Reducing abrupt climate change risk using
the Montreal Protocol and other regulatory
actions to complement cuts in CO2 emissions

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

add h t t p to links

bathmate said...

That’s looks so nice your posting.
Everything looks good in your posting.
That will be necessary for all. Thanks for your posting.

Erich J. Knight said...

These videos show the power of MYC fungi, the first Stamets video has a short section on remediation of manure run off with fungi. The second really brings home the power of fungi to remediate hydro-carbons and PAHs;

The Stametsian Vision
for Sustaining Biospheres and Mitigating Global Warming

Amazing utility of fungi, Remediation of diesel fuels

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

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

Anonymous said...

Welcome friends
I have good news for you; I found the best book about biochar with a special holiday price
It is a truly biochar Bible.
I believe this is the most beautiful holiday gift for your loved ones.
A real deal at a great price