Here are a few blog posts with general information on biochar and some nice graphics:
Biochar and Nutrient Management: http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=22132
Biochar and Carbon Sequestration: http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=22224
Josiah Hunt of Pacific Biochar wrote a nice article soon to appear on the nascent California Biochar Association website:
Pyrogenic Organic Matter in Soil (aka biochar)
As long as fire and plant life have co-existed, charcoal has played a role in the development and fertility of topsoil. With thanks to some scientific sleuthing, we can pin that down to about 400 some odd million years ago, in the Palaeozoic period. (Heike Knicker, 2011, Link to full article: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Heike_Knicker/publication/232408899_Pyrogenic_organic_matter_in_soil_Its_origin_and_occurrence_its_chemistry_and_survival_in_soil_environments/links/02e7e529090d0535b8000000.pdf
“The presence of [soil organic matter] SOM is regarded as being critical for soil function and soil quality.”, it says on the Wikipedia description of Soil Organic Matter, citing Beare et al. 1994. On that same page two mentions of charcoal can be found:
In mentioning sources of Soil Organic Matter:
- “Additional sources of soil organic matter include plant root exudates and charcoal.
In describing Plant Residues:
- “Charcoal is elemental carbon derived from incomplete combustion of organic matter. Charcoal is resistant to decomposition.”
Using Wikipedia as a proxy for general awareness, it appears that there is at least an acknowledgment of charcoal as a piece of the soil organic matter puzzle, and that the SOM puzzle is “critical for soil function and soil quality”. While seafood does fill some of our diet, the rest of our food ultimately comes from soil. It doesn't seem too far of a stretch to say that soil organic matter is critical to humanity's food supply. Yet common farming and gardening practice in modern America is seemingly devoid of intentional use of charcoal in managing soil organic matter.
Into this gap came the word biochar. Biochar fills the void between the general lack of intentional use of charcoal and soil life's affinity for it (and some interesting climate change implications too). And apparently that void must have had quite a vacuum to it, since the term biochar popped onto the scene several years ago, there has been an explosion of research and literary work devoted to it. Some 4,000 research articles to date.
It could have been called the California Pyrogenic Organic Matter for Soil Association, or the California Charcoal for Soil Association, but it is not. We are the California Biochar Association. It is just a made up word – biochar – but it is pretty useful. Pyrogenic organic matter is quite a mouthful. Charcoal usually brings to mind a BBQ. Agri-char was an interesting option for a while, but according to an unconfirmed mention, that word was already a registered trademark, but “biochar” was still open.
I hope you will enjoy the wide range of information we present here for an incredibly old material with a relatively new name.
Thank you for taking part.
- Josiah Hunt
1.) Pyrogenic organic matter in soil: Its origin and occurrence, its chemistry and survival in soil environments
Instituto de Recursos Naturales y Agrobiología, CSIC, Avda. Reina Mercedes, 10, P.O. Box 1052, E-41080 Sevilla, Spain
Available online 12 March 2011
2.) Beare, M. H.; Hendrix, P. F.; Cabrera, M. L.; Coleman, D. C. (1994). "Aggregate-Protected and Unprotected Organic Matter Pools in Conventional- and No-Tillage Soils" (PDF). Soil Science Society of America Journal. Free PDF download. 58 (3): 787. doi:10.2136/sssaj1994.03615995005800030021x. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
Article talks about incorporating ground up orchard trees into the soil. Pity they did not pyrolyze it first:
How can you not love a video that explains carbon trading credits, etc. using baby chicks?
For Immediate Release
July 7, 2014
BLUESKY BIOCHAR HELPS SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CITY COPE WITH DROUGHT
Michael Wittman, BlueSky Biochar
California's extreme drought conditions are forcing hard choices on managers of the urban landscape. Increasingly, homeowners and municipalities are forced to ask questions like: “should I try to save my flower beds or my trees?” These choices have a bigger impact than just aesthetics. Without trees to provide cooling shade, air conditioners work harder and use more energy. Trees and other ornamental plantings often represent a sizeable investment that property owners don't want to lose. Mature trees and beautiful landscaping can add thousands of dollars to the value of a property.
BlueSky Biochar provides a strategy for water conservation that really stands out as a long-lasting solution that has many additional benefits to plants and the overall environment. The city of Thousand Oaks, California is taking advantage of the superior qualities of BlueSky Biochar by using it soil media with new tree plantings. In the early Spring of 2014 the city of Thousand Oaks, California planted twenty new pine trees along roadways in the city using BlueSky Biochar in the soil planting media. The city is an enthusiastic early adopter of this “old-but-new” soil amendment.
Several years ago, while researching water conservation techniques and carbon sequestration, Thousand Oaks Public Works Superintendent John Smallish found some references to biochar and began to learn more about it.
Biochar is charcoal (like the highly absorbing charcoal used in water filters), and it has been used as a soil amendment in traditional agriculture around the world. But like many traditional practices, biochar was forgotten in the 20th century with the widespread use of cheap fertilizers and chemicals in agriculture. Scientists became aware of biochar only in the last decade when vast areas of dark, rich soil were discovered in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. More than 500 years ago, native people added charcoal to their poor, red tropical soils, transforming them into the rich black soil known today as Terra Preta (“black earth” in Portuguese). The biochar increased the soil's carbon content and, because it acts like a porous sponge, it kept nitrogen and other nutrients from leaching out of the soil in the heavy tropical rains. These human-created soils, more than 500 years old, are still highly fertile today.
Another example of traditional biochar use comes from Japan, where groundskeepers still use the technique of placing biochar in the root zone of valuable old trees to relieve soil compaction and revitalize the trees.
It is the porous quality of biochar that helps it retain water in soils, making it a great tool for water conservation, but water retention is not the whole story. Biochar is also a friendly home to soil microorganisms and fungi that work with a plant's root system to help it use water and nutrients more efficiently. Biochar in the soil can reduce water needs by up to 50 percent while also increasing the efficiency of fertilizers.
But biochar benefits don't stop there. Biochar is a byproduct of bioenergy. Getting renewable energy from wood involves heating it to release combustible gas. Often, a charcoal residue is left that makes perfect biochar. Charcoal can be burned for fuel, but if it is added to soil instead, it prevents carbon from going into the atmosphere. This makes it a “carbon-negative” process, meaning that carbon is subtracted from the atmosphere and added to the ground.
Kevin Wilson, landscaping manager for the city of Thousand Oaks, touts BlueSky Biochar's three key advantages: significant reduction of fertilizer runoff, impressive water conservation, and a carbon negative factor of three-to-one. For every pound of BlueSky Biochar that goes into the soil, three pounds of greenhouse gases are sequestered from the atmosphere. These advantages have motivated the city to become a real leader in the biochar field.
Kevin Wilson said, “The city of Thousand Oaks now uses biochar in the planting of all trees and shrubs as well as adding it to existing plants. We manage 27,000 trees which can make a big impact on climate change, natural resources, and carbon sequestration.”
Because biochar is still new to modern science, early adopters like the city of Thousand Oaks are still working out the best ways to use and apply it. Early tests of powdered biochar resulted in blackened work clothes and excessive dust. According to Wilson however, his staff has enthusiastically embraced BlueSky Biochar's unique pelletized form that allows a clean application and eliminates the need for dust masks. His staff is happy to leave behind the messy powdered material and now gladly employs BlueSky's pelletized Biochar, which is 95 percent dust free, permitting clean applications.
BlueSky supplies its pelletized biochar in bulk to large customers like the city of Thousand Oaks, and it also offers the same pelletized product in two bagged sizes for home gardeners and small farms.
Michael Wittman, CEO of BlueSky Biochar, has been a big promoter of the still small biochar industry. He helps community gardens make their own biochar from waste wood, and he travels around the region giving presentations to garden clubs and other interested groups, educating them about the use and potential of biochar. Recently, he and other volunteers formed the non-profit Southern California Biochar Initiative (www.SoCalBI.org). Education is crucial for creating awareness of the benefits of biochar and letting the public know that there are real, practical alternatives to agriculture that now depends on the unsustainable use of massive amounts of water and polluting chemicals.
Michael Wittman really believes in his BlueSky Biochar product. For him, it is about more than just business – it's about our future. Michael asks: “If one city can embrace the simple elegance of this sustainable soil supplement, how long before more follow in suit?”
For more information:
Video: City of Thousand Oaks – Golden Oak Tree Planting Ceremony (with biochar)
What is Biochar?
Biochar for Arborists