Three of our members (Dr. David Morell, Peter Hirst, and Raymond Baltar) attended the 2013 Biochar Symposium in Amherst, Mass. from October 13th – October 17th. They will each write up the highlights of the conference and we will be posting their impressions on our blog as we receive them.
Sonoma Ecology Center Receives USDA Grant, Kicks Off Biochar Project
The Sonoma Ecology Center and the Sonoma Biochar Initiative have received $75,000 in support from the US Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program to establish this county’s first integrated biochar production system. These federal funds are being matched by $75,000 from the Sonoma County Water Agency and $83,000 of in-kind support from three local farms where the biochar will be applied. Other partners in this project include Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District and the North Coast Resource Conservation & Development Council’s Cultivating Commerce initiative.
Biochar is specialized charcoal used as a soil amendment. It is produced through pyrolysis, a chemical process that reduces woody feedstocks to char and releases fuel gases that are burned to maintain the reaction and provide renewable energy. The remaining product is nearly pure carbon: biochar.
Biochar has been known for many years, but its wide adoption is just emerging in California and elsewhere. In recent years its benefits have been studied sufficiently to indicate a high probability of success in the integrated structure proposed here. The new Sonoma County Biochar Project is intended to prove locally available research results from elsewhere that biochar will build soil, conserve water, improve agricultural productivity, and improve forest practices — all while replacing greenhouse gas emissions with sequestered carbon in individual farming operations.
The Ecology Center’s new unit, called an “Adam Retort,” will be located at Swallow Valley Farm in western Sonoma County, where the team will produce biochar and apply it to onsite farm operations. As much as possible, biochar will be produced for on-farm use from woody resources available there. The biochar will also be applied at Green String Farm near Petaluma and Oak Hill Farm near Sonoma, allowing a full demonstration and evaluation of its impacts on varied Sonoma County agricultural production. SEC, GRRCD and NCRC&DC will carry out education and outreach regarding biochar to potential agricultural users throughout the area, allowing leading farmers and growers here to recognize the benefits of integrated biochar production and application.
We are still accepting photos and data sheets for the Citizen Science Project. Please send all results to: research@Sonomaecologycenter.org, with “Citizen Science” in the subject line.
Here are some previous submissions: