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“Ice on Fire” Screening in Sonoma August 26th

Sonoma Ecology Center, Redwood Forest Foundation Present ‘Ice on Fire’ at Sebastiani Theatre. 

An HBO documentary on climate change SOLUTIONS produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio in partnership with Tree Media Group has sparked interest and conversation since its debut at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Now the film – and the conversation – is coming to Sonoma as Sonoma Ecology Center and the Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. (RFFI) proudly present “Ice on Fire” at the Sebastiani Theatre on Aug. 26.

The Monday evening screening will be followed by a panel discussion led by Raymond Baltar, program manager of Sonoma Biochar Initiative, a Sonoma Ecology Center program. Baltar appears in “Ice on Fire” to discuss the benefits of biochar, one of several practical solutions to the climate crisis presented in the film. He was interviewed for the film while working under contract with Redwood Forest Foundation Inc. (RFFI) at a biochar project near the town of Percy in Mendocino County. The screening is co-sponsored by RFFI with contributions from Pacific Biochar, Oregon Biochar Solutions and other West Coast advocates for climate change solutions.

Biochar is a form of charcoal that conserves water, sequesters carbon, removes pollutants and amends the soil. Thanks to the film, Baltar said, “Many, many more people will now have at least heard the term, and many more discussions can be had with those willing to try it, to help fund it, or to create legislation to help scale its use.”

Experts on climate change and “drawdown” – efforts to remove carbon from Earth’s atmosphere – are beginning to notice biochar’s useful qualities. A recent U.N. IPCC Special Report named production and use of biochar as one of the least expensive and most easily scalable carbon drawdown strategies that can be employed immediately.

“Ice on Fire” was accepted into the Cannes Film Festival in May, and premiered on HBO in June. Its arrival to the Sebastiani Theatre is its first Bay Area screening. This special event on Monday, Aug. 26 begins with wine donated and poured by Benziger Family Winery, plus light refreshments, in the Sebastiani Theatre foyer at 6 p.m. The film starts at 7 p.m., followed by a brief panel discussion moderated by Baltar and featuring “Ice on Fire” director Leila Conners, RFFI Chief Forester and Usal Forest manager Linwood Gill, and others to be announced. Sebastiani Theatre is located on Sonoma Plaza at 476 First Street East, Sonoma.

Tickets are available for $20 at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4311308.  All students with valid student body card are Free!

All proceeds from the event will help support Sonoma Biochar Initiative and RFFI. For more on the film go to www.hbo.com/documentaries/ice- on-fire. For more on Sonoma Biochar Initiative and RFFI go to sonomabiocharinitiative.org and www.rffi.org.

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Sonoma Biochar Initiative Steering Committee Meeting On August 1st, 2019

Notes, Takeaways, and Next Steps

The Sonoma Biochar Initiative Steering Committee met at the Sonoma Ecology Center in Eldridge. Present were: David Morell, Sonoma Ecology Center and SBI; Susan Haydon, Sonoma Water and SBI; Will Bakx, Sonoma Compost, West Marin Compost; Mark Welther, Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc.; Michael Jones, UC Cooperative Extension, Hopland; Carolyn Ruttan, Clear Lake Environmental Research Center; Adriana Stagnaro, Forest Working Group, Goldridge RCD; Charlie McIntosh, Pacific Biochar; Jeffrey Kelly, NRCS Sonoma; Allyson Young, NRCS Templeton; Jerome Chambless, Consultant/Professor; Jason Wells, Sonoma RCD; Robert Gould, Ag Innovations; & Raymond Baltar, Sonoma Biochar Initiative and SEC.

 

Some key conclusions and insights from this meeting are summarized below.

General needs:

  1. The biochar industry needs to develop and provide a clear set of quality and application guidelines for RCD’s, NRCS, and landowners to be able to better understand and promote it. Funding needs to be obtained to support and conduct testing on a wide range of production methods and the resulting qualities of the biochar produced. UC Davis does have a database that partially addresses this, but it is not that easy to navigate and it could be made simpler to enter and evaluate. (http://biochar.ucdavis.edu/). SBI would be interested in hearing any feedback on this database and how we could either help revise it or else create something better for the average farmer, biochar producer or researcher to use. There are standards being developed by the Australian New Zealand Biochar group that could be used as a model for California. 
  2. Develop a catalog of our common understanding and begin with our local area region. Information sharing is critical in building momentum. This could include: list of projects and field trials (various characteristics), existing policy and practices, and list of land managers experimenting with biochar, contact lists, etc. Need for simple summary descriptions of current activities for partners to understand the landscape locally and statewide.
  3. Policy advocacy for legislation. Influencing state leaders is key to moving biochar as climate strategy forward. Continuing to outreach to policy makers and leaders is critical.
  4. Conduct more research: large-scale field trials, life cycle analysis of biochar (from biomass acquisition, production and end use).
  5. Develop fire fuels reduction workforce: Carbon Conservation Corps – manages vegetation and sequesters carbon.

Will Bakx suggested following the example of the compost industry to better understand how to expedite the standardization process, which he said took 20 years of work to obtain. Even after all these years the compost industry still offers a wide variety of products that are called compost, and the public does not really understand the quality differences. Biochar, as with compost, will naturally vary based on feedstocks, method of production, inoculation and additives, so it is important to allow a range of quality standards rather than trying to meet a single, precise standard. But there are a number of similar characteristics and quality metrics in common that a basic set of standards could be developed while continuing to drill down on the more complex and nuanced subtleties as more information is obtained through scientific experimentation. But as with compost, there will never be a perfect standard that fits all products because of the natural variability of nature. (Again, please check out these draft standards.)

Potential Activities and Opportunities Identified:

  • Meet with Carbon Cycle Institute and discuss partnership on a local field trial of mutual interest.
  • Establish relationship with Chad White, BAAQMD. Offer a presentation/field time on conservation burning, kilns, and the
  • Grant funding- CDFA Climate Smart Agriculture Technical Assistance: Up to $120,000 to provide tech assistance to applicants of 2 CDFA programs. Eligible entities include: RCDs, UCCE, and non-profits with demonstrated technical expertise in designing and implementing ag mgmt. practices to support CDFA’s 2019 CSA incentive programs. Requires research on whether local partner experience qualifies directly. Project could fund the assistance needed we talked about to help producers to better understand and utilize biochar production and use. Due August 30. (http://calclimateag.org/cdfa- advisory-panel-approves-new-technical-assistance-grant-program-solicitation-expected- soon/), and (https://cdfa.ca.gov/oefi/technical/) 1) Who is interested in exploring this? Carolyn Ruttan expressed an interested in collaborating on a grant application. SEC/SBI is interested. 2) Who might have some good CDFA contacts?
  • Presentations and field training to RCD staff to help understand utility and considerations of various smaller scale methods: pit, kiln, pile, etc.
  • List of technologies and methods for making biochar

Jason Wells, RCD Forester, is mainly interested in forest health and forest management and identifying better ways to manage the materials coming out of the properties he consults with. Biochar presents one such solution, but he needs to know more about the best methods to use in specific situations and what to do with the biochar once created. And he needs more scientific information about the safe utilization of the biochar as well. This was a common theme heard at the meeting and acknowledged that this will need to be addressed to take biochar to scale.

Follow up with RCDs. Discuss different options and explore specific steps we can take to develop and provide this information. It was also mentioned that RCDs themselves lack the capacity to actually do the work for their clients, so if a workforce and trainings could be developed, they could refer their clients to them.

Carolyn Ruttan, Charlie McIntosh and Raymond Baltar discussed coming up with a web-based tool to help forest owners, land managers and farmers better understand biochar and help them determine how best to obtain it (make it or purchase it), the available technologies or techniques used to make it, how to blend and inoculate it, general costs involved, application rates, how to apply it, the best time to apply it, and what they can expect from its application given their soil type and crop type. This could be done using a cascading set of questions using a web interface to help folks drill down and get information relevant to their specific situation. This could include biomass type, soil type, biomass amounts, equipment available to process the materials, etc., etc. Links could be provided to specific research papers and/or articles relevant to a given situation.

Conduct outreach and education to promote the Terraton Initiative locally and include local farmers. Partners could help engage local farms in this ambitious plan that is proposing to pay farmers to increase the SOM and SOC on their properties. Raymond Baltar noted that the Terraton folks will be doing rigorous testing to confirm the increases over time, and they are still developing the program to make the testing cheaper and more available. Go to www.indigoag.com and check them out. Terraton proposes using investor money rather than Cap and Trade or grant money to pay farms, which is an interesting twist.

Jerome Chambless suggested a carrot and stick regulatory approach to help scale biochar use. All landscaping in cities and towns, CalTrans property, and farms should be required to apply biochar to save water, and not applying it would trigger a tax or fine related to the water used rather than conserved. If they do apply it there should be some sort of incentive to help offset application costs. (The Terraton Initiative above might somehow be involved in this process.) Jerome was also a strong advocate for calling biocarbon “biochar” only after it has been inoculated and prepared for use in agriculture.  He expressed concern that the uninformed could use biocarbon in its raw form to the detriment of their plants.  Again, this points to the need for proper standards and labeling.

Mark Welther is working on establishing a carbon offset protocol for biochar, and is working with CARB and other landowners and forestry groups to establish biochar as a carbon sequestration strategy. Josiah Hunt of Pacific Biochar has been recommended for and applied to be a part of this process to represent the biochar community. The California Strategic Growth Council has granted funds to scientifically verify biochar’s ability to sequester carbon over the long term. We will know more in two to three years about the outcomes of this research.

Allyson Young suggested tying this work into the Healthy Soils Initiative (HSI), and the work mentioned above will help inform their decision about the carbon sequestration part of the equation.

Discussion held on status of standards. There is no question about biochar’s ability to retain more water and nutrients and this alone should make it a best practice recommended by the HSI. However, there is still the question of standardizing application rates and the best types of biochar to use for this purpose, and this will also need to be determined before biochar will be accepted into the HSI protocols. Will Bakx talked about the process the compost industry went through, and that because compost will always vary based on feedstock and additives, which is exactly like biochar, they allow a range of quality, based on some minimum standards.

David Morell discussed the Carbon Conservation Corps concept as workforce, skill building and public service for young adults. He is working with several universities to explore the idea of developing the program (akin to the former federal WPA program, Works Progress Administration and California’s Conservation Corps, but focused on forest thinning and biochar production). This could have huge implications for private landowners that could certainly use their services. Perhaps there would be a reduced rate subsidized or partially offset through the sale of the produced biochar.

Adrianna Stagnaro suggested a compiling a compendium of research they could refer to when recommending biochar to their clients. What are the basic metrics, who is selling certified quality biochar, and how can they test the biochar they make themselves? Another idea was a list of technologies and methods of making biochar. Perhaps a tool or matrix could be developed to help guide identification of appropriate biochar related technique with various property types and locales.

The Sierra Club’s opposition to large-scale biomass power plants was mentioned and needs to be addressed. We need the environmental community promoting biochar use, not preventing it.

There are legitimate environmental concerns that need to be understood and mitigated regarding these large-scale plants, both involving forest management and environmental justice issues. To this end SBI, SEC, Pacific Biochar and Oregon Biochar Solutions will be meeting with SC’s local and national forestry director on October 7 at a “learning” session to share viewpoints.

Given that most of the biochar produced in quantity is currently made in Co-gen plants that already exist and are permitted, and that more plants in California could be converted to produce high-quality biochar as well as energy, and that we have a very short time period to address the looming tipping points of climate change, we need to utilize ALL of the options currently available to produce as much biochar as possible to be used in industrial applications as well as in agricultural settings. For those interested in learning about the many ways biochar can be used to sequester carbon, please refer to the book “Burn, Using Fire to Cool the Earth” (Authors Albert Bates and Kathleen Draper). Sierra Club Redwood Chapter meeting 10/7, 5:30pm at Environmental Center, 55 Ridgway Ave. #A, Santa Rosa.

It has been proposed that the next USBI national conference return to California next year. Raymond Baltar suggests the theme title of this conference might be “Technologies and Standards in the Biochar Industry.” This would naturally bring out every wannabe biochar technology producer in the world to showcase their tech to the California market (and provide the sponsor money from a tech show), but it could also include a serious roundtable discussion coming up with what should be measured to establish standards and a timetable and pathway to do so. Presentations on local farms showing various low-tech and possibly higher tech solutions as well, and explaining where the biochar can be tested and how to evaluate the test results.

Lastly, and we didn’t get to this because of time constraints, but SBI would like to propose a public biochar meeting on Wednesday Sept. 17th, location to be decided. There are a number of speakers we could ask, but one that we have talked to is Cuauhtemoc Villa, a cannabis growing expert who is willing to come down from the (legal) farm he works on in Oregon for the event. He has had amazing success with biochar and compost. We could also have an update from last night’s meeting, perhaps a local grape grower who is also using biochar, and maybe a mid-scale biochar technology representative that would be appropriate for local landowners and/or farmers.

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SBI Shone Farm Biochar Event
 
We want to thank the amazing cross section of people  who attended and contributed to SBI’s recent Biochar Forum at Shone Farm. Representatives from local RCD’s, NRCS, UC Cooperative Extension, a variety of farms, SCWA, Fire Safe Councils, the Sonoma County Forest Working Group, the County of Sonoma,  two of the largest biochar producers on the West Coast, and many others just interested in how biochar fits into a low-carbon economy, shared ideas and ways to use biochar to solve common problems. Special thanks to Michael Maguire from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research for his update on the exciting grant projects and efforts to quantify biochar’s benefits that are supported through state funding, to Susan Haydon of Sonoma Water, and to Shone Farm for the use of their beautiful space.
 
Charlie McIntosh of Pacific Biochar presents recent results from SBI’s
DWR grant project at a vineyard near King City, Ca.
 
We are in the process of building a new coalition to scale biochar education and use both locally and throughout the state, so stay tuned. We will be holding a number of additional meetings in 2019 so if you missed this one you will have other chances to join this growing group of problem solvers seeking a better way to convert our bounty of surplus biomass resources and put them to better use as biochar in agriculture and elsewhere.

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Dry Creek Valley Biochar/Burn Training

On May 23rd we held a biochar/conservation burn training in the Dry Creek Valley near Healdsburg, co-organized by Genevieve Taylor of Ag Inno-vations and Susan Haydon and several great associates from Sonoma Water. A big thank you to Marshall Turbeville of Geyserville Fire and CalFire for his valuable knowledge about fire safety and for providing the water we needed to preserve the carbon.   

We hope to do many more of these workshops next burn season to educate landowners and managers in this simple technique that reduces smoke, conserves valuable carbon that can enhance farm soils while also keeping it out of the atmosphere.

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New Climate Change Documentary Ice on Fire Airs on HBO

In mid-2017 the biochar production facility in Piercy, California that was being operated by the Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. (RFFI) was visited by a film crew from Tree Media Productions working on a film project called Ice on Fire, co-produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio and his father George DiCaprio. This film, which starts streaming on HBO on Tuesday June 11th, describes the serious climate change challenges we now face but also highlights a number of positive strategies we can take to help “drawdown” greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere including biochar production and use and sustainable forestry management/reforestation-two activities RFFI has been pioneering on California’s north coast.


        Tree Media Film Crew on location at RFFI’s biochar production site.

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Emissions Testing

We are continuing to work with The San Luis Obispo Air Pollution Control District (SLOAPCD) to find the money needed to fund our air emissions proposal that will measure the differences between a standard burn pile and a conservation burn pile.  While the visual differences are obvious to those who attend one of our workshops, we need the hard data to convince all of the air districts to make the technique a best practice. Discussions are ongoing with contacts at CAPCOA and CARB and we are hoping to secure this funding by the next burn season.

Last December we were retained by the South Coast AQMD to oversee two days of conservation burning compared to conventional burn piles so they could monitor the technique. They used a drone and some ground-based equipment to measure emissions and we have not yet received their report. We are looking to do additional testing by East Bay company Best Environmental as part of our proposal to the SLOAPCD.

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Biochar/Burn Workshops on the Central Coast

Our two recent Biochar Conservation Burn Workshops in Paso Robles and Soledad were very well received and participants included winery owners, vineyard managers, students, entrepreneurs, air district staff, RCD representatives, and CalFire personnel.  We want to thank the SLOAPCD, the Monterey Bay ARD, J Lohr and Hahn Family Wineries, and the Vineyard Team for helping with all the logistics and for their enthusiasm for the information we passed along.  In Paso Robles we were able to conduct a standard burn compared to a conservation burn, side by side, and the photo below shows the obvious difference.

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We have some exciting plans for CBA this year and we need your support to help expand our efforts to scale biochar production and use. Check back soon for more details.  Go to www.calbiochar.com and click on the donate button to make a tax deductible contribution.  The Sonoma Ecology Center, a 501C3 with a 25-year track record,  is our fiscal sponsor. Thank you in advance!

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North Coast Biochar For Sale

This biochar, produced by the Redwood Forest Foundation from surplus tanoak coming out of the Usal Forest as part of their sustainable forest management program, is 84% carbon and just 5% ash. 

For more information contact raymond@sonomabiocharinitiative.org or call 707 291-3240.

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Major California Biochar Research Grants Awarded

The California Strategic Growth Council has awarded two significant grants for biochar-related research. Ken Alex, Director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and SGC Chair said, “The SGC research grants are designed to fill gaps in our knowledge about some of the most promising climate change solutions, and move them more quickly to fruition.”

Biochar production and use was highlighted in the most recent IPCC climate change report as one of the least expensive and easily scaled methods of drawing down carbon from the atmosphere, and this recognition has helped bring the biochar story to the forefront of many climate change mitigation discussions and actions. There is, however, much research that still needs to be done to better characterize which types of biochar will persist the longest in varying agricultural soils, under what type of farming protocols, as well as creation of a standardized system for rating biochars based on a set of common criteria and characteristics. Gaining acceptance from the farming community for biochar production and use using surplus biomass will also be critical for scaling its use, and this will also be studied. These are some of the gaps in our knowledge about biochars that should be better understood and hopefully answered once this climate-change focused research and field trials are completed.

Congratulations to Benjamin Z. Houlton of the UC Davis Muir Institute and collaborators who will be working on a $4.7 million grant project entitled “CALIFORNIA COLLABORATIVE ON CLIMATE CHANGE SOLUTIONS: WORKING LANDS INNOVATION CENTER—CATALYZING NEGATIVE CARBON EMISSIONS.”

“The Working Lands Innovation Center’s objective is to scale and sustain CO2 capture and GHG emissions reductions by deploying a suite of cutting-edge soil amendment technologies, driving substantial co-benefits for California growers, ranchers, Tribes, communities, the economy, and environment. This project will increase understanding of the mechanisms and potential for carbon sequestration in soil.”

More information on this grant can be found here:  http://sgc.ca.gov/programs/climate-research/docs/20181221-CCR_Summary_2019CCR20007.pdf

And congratulations to Gerardo Diaz of UC Merced and collaborators who will be working on the $3 million grant project entitled “MOBILE BIOCHAR PRODUCTION FOR METHANE EMISSION REDUCTION AND SOIL AMENDMENT.”

“The overall goal of this proposal is to determine how biochar can be produced and used in a closed cycle agricultural application to reduce GHG emissions, ameliorate agricultural waste disposal problems, improve the quality of life in low-income and disadvantaged farming and adjacent communities, and identify means to gain acceptance among farmers of small-scale biochar production and use as a sustainable best practice for California agriculture.”

More information on this grant can be found here:  http://sgc.ca.gov/programs/climate-research/docs/20181221-CCR_Summary_2019CCR20014.pdf

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On Grading Biochar

The USBI Biochar Conference, held last year in Wilmington, Delaware, was a great success, bringing together attendees from all sectors of the biochar industry along with some representatives from industries just waking up to biochar’s possibilities. While there were many technical presentations given by scientific researchers showing biochar’s amazing and diverse variety of benefits in agriculture, there was a pronounced focus last year on the use of biochar as an environmental remediation/filtration tool for stormwater runoff, wastewater treatment, and heavy metal pollution treatment.

Biochar Definition, Categories, Testing Protocols, and Claims

Ron Alexander, a consultant who has been instrumental in developing standards for the compost industry as it has developed over the last 40 years, lead an important discussion on what he sees as the need to standardize and refine the production, definition, testing protocols, and product claims for biochar. He feels that this will be critical for the industry to scale and so that consumers can understand the value proposition for its use and can be assured that a given type of biochar will produce known and replicable results. Most of the workshop attendees agreed and a good discussion took place.  While no exact path forward was agreed upon, I do believe this discussion made an impact and that those in the room (and now all of you reading this) will support a push for establishing a set of sensible standards beneficial both for the industry as well as for consumers.

IBI’s biochar certification standard, and its European counterpart, the European Biochar Certificate, require a minimum of 60% carbon content to be considered biochar.  California, one of the few states to adopt a legal standard, adopted this minimum definition: “Biochar means materials derived from thermochemical conversion of biomass in an oxygen-limited environment containing at least 60 percent carbon.” In addition, the only claims that can be made on a bag of biochar in California are that it helps retain soil moisture and nutrients. While there is evidence that biochar can and does play a much bigger role in improving soil health and the plant production that comes from it, additional claims will only be allowed once a rigorous and replicable set of standards, and the scientific data backing them up, are developed.

Most other states do not yet have any legal definition for biochar, however AAPFCO (the Association of American Plant Food Control Officials) is an influential organization that states look to for fertilizer and soil amendment standards, and any product definitions or claims must pass muster with them or risk being labeled “adulterated”, which can lead to products being pulled from shelves. In general, the fewer claims printed on a bagged soil amendment product the better, and only claims backed up with peer-reviewed research should be included. Any claim should be backed up by at least 5 peer-reviewed studies (ideally using the same testing methods and biochar—which is not the current practice), and submitted to AAPFCO for approval.   Certain words can also be problematic, such assoil health, so word choice will also be critically important when making claims to those of us selling biochar moving forward.

Unfortunately, the only biochars that can fit the minimum 60% carbon definition are made from feedstocks high in lignin, such as woody residues from forestry operations and some dense crop wastes.  However, there is great interest and current experimentation around the world in pyrolyzing materials such as manures, poultry bedding, and other problematic waste streams to create biochars that contain much lower amounts of carbon, but that could still be considered forms of biochar valuable for certain applications.

A proposed model was discussed that would sub-categorize a range of biochars as containing 10%, 30%, and 60% carbon, and though there was some disagreement the general consensus was that broadening the definition could help scale the industry more quickly than keeping the 60% number. However, I would like to propose a slightly different way to parse biochar into 5 carbon categories, then using production temperature, ash content and H:C ratio to further define general qualities potentially useful for specific applications.

Level 5: >80% Carbon biochar from “waste” biomass

Level 4: 60% to 79% Carbon biochar from “waste” biomass

Level 3: 40% to 59% Carbon biochar from “waste” biomass

Level 2: 20% to 39% Carbon biochar from “waste” biomass

Level 1: <20% Carbon biochar from “waste” biomass

Regarding the sub-categories, there are indications that the ash content of the biochar and the temperature it was produced at plays a significant role in a given biochar’s effectiveness at adsorbing certain heavy metals, and that biochars made at higher temperatures are also more effective when used for this purpose. There are also indications that biochar made in the 400C to 600C temperature range may be best used for agricultural uses. The H:C ratio, used to indicate the stability of the carbon and its resistance to degradation, is also an important characteristic that needs to be supplied to consumers.

Some producers can produce carbon from municipal solid waste, tires, or other potentially toxic waste streams, and I strongly believe we as an industry need to make sure the legal definition of biochar includes ONLY the use of clean waste streams for biochar to be applied on land for food production. However, many potential uses for the kind of carbon coming from these types of waste materials, such as water filtration, as a replacement for sand in concrete,  or for many other other industrial uses.

Other important points that were discussed included:

Any claims made about biochar (Increases soil moisture content, reduces nutrient loss, improves soil cation exchange capacity, increases plant production, supports beneficial microbial populations, etc.) must be accompanied by an application rate that should be used to achieve the claimed effect, otherwise such claims will not be allowed on a bagged product or in advertising. For microbial claims, a company must be able to prove which specific type of microbial species will be supported.  Other characteristics that could/should be identified for the consumer include feedstock type used during production, particle shape and size, nutrient release dynamics, and percentage of biochar included in any soil blends. The biochar industry has matured to the point where developing and adhering to a rigorous set of standards will be critical to scaling its use.

Universal biochar testing protocols must be developed so that results from different labs yield comparable results for a number of agreed upon characteristics. Testing costs must be reasonable and affordable for producers.

Raymond Baltar

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Biochar Field Day

The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Fertilizer Research and Education Program (FREP) recently teamed up with University of California, Davis, to host a Biochar Field Day at UC Davis’ farm location outside of Winters. The event brought together researchers, industry representatives and other interested stakeholders to discuss the feasibility of biochar use in agroecosystems. Presentations highlighted research, showcased available resources, and provided up-to-date information on biochar use in California agriculture. We look forward to working with CDFA to sponsor other such events throughout California highlighting the work being done by UC Merced, UC Riverside, Butte College, and many others.  Here are a few photos from the event:

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New Guidelines for On-Farm Biochar Production Using Simple To Make and Use Flame Cap Kilns

Here is a great new study conducted by Oregon’s Kelpie Wilson and the Umpqua Biochar Education Team.  Check it out!  RB

Deliverables from the NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant: On-Farm Production and Use of Biochar for Composting with Manure

This grant was awarded to South Umpqua Rural Community Partnership (SURCP) in 2015. The grant was carried out by Wilson Biochar Associates and the Umpqua Biochar Education Team (a committee of SURCP) in conjunction with farmers and other volunteers.

During the course of this three year project, we manufactured more than 30 kilns and made about 75 cubic yards of biochar that got used in cattle barns, goat barns, rabbit hutches, chicken coops, horse stables, alpaca barns, worm bins and outhouses. We did many pot trials and several field trials with the resulting biochar composts. We found that most of the participating farmers could produce biochar at a labor cost of about $100/cubic yard.

We produced a final technical report and a series of Practice Guidelines to help others implement their own projects. The report and the Biochar Practice Guidelines are free  to share with attribution. Please distribute widely. Updates to the Biochar Practice Guidelines will be available at UBETBiochar.blogspot.com and WilsonBiochar.com.

Here is the section Kelpie Wilson most wants to share:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/gr24dxgpzui9hys/Biochar%20Manure%20Practice%20Guidelines-all.pdf?dl=0

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The weather finally cooperated for the recent Conservation Burn workshop at Circle Bar Ranch. We want to thank all of our attendees for their interest, Cuauhtemoc Villa and Alana Fichman for their knowledge and assistance, and especially our Circle Bar host, Sue Smith, for her ongoing support of this program.  (A special shout-out to equipment operator Jerry!)  Here are a few images from the event.        Photos by Raymond Baltar

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SBI/SEC Gives Conservation Burn/Biochar Training to the Staff at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

We  recently gave a workshop at the Elkhorn Slough Research Reserve, a beautiful state research facility located in Moss Landing on the Central Coast. Both the conservation open burn and pit burn techniques were conducted and compared, and in the future they also plan on testing a “Kon Tiki” style kiln.The Reserve has an estimated 9-year supply of invasive Eucalyptus trees that they want to turn into biochar for on-site research.. The biochar will be processed for use as a filtration medium to determine how well it works to prevent local agricultural runoff from entering the Slough—an ongoing problem that can causes algae blooms that kill fish. We are excited to be collaborating with this nationally known conservation and research organization and will soon be working with them on the agricultural nutrient filtration project. Here are a few photos from the training, followed by some photos of the ongoing agricultural filtration project showing the water that needs filtering, the biofilters testing a number of different filtration media, and the results of the filtration efforts—a cleaner wetland.  Photos by Raymond Baltar

Above:   The Elkhorn Slough Crew (including new Charmaster Bree Candeloro, center!)
Below: The Agricultural Runoff Filtration Study Location Near Watsonville

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Update on the SEC/SBI/UCR Department of Water Resources grant project testing biochar’s ability to save water in California Agriculture

Below are some photos of UC Riverside and Monterey Pacific Vineyard Management staff installing moisture monitoring equipment at the Oasis Vineyard near King City in Monterey County.  We are excited to start cataloging field trial data in this vineyard block with extremely sandy soils. Vineyard manager Doug Beck will also be cataloguing pruning weight and fruit production differences between the control and biochar-enhanced vine rows, and UC Riverside is measuring before and after application microbial population differences as well. Photos by Doug Beck and Raymond Baltar.

 

Below: Gathering soil samples for microbial analysis.

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Global Biochar Market Size Expected to Reach $585.0 Million by 2020.

According to a report by Zion Market Research, the global market was valued at approximately USD 260.0 million in 2014 and is expected to reach approximately USD 585.0 million by 2020, growing at a CAGR of around 14.5% between 2015 and 2020.

To learn more, go here.

Piercy Plant5270

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Testimony and photos below from Patrick Norton, Assistant Vineyard Manager, Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards:

“Thank you again for a great seminar last week. Your educational and inspirational biochar workshop has changed the way I look at burning and soil fertility.  Much appreciated! Conservation burning is so much cleaner and more effective. I will never burn conventionally again if I can avoid it.

ChalkHill1ChalkHill2

Grant News

Sonoma Ecology Center, Sonoma Biochar Initiative and UC Riverside Awarded Biochar Research Grant from California’s Department of Water Resources!

Sonoma Ecology Center and the Sonoma Biochar Initiative, in collaboration with Dr. Milt McGiffen of UC Riverside, several RCD’s, and farmers up and down the state, have been awarded a research grant to conduct major biochar field trials in California. We are seeking definitive scientific data to determine whether biochar use can save farmers money through water savings. We are planning to start the field trials at 3 farms this Spring. 

Lastly, we have applied to the Bay Area Air Qualify Management District’s (BAAQMD) educational grant program to fund emissions research that would provide hard data showing the differences between the Conservation Burn technique we have been developing vs a typical open agricultural burn. During a recent Farm Bureau presentation on open burning and other air emissions regulatory policies the BAAQMD’s representatives expressed an interest in the Cconservation Burn and we have invited them to attend our upcoming training (see below).  We believe that obtaining the hard data differences between the traditional and conservation burn practices would help push policy changes and broader farmer support for this simple yet dramatic way to reduce pollution while also producing biochar.

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Biochar for Carbon Removal from the Atmosphere  (From the IBI Website)

In the October 21 issue of Nature Communications Woolf et al demonstrate that biochar could play an important role in removal of carbon from the atmosphere, which is increasingly recognized as essential to meeting global climate targets.  Woolf compared biochar-bioenergy systems with bioenergy alone and gasification-based bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, known as BECCS. In its 2014 report, IPCC flags BECCS as the only major land-based approach expected to draw down atmospheric carbon dioxide. However, Woolf demonstrates that biochar-bioenergy systems that sequester carbon in agricultural lands could reduce carbon sequestration costs, allowing earlier adoption of a more aggressive policy of actively removing carbon from the atmosphere to avert dangerous climate change. Biochar-bioenergy competes favorably with BECCS at lower carbon prices, and where biochar addition to soils delivers significant increases in crop yields. Thus, effective use of biochar as a carbon removal strategy relies on identifying those sites that are most responsive to biochar.

This requires similar knowledge systems as those commonly in place around the world to guide fertilizer application.  Averaged across all published scientific experiments, biochar increases crop yields around 20% with application rates often exceeding 10 t/ha. However, applications of less than 5 t/ha can increase crop yields by over 50% in certain types of soils. Even highly productive agricultural lands contain patches of degraded soils that would benefit from biochar application. Precision agriculture can deliver biochar to specific field locations where it can provide the greatest soil benefits.

Biomass energy in combination with carbon sequestration has enormous potential as a carbon removal strategy.  However, biomass is a widely dispersed resource best suited to small-scale, distributed bioenergy systems. In contrast, sequestration of carbon dioxide is necessarily a large, centralized operation to enable separation and injection of carbon dioxide into carefully selected geological deposits.  This mismatch in scale between bioenergy production and carbon dioxide sequestration is a challenge for gasification-based BECCS.  The relative simplicity of producing and sequestering biochar results in biochar-bioenergy systems that can be built at modest scale and widely distributed.  Their small size reduces the risk of deploying new technology, eases financing, and speeds adoption.  Biochar-bioenergy systems can play an important role in a global strategy to actively remove carbon from the atmosphere.

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Biochar Field Production Added as an NRCS Conservation Enhancement Practice

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced an amendment to the Conservation Stewardship Program (SCP), adding biochar production from woody residue as a conservation enhancement practice.  This practice supports and encourages the production of biochar following fuels reduction harvests or post-wildfire forest regeneration.  You can download the PDF on the here:  e384135z

This conservation enhancement practice officially defines and supports work done by SBI over the last 4 years training farmers and foresters about the Conservation Burn technique that reduces smoke pollution while also producing biochar, as well as work done by Kelpie Wilson teaching forestry professionals how to use flame-cap kilns in Southern Oregon.

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Biochar Workshops and Conservation Burn Training

Here are a some photos from past trainings:

Four staff members from Sonoma Ecology Center’s Conservation Burn program trained Cakebread Vineyards staff, Wolf Vineyard management staff and workers on this top-down burn technique. Over a two-day period 12 large piles were burned cleanly, yielding about 15 yards of biochar to be used in the winery’s garden next fall. The biochar will be crushed and added to compost for seasoning over the summer.

Excavator operator assembled Conservation Burn piles at a Cakebread Cellars vineyard in Rutherford

Excavator operator assembles Conservation Burn piles at a Cakebread Cellars vineyard in Rutherford.

 

Workers rake and hoe the biochar as water is used to save the carbon (biochar).

Workers rake and hoe the pile as water is used to extinguish the fire and save the carbon (biochar).

  

A beautiful pile of char in the foreground with a burning pile in the background.

A beautiful pile of char in the foreground with a burning pile in the background.

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And as a reminder of how NOT to burn, here is a pile burned in the typical way— 

photographed recently in the Sonoma Valley.

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Smoky fires like this that can last for hours can be greatly diminished by utilizing the Conservation Burn technique as a BMP on your property. We view the Conservation Burn as a “bridge” solution that farmers can employ to reduce smoke in their community and make biochar in the process. However there are better long-term solutions as kiln and retort technologies become mainstream and cheaper. We envision a day when clean and multi-purpose biochar production facilities are located in every community, making open burning a thing of the past.

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Circle Bar Ranch Workshop

Circle Bar Ranch Workshop

 

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Cuauhtemoc Villa teaches about about microbes and biochar at the Circle Bar Ranch Workshop

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Four vine piles ready for a Conservation Burn at Pine Hawk Vineyards in San Miguel.

 

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Miles and Cuauhtemoc light the first pile at the top.

 

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The first pile takes off. Note the pile was lit on the DOWNWIND side.

 

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The second and third piles are lit a half hour apart, and are allowed to burn down to a critical point before extinguishing. Note how little smoke is escaping the flames.

 

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The first pile is almost ready to douse with water to save the carbon (biochar). Unburned pieces will be moved to the next pile.

 

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Miles, Cuauhtemoc and Pine Hawk crew members make sure the fire is completely out and rake out the partially burned pieces.

 

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A total of 10 piles were burned that day—a record for the Sonoma Biochar Initiative—with 8 excellent crew members. Here steam is created when one of the last piles is extinguished with water as sunset approaches.

 

Pine Hawk Vineyards Crew

The awesome crew after a LONG day at the Pine Hawk Vineyards Conservation Burn training in Paso Robles.

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Quivira Vineyards Training

Quivira Vineyards and Winery Conservation Burn training. It was a gorgeous day in wine country and the Vineyard Manager, Ned Horton, and his fine crew, were impressed by the lack of smoke and how quickly the piles burned down.

 

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Quivira Vineyards / Always light the fire on the DOWNWIND side!

 

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Quivira Vineyards / The pile is almost ready to extinguish to save the carbon.

 

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Quivira Vineyards / Most of the smoke gets consumed by the flame!

 

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Quivira Vineyards / Working the pile

 

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Quivira Vineyards / Look at all that beautiful biochar that was produced.

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E & J Gallo's San Miguel Vineyard

Test Conservation Burn at E & J Gallo’s San Miguel Vineyard near Paso Robles. With a moisture content of 30% to 45%, we determined that these vines were too green to burn easily and that they needed more seasoning. Ranch Lead Holly Smith was excited about the process and and in using biochar experimentally on some vines. Here Miles Atchison and Staff discuss the structure of the pile and the conditions of the vines.

 

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E & J Gallo’s San Miguel Vineyard / Though we did successfully burn the pile cleanly and make some good biochar, it took three times longer to burn than normal and we recommended waiting another month before processing the rest of the vines from the 75-acre vineyard. Here Miles Atchison discusses biochar with E & J Gallo staff members.

 

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Sonoma Biochar Initiative: A project of the Sonoma Ecology Center / Contact Us / Login