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All Power Labs Tour

Written by raybiochar on . Posted in Uncategorized

On Monday 10/24 our Biochar Working Group, consisting of SBI members and Sonoma County agencies, traveled to All Power Labs in Berkeley to review their famous gasifier-generators. I attended a workshop there a year ago, and was impressed then with their new Power Pallet, a computer controlled gasifier tied to a 10 KW generator. An elegance of positive feedback, once fully cycling the 700C exhaust from the engine heats the pyrolysis chamber, heating the biomass and rending the carbon from the energy gasses, which are then filtered and cycled back across the hot char, both cleaning the gas and adding carbon, for cycling as fuel to the engine. A very small amount of char and ash remains. The ultimate sense of system efficiency is reflected in the total exhaust, being what appears to be only warm water vapor. APL is also known for the base unit of this, the GEK, or Gasifier Experimenters Kit. Up until the popularity of the Power Pallet focused their energies, they also had the BEK, or Biochar Experimenters Kit. They are down to their last, in house, BEK, somewhat dusty from inattention.

Now, a year later, they have a 20 KW Power Pallet. Several finished units waited with tags for far flung destinations, Mexico, Indonesia, Malaysia.  Out in the yard was the next prototype, a Godzilla among lizards, the 100 KW unit. They don’t call it Godzilla, but it fits, if only in a shipping container. It is project for the University of Minnesota, funded by DOE. One partner in the grant is Cummins Diesel, so that is the power plant. They will have to make some modifications to the process, as they usually work with a sparked engine, with visions of turbo-charged V8’s for round two. The entire package will be shipped, and active, in a 20′ shipping container. One quarter engine, one quarter gasifier, and one half biomass storage and handling. The scheme in all these units is ease of deployability.
So we were there not only to marvel at innovations in gasifiers, but to connect with and revive a sense of mission related to biochar. APL, especially founder Jim Mason, was intrigued by our efforts in Sonoma County, and the national presence the USBI conference will bring to the area. The sum of our meeting, extended by mutual interest, was that now was the time to take a closer, systemic, look at biochar production. And showing that innovative spirit again, they roughed out a design for a biochar maker, that just might be a mutual project. With all feeling jazzed at the possibilities for collaboration, we left with sense that, like organizing the conference, biochar is on its way, out west.
Ray Gallian

Farm Forum in Sonoma

Written by raybiochar on . Posted in Uncategorized

Hosted by the girl and the fig family of restaurants, owner Sondra Bernstein and executive chef John Toulze at their elegant Estate restaurant, this was the third Farm Forum and my first. Always with a larger mission of supporting improvements and developments of the local food system, this month honored Luther Burbank for his reverence of Sonoma as a special place and his ability to “coax magic out of the earth”.  Organized by Marcy Smothers and Clark Wolf, speakers included Erin Sheffield of Luther Burbank’s Experiment Farm, Gold Ridge (Not, we were told, Experimental Farm) were Luther bred his famous Shasta Daisy and Santa Rosa Plum.

Local food advocate and writer, Kathleen Hill, cheered the crowd with the breadth of the Sonoma School Garden Project, and the added support of local chefs planning to teach healthy cooking with its produce. She was thrilled to learn that Gold Ridge Farm will be donating Some of Luther Burbank’s special trees to the effort.

Mining the intellectual capital for your garden was Kristee Rosendahl, creator of, a web tool as handy a a shovel for those pesky garden questions. I asked her to consider biochar in her bag of garden tricks, and to put her mind to a similarly useful tool to help mind our carbon and build some breathing room.

Innovation is yet to be a wine label, but is still evident in the efforts of  Whole Vine/ Sonomaceuticals founder Peggy Firth. Whole Vine is looking at the higher value stream of materials usually wasted, seeds and skins. Captured quickly, varietal grape seed oil, full of flavor and nutrients, untouched by chemical solvents, are extracted from the fresh seeds. The remnant of the seed is desirable as a high protein, high fiber, gluten free  flour. (Somewhere, there are cookies!!)   The stable red color from the skins is used as a natural food coloring and antioxident.

Cheesemonger Sheana Davis of Epicurean Connection, spoke of her own Delice De La Valle soft cheese, still the ranking soft cheese after two years! Her many years of promoting artisan cheeses and connecting them with chefs from Sonoma to New Orleans, has surely left a trail of educated palates.

The healing power of vegetables is being tested in a medical trial under the “Veggie Rx” plan by SAVOR doctor, Rachael Friedman, MD and her collegues.

A quiet conflict nearly emerged when Yannick Phillips of the Sonoma Valley Grange was followed shortly by egg farmer Arnie Rieble. Yannick spoke of the history and current relevance of the Grange in support of local food and larger policy issues at the State level. She forgot to mention the Grange motto “Patrons of Husbandry”, and her role as the State Grange Legislative Advocate, so watch out Sacramento. She is also a powerful opponent of GMO crops, so she grimaced ever so slightly when Arnie, proudly self described Dinosaur-farmer, explained how we need to get over our fear of GMO, saying it was no different than any breeding he had done for his hens. He asserted no difference with the works of Luther Burbank himself. Not to editorialize too deeply on the matter, But neither Luthur nor Arnie ever had the chance play matchmaker between a chicken and a plum, or corn and a roundup. That aside, Arnie’s effort to breed (yes- chicken to chicken) for increased production while improving health using probiotics and eschewing antibiotics won loud praise. A cuddly dinosaur, indeed, but Arnie, “Patrons of Husbandry” should never be “Patrons of Cut-and-Paste”.

KSRO Radio host Steve Garner has been getting the local food word out for over 25 years, sharing what’s new on his gardening and cooking shows.

Explaining St. Francis Winery’s commitment to sustainability, President and CEO Chris Silva, noted the prominent road frontage organic garden, drawing in patrons for the daily wine and fresh picked food pairing.

Now that we’ve heard, we won’t hold it against him, but our new Sonoma County Consulting Agricultural Commissioner Dave Whitman is from Napa. What is truly special about Sonoma, he assured, as compared to [somewhare else] is the diversity of our agriculture, and in diversity is strength. To which I say, welcome, Dave!

Alerting the crowd to the table of local vittles, was host John Toulze, also sharing girl and the fig’s commitment to locality and seasonality, fresh and flavorful. Yes, I am now a devotee of their squash pizza.

I am also now a fan of this effort to support local farms and local food. I hope to add the voice of the Sonoma Biochar Initiative, saying that in saving ourselves by using biochar for carbon sequestration, we benefit local agriculture by building soils, and filtering water. Nose around the rest of this website for more.

Ray Gallian- Chief Biochar Advocate.



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