2013 Citizen Science Project Launches April 20th

Written by raymondbiochar on . Posted in Biochar General, Citizen Science Project, Initiative News

Help us explore how biochar works in local soils using your personal, community, or school garden. Biochar has been shown in lab tests and scientific field trials around the world to be beneficial for soil health and plant production, and we want to test it in Sonoma County and the Bay Area. The project is easy, fun, and will be an interesting, science-based activity for the whole family. We are particularly interested in partnering with school and community gardens, so please let us know if you are connected to one of these.

SVHS-Earth-Club

All you will need is space for two 3’X3′ plots (preferably using the section of your garden with the WORST soil), some seeds or starts, a camera, a measuring device (a home- made pole ruler works fine), and email capability.  You will be engaging in a scientifically accepted form of research called photo-monitoring-the simplest U.S. EPA-approved method of demonstrating plant success.

We will provide you with free bags of biochar and compost blended together, instructions on how to plant, how to take the photos in a scientifically accepted manner, and when and where to send them to add to our data set. We are working on expanding our web site and developing a special blog to allow you to stay connected to the project and see the results others are having.

Distribution will take place on Saturday April 20th at several locations in the town of Sonoma, and we are looking for volunteers and distribution locations in other areas of Sonoma County (and elsewhere) to keep the carbon footprint as low as possible.

We only have 200 bags to give out so please click the link below to reserve yours now. We are taking reservations on a first-come, first-served basis. Feel free to tell friends and neighbors about this experiment, and if they are willing to take part in the planting and photo-monitoring protocols please have them sign up as well.

Click the link below and scroll down to fill out the
simple form. Please indicate if you can help us
bag or distribute the biochar as well.
Distribution Date:  Saturday April 20th, 9 A.M. to noon, at Sonoma Garden Park & 1 P.M. to 4 P.M. at the Sonoma Ecology Center Earth Day Celebration at the Sonoma Plaza. You will be sent directions and other information when you sign up.

USDA Conservation Innovation Grant Application Goes to Second Phase

Written by raymondbiochar on . Posted in Biochar General, Biochar Technology, Initiative News

The Sonoma Biochar Initiative received word on Friday that our California GIG grant application to fund the development and study of a farm-scale biochar operation has made the cut to stage two, and a full 30-page proposal has been requested. This grant, with matching funds provided by the Sonoma County Water Agency, would allow for the purchase of a steel retort from New England Biochar, to be located at Swallow Valley Farm in western Sonoma County, and 18 months of biochar field trials at Swallow Valley Farm, Oak Hill Farm in Glen Ellen, and Green String Farm in Petaluma.

The grant would study the economic feasibility of a small-scale biochar operation, using feedstock primarily from the farm, and provide enough biochar for the field trials and some income for the farm as well. The field trials would focus on biochar’s effectiveness in increasing soil carbon, decreasing water needs over time, and increasing production.  Heat produced from the unit would be captured and utilized in the farm’s cheese-making facility.

SBI is competing with 16 other grant proposals from around the state vying for $375,000 in funds.

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Lambing Season at Swallow Valley Farm

 

Earth Day Celebration / Sonoma April 20th

Written by raymondbiochar on . Posted in Initiative News

The Sonoma Ecology Center, Transition Sonoma Valley, The Sonoma Biochar Initiative (SBI), and many other local organizations, businesses, and citizens will be gathering to create a fun and engaging community spirited celebration to honor the Earth on Saturday, April 20th 1:00 – 5:00 PM on the Sonoma Plaza.

For more information, go here:

Earth Day on the Plaza

SBI will be distributing free bags of biochar to gardeners willing to take part in a Citizen Science experiment, and will be making presentations on a variety of topics including biochar production, biochar benefits for soil, and others. To sign up for the Citizen Science project please go here:

Citizen Science Project Signup

Earth Day Poster_Med

Biochar Effects on Vineyards in Europe

Written by raymondbiochar on . Posted in Initiative News

Though this article discusses the 2011 growing season in Europe, it is highly topical and relevant for our own North Bay wine growing region. This piece is also from Hans-Peter Schmidt’s Ithaka Journal. Thank you Hans-Peter and associates for all of your great work!

2011 European Vineyard Field Trial Results

I have two pdf’s that discuss this work as well and that show very encouraging results.  I am happy to forward them to you if you contact me directly at: raymond@sonomabiocharinitiative.org

55 Uses for Biochar

Written by raymondbiochar on . Posted in Biochar General, Initiative News

Here is another fantastic article from Hans-Peter Schmidt’s Ithaka Journal:

55 Uses for Biochar

Hans-Peter makes a great case for first using biochar in at least one other way before putting it in the ground for agricultural use:

“Biochar is much too valuable for it to be just worked into the soil without having it used at least once for more beneficial purposes – whether as storage for volatile nutrients, as an adsorber in functional clothing, as insulation in the building industry, as energy storage in batteries, as a filter in a sewage plant, as a silage agent or as a feed supplement. Such uses can be followed by use in a farmer’s slurry pit or in a sewage plant, before being composted. It should only be worked into the soil at the end of this “cascade”, helping to create Terra Preta.”

This piece is filled with ideas for entrepreneurs! Since we believe biochar is most valuable and beneficial when used in an agricultural setting, keeping biochar in a closed loop cycle on the farm (or a number of nearby farms) may be the highest and best approach. If first used as a feed or bedding supplement for chickens or cows, or in a farmer’s slurry pit, then composting the resultant material and manure, biochar becomes inoculated with nutrients as part of an integrated system—reducing these costs.

Community Meeting on March 13th

Written by raymondbiochar on . Posted in Initiative News

Announcing our first-ever COMMUNITY MEETING on Wednesday evening, March 13th, 2013 at the Sonoma Valley Grange Hall, from 6:30 P.M. to 8:30 P.M. The event is FREE but we will be seeking donations to help cover event costs.

To register, please go here.

This will be the kickoff event for our 2013 educational outreach and membership campaign and we hope you will join us for an informative evening featuring biochar author and expert Peter Hirst of New England Biochar (see below). There will be ample time for questions and we will be encouraging audience participation and networking both before and after Peter’s presentation.

Peter Hirst / New England Biochar

This presentation will combine the basics of biochar (including how it is made and used), the attraction of building locally beneficial biochar enterprises, and how the Sonoma Biochar Initiative is fostering community participation.

Peter is a Principal at New England Biochar, a company that manufactures and licenses the Adam-Retort in the U.S.-a batch biochar production system. He is a respected authority on the manufacture and use of biochar as well as the development of community-based biochar ecosystems.

The Secret of El Dorado—Terra Preta

Written by raymondbiochar on . Posted in Biochar General, Biochar Technology

If you have time over the holidays check out this video:

Produced by the BBC, this program gives an excellent historical overview of the terra preta (dark earth) soils in the Amazon and lays out an impressive case for using charcoal (we call it biochar) as a soil amendment to help build and maintain soil health worldwide.

I had only seen a few clips from this film before and it was very informative and inspiring to watch the whole thing. There is another short video at the end discussing biochar’s potential for sequestering carbon safely in soil.

Raymond Baltar

California Bill SB-1122: renewable bioenergy procurement

Written by raymondbiochar on . Posted in Biochar General

http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml;jsessionid=cd36e5138d18004eeb1fc4f367a0?bill_id=201120120SB1122

This bill, signed into law by Gov. Brown on Sept. 27th, requires energy corporations to procure electricity from producers of bioenergy.  Here are a few key paragraphs:

SECTION 1.

 Section 399.20 of the Public Utilities Code is amended to read:  399.20.
 (a) It is the policy of this state and the intent of the Legislature to encourage electrical generation from eligible renewable energy resources.
(b) As used in this section, “electric generation facility” means an electric generation facility located within the service territory of, and developed to sell electricity to, an electrical corporation that meets all of the following criteria:
(1) Has an effective capacity of not more than three megawatts.
(2) Is interconnected and operates in parallel with the electrical transmission and distribution grid.
(3) Is strategically located and interconnected to the electrical transmission and distribution grid in a manner that optimizes the deliverability of electricity generated at the facility to load centers.
(4) Is an eligible renewable energy resource.
(c) Every electrical corporation shall file with the commission a standard tariff for electricity purchased from an electric generation facility. The commission may modify or adjust the requirements of this section for any electrical corporation with less than 100,000 service connections, as individual circumstances merit.
(d) (1) The tariff shall provide for payment for every kilowatthour of electricity purchased from an electric generation facility for a period of 10, 15, or 20 years, as authorized by the commission. The payment shall be the market price determined by the commission pursuant to paragraph (2) and shall include all current and anticipated environmental compliance costs, including, but not limited to, mitigation of emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollution offsets associated with the operation of new generating facilities in the local air pollution control or air quality management district where the electric generation facility is located.
(d)(2) By June 1, 2013, the commission shall, in addition to the 750 megawatts identified in paragraph (1), direct the electrical corporations to collectively procure at least 250 megawatts of cumulative rated generating capacity from developers of bioenergy projects that commence operation on or after June 1, 2013. The commission shall, for each electrical corporation, allocate shares of the additional 250 megawatts based on the ratio of each electrical corporation’s peak demand compared to the total statewide peak demand. In implementing this paragraph, the commission shall do all of the following:(A) Allocate the 250 megawatts identified in this paragraph among the electrical corporations based on the following categories:
(i) For biogas from wastewater treatment, municipal organic waste diversion, food processing, and codigestion, 110 megawatts.
(ii) For dairy and other agricultural bioenergy, 90 megawatts.
(iii) For bioenergy using byproducts of sustainable forest management, 50 megawatts. Allocations under this category shall be determined based on the proportion of bioenergy that sustainable forest management providers derive from sustainable forest management in fire threat treatment areas, as designated by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
(iV) For the purposes of this subdivision, “bioenergy” means biogas and biomass.
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Of course the devil will be in the details, (and there are a LOT of additional requirements and details), but this action is certainly a big step in the right direction.  Phoenix Energy is right in the ballpark with their unit, as is the BiG Biochar unit and of course, the Adam Retort. There may be a sweet spot in size (say, projects 1 Mw to 3 Mw) that the utilities will prefer to work with, and that makes sense as far as interconnect costs go.  We still have to develop the biochar market before some of these ventures will pencil out, and that’s why getting an Adam Retort up and running in Sonoma County ASAP, and continuing to work on the profitability mechanics of these businesses, is critical.Raymond Baltar

SBI in 2013

Written by raymondbiochar on . Posted in Biochar General, Initiative News

With our successful national conference now behind us, SBI’s Advisory Board has been hard at work developing strategies to build on the local excitement and knowledge gained at the event, and getting as much biochar into the ground as possible. We are poised to have a major growth spurt in our outreach and education activities in 2013. We also have plans to expand our field testing activities and to acquire and build  the first biochar production facility in the North Bay.

Here are a few of the exciting projects we are working on:

Four grant applications have been written in 2012 and will have been submitted by Dec. 17th. We should know by early 2013 if any have been funded.

We supplied biochar to a UC Davis monitored vineyard field trial in Oakville, California, and are working with David Cook of Cook Vineyard Management on a field trial to start soon in the Sonoma Valley.

We supplied biochar to 30 individuals or organizations (including all of the elementary school garden programs) in the Sonoma Valley as part of a hands-on educational outreach effort called the Citizen Science Project. We are hoping to receive a grant to expand the program to 200 in 2013.

We supplied biochar to Tara Firma Farm and Greenstring Farm in Petaluma, where they are using it in their chicken operations. We are looking forward to building ongoing strong relationships with these and other food providers practicing sustainable agriculture techniques.

We supplied biochar to the Pollinator Pal Program in Sonoma Valley.

We are planning a number of hands-on events in 2013 where the public can come to learn about making biochar and why it is an important soil amendment.

We are expanding the capacity and communication outreach of our organization and just published our first Newsletter.

There are other efforts  as well that I will expand on in upcoming posts, so stay tuned.

Raymond

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