About Us

The Sonoma Biochar Initiative (SBI), founded in 2009, is a project of the Sonoma Ecology Center (SEC) [ www.sonomaecologycenter.org]. We are dedicated to promoting biochar education and its sustainable production and use throughout California. We collaborate with our strategic partners to educate local farmers, foresters, vineyard managers, government officials, and other stakeholders on the advantages of producing biochar to better utilize surplus materials coming out of our forests to reduce fire hazards and improve community resiliency, and then using the biochar to enhance agricultural productivity while reducing GHG emissions.

SBI views accelerated use of biochar as the key to soil restoration and recovery, as a watershed management tool, as way to help reduce mined industrial inputs like construction aggregates, sand, and coal-based activated carbon, as well as a “fast mitigation technology” being cited increasingly in international climate talks. Through grant funding SBI has established or contributed to several local and state demonstration projects for biochar production and application, and experimenting with available agricultural and urban yard waste biomass feedstocks.

SEC environmental teachers Cuauhtemoc Villa and Tony Passantino teach a group of children about how compost is made, and how charcoal enhances its effectiveness at building rich, beautiful soil.

Biochar production and use is taking off around the world. It has been recognized by the IPCC, Lawrence Livermore National Labs, and ClimateWorks as one of the 4 least expensive and most easily scalable natural solutions for drawing down carbon from the atmosphere. It was recently profiled in Leonardo DiCaprio’s climate change documentary Ice on Fore, and CalFire, the US Forest Service, NRCS, USDA, California’s DWR, and CDFA have all provided grant funding for a wide array of biochar-related projects in recent years.  Biochar’s price has come down considerably in just the last few years, making it more affordable for farmers.  There are some major field trials in the works to be conducted by UC Davis and UC Merced, and the NRCS has recently come out with several funding mechanisms that could be game changers both here in California and around the country. 

So the biochar world is booming these days and as more people become aware of its many, many benefits we expect the industry to grow exponentially in coming years.  Biochar production can play a key role in helping to manage the materials generated by improved management of our forests and watersheds, as well as increase soil organic matter to our farms and rangelands, and we are looking for partners to help spread this message. We hold periodic meetings and trainings on how to produce and utilize biochar, so if you are interested in attending please sign up for our mailing list.

SBI’s core Principals each bring unique skills and expertise to the organization:

* Raymond Baltar, Director, a sustainability consultant, local businessman, and professional photographer is focused on integrating business principles with energy conservation and environmental sustainability. Mr. Baltar served on the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club, Redwood Chapter and on the Steering Committee for Solar Sonoma County. He completed a “Green MBA” graduate degree in Sustainable Enterprise from Dominican University in 2011.

*David Morell, PhD, a specialist in global environmental and energy policy, retired in 2007 as CEO of an environmental consulting firm. Dr. Morell previously served as a senior official of the US Environmental Protection Agency and in California state government and has many years of experience in university teaching and research.

*Richard Dale has served as SEC’s Executive Director for 20 years. Programs at the center focused on research, education, and restoration have gained a statewide reputation for excellence. Mr. Dale is recognized widely as one of Sonoma County’s leading environmentalists.

*Susan Haydon, conservation planner, policy maker, and dirt nerd.  Ms. Haydon’s 30-year calling is founded on planning for a sustainable future and fostering a sense of place through community engagement and deep appreciation of our natural systems and working lands. Project manager for Sonoma County Water Agency on water management and climate adaptation initiatives. Organic consultant to Marin & Sonoma County farms.  City of Rohnert Park Planning Commissioner.

*Ray Gallian, SBI’s initial founding member, has focused on biochar technology and its uses over the past several years. Mr. Gallian works primarily on education and outreach to expand biochar use.

Other Members:

Henry Hickey

Ed Clay

Charles Berkstresser / Tragaluz

Matthew Banchero

Jake Blehm

Benjamin Colby / Swallow Valley Farm

Laurie Gallian

Joan Linney

Sonoma Compost

Justin Smith

John Schroeder

Kelpie Wilson

Michael Wittman

Philip Small

Frank Shields

Adam Seger

Janet Laughlin

Jerome Chambliss

Debbie Hanmer

Garrett Gradillas