So much has been happening in the biochar program here at SEC it has been difficult to stay current with our activities here on the website. Here are a few highlights:
We have been working as consultants for Earth Foundries (EF), a startup based in Santa Clara County focused on increasing fire safety in Bay Area forests and developing innovative uses for surplus biomass created during local fuels reduction projects. Their first projects involve conversion of Eucalyptus trees thinned from Chabot Regional Park in Oakland and converting them into biochar using a Tigercat Carbonizer, and researching use cases for the biochar within the East Bay Regional Park District. We recently completed a report highlighting the potential uses for biochar within the park district, including as a way to treat and regenerate degraded rangeland areas, conducting field trials on farms located within the district, using the biochar in bioswales and wattles as a way to reduce pollution from stormwater, and by rolling out a free public biochar giveaway program that would help educate Bay Area residents about plant and soil health and carbon sequestration.
We have also been assisting Earth Foundries to develop markets for biochar in the Bay Area. One of these markets is manure management, and we are working with a poultry farmer and a dairy farmer in Sonoma County on field trials using biochar as an additional amendment in their manure to explore whether odors can be reduced, how much nitrogen is retained in their manure processing activities, and whether the mixture saves water and keeps their fields greener longer in the Spring.
We have been continuing to work our way through the permitting process for placing a pyrolysis unit at the Napa Recycling and Compost Facility (NRCF) in American Canyon. We purchased a biochar production machine from ARTi, a manufacturer in Iowa, using funds from a CAL FIRE Urban Forestry grant, and this production facility would be the first of its kind in California. Originally planned for Mare Island at our partner A Plus Tree’s mill site, we changed locations after there were too many permitting delays there. NRCF has turned out to be a much better location all around, as the owners and staff have been great collaborators thus far and they will be able to create biochar and compost blends for us right onsite. Depending on the ability of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s ability to process our air permit in a timely manner, we are hoping to be up and running by late summer or fall. We will be hosting public events at the facility so stay tuned to this website or ask to join our mailing list and we will let you know when they get scheduled. (Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to be added.)
Sonoma Ecology Center’s Restoration Department, under the direction of Raymond Baltar, continues to conduct public trainings on the conservation burn and Ring of Fire kiln techniques for processing surplus woody materials into biochar in both vineyard and forestry locations. In collaboration with Napa Green we trained a large crowd of vineyard managers, winery professionals, area landowners, and others at an event at the Napa RCD’s experimental Vineyard in the Carneros district. Also present was a local business that uses a number of Burn Boss’s, small tow-behind air curtain burners manufactured by Air Burners, Inc., to process vines while also providing some biochar.
We also presented on biochar and trained a group of people at Monkey Rock Ranch in Geyserville on ways to process fuels reduction materials into biochar.
And recently, SEC Board President and Biochar Projects Manager Raymond Baltar visited Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood, getting a tour of the 280 acres of fruit orchards by owner Al Courchesne and Farm Operations Manager Rachel Sullivan. These orchards are managed sustainably and regeneratively and they are interested in experimenting with biochar when their next planting goes in. They are planning on pulling an old orchard that is not producing as it used to, processing the tree trunks and branches into biochar, then blending the biochar into the on-farm compost that they produce and amending the orchard soil when they replant. We will be assisting them through this process.