Author Archive


Hometown: Berkeley, California Director, Sonoma Biochar Initiative Served on the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club, Sonoma Chapter Served on the Board of the Sonoma County Conservation Council and the Steering Committee Member and Advisory Committee Member of Solar Sonoma County Received and MBA degree in Sustainable Enterprise, Dominican University, in 2011 Professional Photographer for over 30 years. Charter Member and Past President of the Professional Photographers of the Redwood Empire

SEE US AT THE HEIRLOOM EXPO, Sept. 6, 7 and 8!!!

Written by admin on . Posted in Initiative News

SBI and Sonoma Ecology Center will be having a large double booth presence at the upcoming Heirloom Expo at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds next Tuesday through Thursday.  We will be giving educational workshops on making biochar and how it can be used in agriculture and industry, hands-on bokashi compost making, and you will learn about all of the amazing activities of Sonoma Ecology Center, including environmental research, education, and ecological restoration. This year we will have activities for kids of all ages, including lectures about bugs and other critters beneficial for your garden.

GO HERE for more information about the Heirloom Expo.

Biochar Demonstration at Shanti Permaculture Farm

Written by admin on . Posted in Initiative News

Shanti Permaculture Farm is hosting a Biochar Demonstration on Saturday, April 30 at 10:00 AM until 4 PM at 16715 Coleman Valley Road. Admission is $2 for adults, free for kids or adults with an egg carton (which we reuse). Contact Elizabeth Medgyesy for more information:

Closing the Circle

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Closing the Circle:

Linked Responses to California’s Critical Environmental Challenges

David Morell, PhD

California faces three difficult environment-based challenges: continuing water shortages and ever-higher costs; risks of massive forest fires associated with millions of dead trees caused by the drought and its related bark beetle infestation; and ongoing need to increasingly reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions in response to climate change imperatives.

It sounds daunting; but an efficient new integrated response to these related challenges is now available: biochar.

Biochar is a specialized form of charcoal made at high temperature in a low oxygen environment (a process termed “pyrolysis”). Combined with compost or similar nutrients, biochar has been demonstrated to retain soil moisture, improve soil health, increase soil organic matter, expand crop yields, and sequester carbon safely for decades or longer.

Using biochar as a soil amendment in California agriculture can save millions of acre/feet of water saved every year. This is true for the state’s almond, walnut, and citrus orchards, vegetable fields, vineyards…across the board. Research efforts and field demonstrations document significant savings —sometimes more, sometimes less, with variations due to soil conditions, crops being grown, historical farm practices, and irrigation techniques.

Saving that much water will allow farmers to save many millions of dollars. New financial instruments can be designed to allow eligible farmers to cover the costs of applying biochar to their farm’s soil over 10 years or so out of money gained by their water savings. Loans could be guaranteed by the state’s new Water Bond or AB 32 funds.

Where can we obtain all this new biochar? At what cost? Here’s where the forest challenge comes in and we begin to close the circle, since the biochar can be created from the millions of dead trees in California’s drought-ridden forests. A few of the state’s dozen or so existing biomass-to-energy facilities can be readily converted make biochar rather than wood ash while still producing heat and energy from the woody biomass. One such facility in Northern California has already been converted —it is now producing high-quality biochar that is being made available to farmers at prices impossible before: less than $100/cubic yard delivered to local farms.

These facilities face closure as their electricity sales contracts come to an end; biochar sales can play a role in helping to sustain them, retaining their highly skilled operators. Using dead and dying trees in this way allows us to thin the state’s forests carefully, thereby greatly reducing forest fire risks. At the same time, many new jobs will be created in rural areas. (As for cost concerns, California has spent over $3 billion in recent years fighting these fires, and that’s not counting the costs to devastated communities.)

Finally, there’s climate change. California already leads globally in creating renewable energy supplies (solar, wind, and geothermal), encouraging energy conservation in residential and commercial buildings, and creating appropriate legislative incentives: AB 32 and Sonoma Clean Power are two excellent examples. While these initiatives all help reduce new carbon emissions into the atmosphere, moving us towards “carbon neutral”, none of them work to remove carbon from the atmosphere by placing carbon underground, an action that is truly “carbon negative.” Using biochar in California agriculture does just this, burying thousands of tons of elemental carbon in the ground for decades, where it will save water while reducing forest fire risk. Now the circle is truly closed, proving once again the classic ecological principle that all systems are linked to one another in nature.

Happy Earth Day 2016.

Dr. David Morell is Vice Chair of the Board of Directors and Treasurer of the Sonoma Ecology Center, where he directs the organization’s biochar activities including the Sonoma County Biochar Project.

USBI 2016 Biochar Conference: Save the Date Aug. 22nd – 25th

Written by admin on . Posted in Biochar General, Biochar Policy, Biochar Technology, Citizen Science Project, Initiative News, Member News, Uncategorized, USBI Conference 2012

The Synergy of Science and Industry:  Biochar’s Connection to Ecology, Soil, Food and Energy

Registration is now open for what is sure to be a fantastic gathering of scientists, entrepreneurs, farmers, enlightened government officials, energy, soil, and fire geeks, agricultural change agents, NGO’s devoted to sustainable practices and carbon sequestration, backyard biochar tinkerer’s, and folks just interested what all the fuss about biochar is about.


Located at the CH2M Hill Alumni Center in beautiful Corvallis, Oregon, it is sure to be the biochar event of the year in the U.S.

Go to:   for more information.


Indigenous Agriculture Classes at Sonoma Garden Park

Written by admin on . Posted in Initiative News

The Sonoma Biochar Initiative, The Sonoma Ecology Center, Whole Foods Market Sonoma, and  Native American educator Cuauhtemoc Villa are collaborating on a series of four free classes on indigenous farming techniques. Held at the Sonoma Garden Park on successive Thursday mornings from 9 A.M. to 10 A.M. (July 16, July 23, July 30, and Aug. 6), these classes will cover a range of topics including the preparation and use of Bokashi (a fermented, anaerobic composting technique), biochar preparation and use, Hugelkultur mounds, and other traditional farming techniques used by various indigenous cultures.  Go here for more information and to register:

Sonoma County Biochar Project Workshop and Demonstration

Written by admin on . Posted in Biochar General, Biochar Policy, Biochar Technology, Citizen Science Project, Initiative News, Member News, Uncategorized, USBI Conference 2012

The Sonoma County Biochar Project Presents:

Biochar Soil Management and Pasture Benefits

A Workshop and Demonstration

Date:  July 25th, 2015  /  Time: 10am to 2pm

At  Swallow Valley Farm, 1100 Freestone Valley Ford Rd. Valley Ford, CA  94972

For more information, click here.

Conservation Burn and Biochar Training/March 27th

Written by admin on . Posted in Initiative News

The Sonoma Biochar Initiative and the Sonoma Ecology Center are pleased to announce our second Conservation Burn and Biochar Workshop this coming Friday March 27th at Circle Bar Ranch!

By replacing conventional open burn methods with the conservation burn you can significantly reduce emissions (visible smoke and invisible chemicals and particles) from agricultural burns in your community and conserve resources, especially carbon. You will also learn how to produce biochar, a valuable soil amendment, in the process.

Go here to register:

These workshops feature both hands-on, in-the-field training and a classroom style component.

The early morning classroom session (8 A.M. to 10 A.M) will focus on biochar itself, including why it works to improve soil, the benefits of using it in both animal and plant agriculture, how to properly condition it prior to use, and how to apply it. Conservation burn theory and methodology will also be covered, including the scientific theory behind the process, safety and permitting considerations, pile construction, burn management, and maximizing production of biochar.

The late morning session (10:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M.) will include hands-on field training using one pile of vines and vine trimmings.

A portion of the proceeds will support programs at both the Sonoma Biochar Initiative and the Sonoma Ecology Center. Please bring a bag lunch and a water container if you are staying for the extended training. Coffee and water will be available.

Mendocino Biochar Demonstration Project Events in April

Written by admin on . Posted in Initiative News

The Redwood Forest Foundation is excited to invite the public to learn about the RFFI Biochar Demonstration Project. RFFI is holding two events in April, a Regional Technical Transfer Workshop, and a Biochar Conversion Unit Demonstration Tour.

Biochar Project Regional Technical Transfer Workshop
April 9, 2015
10:00 AM- 2:00PM
Eureka, CA

Biochar Conversion Unit Demonstration Tour
April 24, 2015
10:00 AM-2:00PM
Branscomb, CA

Judith Harwood
Biochar Project Coordinator

Visit the RFFI website at for updated info and directions to the Branscomb, CA event.

SBI Selected to Submit a Full CalFire Project Application

Written by admin on . Posted in Biochar General, Biochar Policy, Biochar Technology, Citizen Science Project, Initiative News, Member News, Uncategorized

The Sonoma Biochar Initiative (SBI)recently received a formal invitation from CalFire to submit a full grant application to expand our Conservation Burn Training Program statewide. CalFire received 381 Concept Proposals, totaling over $135 million, from various entities and landowners throughout the state under California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds Grant Programs, and only a limited number of these received an invitation to submit a full proposal by April 30th. Unfortunately, only $21 million is available for funding for the fiscal year 2014/2015 and not all proposals will be successful. However, we strongly believe the conservation burn training program has so many merits as a greenhouse gas reduction strategy and co-benefits to the ecosystem with the resulting production of biochar that we feel our proposal stands a good chance of being funded.

SBI has also been working to advocate at the state level for large-scale, high-profile biochar field trials. We hope to start working soon with California Food and Agriculture Director Karen Ross’ office to coordinate a stakeholder meeting (including representatives from the academic, technology, agriculture, business, policy, energy, and biochar advocacy sectors) to come up with a roadmap to bring these essential field trials to fruition.

Conservation Burn Workshop at Circle Bar Ranch

Written by admin on . Posted in Initiative News

The Workshop we held on February 13th at Circle Bar Ranch was a great success. Attendees (including vineyard managers, flower farmers, compost producers, RCD reps and others) spent the morning learning about the science aspects of the conservation burn training, and a few hours in the afternoon learning how to build and manage a pile of vines. Below are a few pictures from the event:

Most of the smoke produced gets consumed by the  top-lit flames.

Most of the smoke produced gets consumed by the
top-lit flames.

The pile is burning nicely now with virtually no smoke.

The pile is burning nicely now with virtually
no smoke.

Putting out the fire—that is steam, not smoke!

Putting out the fire—that is steam, not smoke!

The result:  a nice pile of biochar that can be used in the very  vineyard where the vines were pulled out.

The result: a nice pile of biochar that can be used in the very
vineyard where the vines were pulled out.