Impressions from the US Biochar Symposium

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

Several things really made an impression on me when I attended the US Biochar Symposium last October at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. The first was the plenary speech by Dr. Johannes Lehmann, considered by many as the scientific “godfather” of the modern biochar movement. The eminent soil scientist from Cornell University emphasized one central theme throughout the talk: all biochar is not the same—in fact we should be using the plural term biochars when talking about it since no two biochars, made in different processes, at different temperatures, from different feedstocks, will have the same characteristics.

Dr. Lehmann cautioned those of us looking to commercialize biochar to be rigorous in providing a consistent product that will produce consistent results, and that consumers can trust. Most of us who have been in the biochar world for awhile have certainly heard of and seen many types of biochar, exhibiting many different characteristics. Biochar made as a byproduct from large gasifiers primarily producing energy, for example, can have a very different structure and ph level than that made from smaller continuous-feed or batch systems that are designed primarily to produce biochar.

So sourcing biochars from different producers may have markedly different results in similar soils. Since there have been positive, neutral, and even negative results using biochar in field trials much research still needs to be done—especially identifying which feedstocks, heated at which temperatures, will produce the optimal results in a given soil type, with which plants.

This work is underway all over the world, and we conducted our own Citizen Science experiment right here in Sonoma County this year. The results of this experiment using local gardeners willing to take part in a backyard field trial will be published early next year. SBI was also recently awarded a USDA Conservation Innovation grant that will allow us to produce large amounts of biochar locally and test it at three local farms: Green String, Oak Hill, and Swallow Valley.

Biochar mixed with compost makes a rich soil amendment beneficial for your garden.

Biochar mixed with compost makes a rich soil amendment beneficial for your garden.

My second big takeaway from the conference came at a virtual presentation given by Hans-Peter Schmidt titled “Novel Uses of Biochar”. Mr. Schmidt founded the Ithaka Institute for Carbon Cycling & Winegrowing in Switzerland and for 7 years has been adding biochar to vineyards and introducing it in other agricultural settings as well. The description of his talk at the conference explains what he calls the importance of integrating the “cascading use” of biochar in the farm workflow, and even in industial systems:

“In addition to the use of biochar as a soil amendment, there are an increasing number of ways to incorporate biochar into different eco- and industrial systems. Thus feeding biochar to livestock has numerous benefits not only for the animals, but it also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improves nutrient retention in animal manure. The use of biochar in building materials is just beginning to be studied but shows promise in the ability to insulate, decontaminate air, and provide odor and humidity control. Biochar as pillow filling to induce perfectly reposing sleep is just another way to benefit from biochar’s multiple qualities. There are more than 55 uses of biochar that can all be combined in cascades. All of these uses have in common that the biochar gets slowly charged with nutrients, gets oxidized and can finally be recycled as a soil conditioner.”

Much more information on the many, many ways to use biochar(s) before finally putting it in the ground is available here. Click on Ithaka Journal and scroll down to the section titled “55 Uses of Biochar”.

Lastly, I was particularly impressed by the work done by NASA scientist Doris Hamill in producing a high school curriculum on biochar. If you are interested in teaching a science segment with some positive content about using biochar as a strategy to help mitigate climate change and promote sustainable agriculture, she has done an amazing job of preparing everything you will need. It is open source, free, and available here.

Raymond Baltar

2013 North American Biochar Symposium

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

If you’re interested in the current state of biochar research and state-of-the-art production technology, the place to be October 13th through 16th is Amherst, Massachusetts where biochar scientists, academics, technologists and entrepreneurs from around the world will gather and exchange ideas. The Symposium website is: Check it out!

SBI well represented at the Sonoma 4th of July Parade!

Written by admin on . Posted in Initiative News

A great time was had by all at the City of Sonoma 4th of July Parade, 2013.  As part of the Sonoma Ecology Center Contingent of about 15 people, Ray Gallian, David Morell, and myself represented our organization by shaking and dancing around the streets of the Plaza to an enthusiastic and talented group of drummers that walked with us. What a great way to spend the 4th!

The Sonoma Ecology Center was well represented at the Parade.

The Sonoma Ecology Center and the Sonoma Biochar Initiative was well represented at the Parade.

Ray Gallian During the 4th of July Parade in Sonoma, California

Ray Gallian During the 4th of July Parade in Sonoma, California





Ray Gallian in his 4th of July finest.


The younger generation was well represented at the Parade.


SBI Board members David Morell and Ray Gallian.

Cool Planet Energy Systems Secures More Funding

Written by raymondbiochar on . Posted in Initiative News

Cool Planet Energy Systems, a promising venture that seeks to make advanced biofuels and biochar from “waste” and sustainably produced biomass has secured $29.9 million in additional funding. Their distributed production model takes the production technology to the source of the biomass rather than bringing the biomass to a centralized facility.

Cool Planet announces additional funding

Cool Planet Energy Systems

Community Meeting Reminder—Tonight

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

Just a quick reminder that we are hosting a community meeting tonight at the Sonoma Grange, from 6:30 to 8:30 P.M., featuring Judith Harwood of the Mendocino Woody Biomass Working Group and Jason Aramburu of re:char. You can register online here: or just come to the meeting. We are asking for donations at the door to help us offset costs: $15 general, $10 SBI members, and $5 students and seniors.

Bring your ideas and questions about biochar!

Sonoma Valley Grange
18627 Sonoma Highway
Boyes Hot Springs, CA 95416

June 12 Community Meeting Speakers

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

We have just confirmed two keynote speakers for our next Community Meeting on June 12th at the Sonoma Grange.

First, Judith Harwood of the Mendocino Woody Biomass Working Group will be filling us in on their exciting activities and plans for a biochar production facility to be used for sustainable forestry management. Our second speaker will be Jason Aramburu of the re:char organization, a youthful and dynamic company that designs and builds cleaner, more efficient, biochar-producing cook stoves for villages in Africa and elsewhere, and also sells a biochar bagged product called Black Revolution. More information will follow but we wanted to let you know right away about this wonderful opportunity to learn about people creating positive changes in the world. Mark your calendars now!


May Meeting Postponed

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

SBI has been incredibly busy these last two months with grant proposals, educational outreach and Open Burn workshops. We have therefore postponed our May community meeting that was scheduled for May 8th until next month—June 12th. We will be featuring several great speakers—one of whom is Jason Aramburu of the re:char organization—and we will have lots of exciting news to share and ways you can become involved with our organization. Stay tuned for a newsletter that we will be sending out in early June, and be sure to mark June 12th on your calendars. The meeting will be at the Sonoma Grange, from 6:30 P.M. to 8:30 P.M.

We recommend you check out a meeting on May 8th instead in Santa Rosa on Navigating the New Economy.

When: Wednesday, May 8, 2013
7-9 pm, doors open at 6:30 pm
Glaser Center, 547 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa
Tickets: General $10 in advance or $15 at door
Students $5 in advance or $10 at door
Advanced Tickets

Citizen Science Project Reaches Goal!

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

The Citizen Science Project reached its goal today of distributing 200 free bags of biochar and compost to gardeners around the Bay Area. Attendees at the Sonoma Garden Park Plant Sale put us over the top and we now have now given out 204 bags—-with more going out to Thomas Page Elementary School and a Daily Acts project on Monday. We want to thank everyone who has agreed to take part in this first-of-its-kind project in the U.S., as well as all the volunteers that helped us reach and exceed our goal. We also want to thank the Mental Insight Foundation and Sonoma Compost for their important contributions to this project. We do still have a few bags left so you can still take part if you contact us by signing up this week on the Citizen Science page. We will contact you about when and where to pick up.




Bagging the Biochar for the Citizen Science Project

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

Volunteers from the Sonoma Biochar Initiative, the Sonoma Ecology Center Garden Park, and Green Valley Village filled bags of biochar and compost this past Saturday in preparation for the big Citizen Science Project distribution on April 20th. We greatly appreciate everyone’s help and are looking forward to distributing the material next weekend! Volunteers from San Francisco, Mill Valley, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, and Windsor have agreed to act as pick-up locations, so if you take part you won’t have to drive to Sonoma to get your bag. More information on these locations will be sent to participants the coming week. To sign up for the Citizen Science Project please GO HERE.