By Kathleen Draper of Finger Lakes Biochar
A one day Biochar Colloquium was held at the Pfeiffer Institute as part of a series of Carbon Farming workshops in Chestnut Ridge, NY, US on February 3, 2012. The event was hosted by Biochar Northeast and Jason Aramburu from re:char. More than forty participants learned about the benefits of biochar for soils in the developing world as well as biochar in local soils. They also discussed the importance of ethically producing biochar from waste streams for local application. A ‘Char-B-Que’ was held the evening prior to the event to demonstrate a variety of cook stoves that produce biochar.
Aramburu highlighted some of re:char’s work in Kenya where 750 – 1000 farmers are already using biochar made from sugar cane trash which is otherwise burned in the field causing air quality problems. Aramburu said that over the past six years the farmers have seen a 200% increased crop yield by using biochar combined with fertilizer. The project is working with Kiva, a micro lending organization funded by individuals around the world, to assist farmers in the purchase of the “Rutuba” biochar kiln (produced by re:char). A typical loan gets funded within 15 minutes and the farmer has the funds within 24 hours delivered directly to their cell phone; the average farmer is able to pay back the loan within six months. To date, re:char has sold approximately 700 units and is importing off grid, scalable manufacturing capabilities housed in old shipping containers to produce more Rutuba kilns locally.
Hugh McLaughlin, from Biochar Northeast, discussed the evolving science of biochar, the principal constituents of biochar produced under different conditions, and the Biochar Guidelines effort being coordinated by the International Biochar Initiative. Participants learned about the various short and long term soil benefits of biochar as well as the carbon sequestration impact. Dr. McLaughlin also outlined his ideas on how biochar should be prepared for and applied to soils for maximum benefit.
Dale Hendricks, president of the Biochar Northeast Association, shared guidelines for ethically producing biochar including the following: feedstock production should not compete with land currently used to grow food; “highest and best use” of biomass should be kept in mind (e.g. certain agricultural waste should be used for compost, mushroom farming, etc.); use only waste biomass for the feedstock; produce biochar in ways that enhance clear air and water; neither feedstock nor biochar should be shipped long distances as this would reduce the carbon sequestration benefit. Participants were encouraged to take samples of biochar for planting seedlings and to provide feedback to Biochar Northeast on their results.
Photo courtesy of Doug Clayton