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Seattle Biochar Working Group (SeaChar) (United States)

SeaChar formed in Sept. of 2008 with this mission: to help heal the world, and we wisely amended that by saying we would start here in Seattle, Washington, USA. One shovelful at a time, if need be. With some luck and some hard work we begin with a 5-year, well designed, multi-partner, biochar plot test, this spring. That this project now has a secure home on South Seattle Community College's campus means we have a very public platform from which we can educate the people in our region about biochar technology. This concrete project provides us with a focus and it gives us a clearly defined program for which we can seek funding for.  The organizers at SeaChar.org have identified several areas in which to develop well defined projects. The following are either active or planned:

  • Outreach and education: presentations, workshops and demonstrations
  • Technology development
  • A biochar/energy co-generation demonstration project
  • A "stove" program (linked to an international stove development program)
  • A performance and built infrastructure sequestration program
  • The development of Voluntary Market Carbon Credit projects

So please pass this on. Help us build the garden, design a project, work the computers and phones, work with us in the shop. To learn about our next meeting and other activities, visit our website, or contact Art Donnelly by email or phone 206-612-3018.

Updates:

December 2012 Update:

cooking2012 has been an amazing year for SeaChar.Org on both the local and international fronts. The Estufa Finca-Talamanca Project in Costa Rica has built and distributed a total of 146 biochar producing stoves since we began stove promotion and training in January of 2012: 110 have been sold to families participating in the Estufa Finca-Talamanca program, 25 stoves sold retail to the local Costa Rica market, 3 stoves are placed for use at community centers (including one in Panama), we have provided 2 replacement stoves, while 6 are being used by Estufa Finca staff/employees for training or demonstrations. We have a waiting list for both participation in the Estufa Finca Project and for simply buying a stove.

SeaChar employs two local indigenous Bribri women to handle stove promotion, cooking chickentraining and follow-up with their communities, as well as Laura Roldan a talented, young Costa Rican, as our Field Coordinator. Our innovative community based training program was designed and initiated by former SeaChar Board member Kate Selting and we have been blessed with illustrated training materials drawn by Seattle artist Sara Porter.

The Biochar "Buy-back" program has now completed it's 7th month. We now have 22 regularly participating households. We have collected 273 feed-sacks of biochar, paying families approx. $5 per sack. This is a total of 2162.5 kilograms = 4767.5 lbs. or  2.4 tons. This biochar is going in the ground in research and demonstration projects, on cacao farms, in large organic plant nurseries, in two school garden projects, local organic truck gardens and we are pleased to announce we are selling biochar at a dollar per kilogram. We could increase the number of households we are buying biochar from, but as with the unmet demand for stoves we are constrained by a lack of funding.

The first year of  plot-testing and nursery pot-testing with biochar and organic cacoa was led by Juliano Hojah da Silva. Juliano was a second year graduate student at C.A.T.I.E. (The Center for Tropical Agricultural Investigation and Education).  Soil testing and analysis show across the board gains in terms of physical, chemical and biological soil indicators. The same applies to incidence of  fungal disease and harvest-able weight, We will be sharing these results on SeaChar's web-site in early 2013. In the coming year this line of research will be continued and enlarged in scope to include the interaction between biochar and bananas. We are pleased to announce that C.A.T.I.E. graduate student Jorge Orlando Acosta Buitrago will be the lead researcher in 2013.

Working with a lot of support from the Biochar Company’s Jeff Wallin; SeaChar has helped to form the Char Alliance or CAFT. We will be working together with Carbon Roots International (Haiti) and Eco-Fuel Africa (Uganda), sharing ideas on technology, implementation, marketing, and fundraising.

Although much of the attention SeaChar has received in 2012 has focused on the Estufa Finca Project, there have been equally exciting developments in the Seattle area. I am very pleased to announce that SeaChar is now working with Pacific Bamboo Resources and Antioch University to develop six beautiful acres of farmland east of Seattle into Morethana Farm, a permaculture and biochar teaching farm project. This activity has been funded initially with a generous grant from Green Mountain Coffee. SeaChar has worked with these partners to design and teach the first two of three biochar workshops held at Morethana Farm. These have been two-day workshops. We are planning the third for sometime in April, and will focus on inoculation and application of the biochar we are producing at the farm, details will be released soon. Of course, SeaChar's educational outreach has continued through the year with multiple biochar/stove building workshops and community initiatives. My proudest moment was when SeaChar volunteers Larry James and Steve Anderson led an effort to bring Estufa Finca cook-stoves to the inhabitants of Seattle's Nickelsville, a semi-permanent homeless encampment of over one hundred individuals. Steve and Larry hosted fund raising events that paid for a stove building workshop for cooks at the camp, who are living in conditions as rough as any of the poorest people we have been working with in rural Costa Rica.

SeaChar's work would not have been possible this year without the financial support of National Geographic, the Environ Foundation and countless private individuals. Despite the fact that this support has been significant we are currently facing a $20,000 funding gap from the end of January 2013 through early June. We need your help to bridge this gap. Help me keep the char going into the ground. SeaChar is a 501c3.  You can donate via PayPal @ http://seachar.org/donate or by check to: SeaChar 4705 Memory Lane West, University Place, WA. 98466.

October 2011 Update:

Estufa Finca stoveAfter 9 months of hard work, perseverance, and great good luck SeaChar has been awarded a $72,000 grant by the National Geographic's Great Energy Challenge. This money has been awarded to continue and broaden our work with our partners in Costa Rica. The biochar producing Estufa Finca cook-stove will remain the backbone of our work. We will be refining the hardware and developing a training and follow-up protocol, which will rely on an innovative biochar "buy-back" program to incentivize new stove users. SeaChar organizers and volunteers will also be working with a broad range of partners to design, conduct, and evaluate biochar field trials and demonstration gardens in the organic coffee and cocao regions. Our goals are to develop cost effective biochar enhanced fertilizer and scaling up biochar and heat technology to meet the needs of the farmers and processors of these high value crops.

Our most important Costa Rican partner the community association APORTES was awarded a $10,000 contract by the International Organization for Immigration to build and install Estufa Finca cook-stoves in the households of migrant coffee bean pickers located in three different areas of the coffee growing highlands. With the help of three SeaChar volunteers and some talented young woman employees, APORTES organizer Carolina Abraca Calderon completed 100 stoves in approximately one month. Arturo Segura is organizing coffee farms for the installs. SeaChar has matched the IOM contract with $10,000 to develop, test and document marketing, training, follow-up and monitoring protocols, which can improve new technology acceptance.

Photo courtesy of Art Donnelly.

July 2010 Update:

corn plots with and without biocharSeaChar has some plot updates (text and photos courtesy of Art Donnelly): the corn crop was not quite knee high by 4th of July, but we are catching up. Yesterday, I put in one of the most enjoyable days, that I have spent on the plot since we planted. For company I had Eddie Hill and some of the C4C.org staff http://www.creatives4community.org/, along with approx. 20 of their middle and high school student interns. Also helping out were folks from Seattle's Service Board program http://www.theserviceboard.org. Steve Tracy (could not do this with out you!) and our newest volunteer Misha, were also on hand.

Besides the big ups due the kids, we also owe thank-yous to the West Seattle tool library, SSCC's LHO program and Dean Mike Ryan for providing drinks and snacks for the volunteers.

Although it is to soon for us to be drawing conclusions about how the biochar and compost amendments are effecting this very poor soil's productivity, clear differences in how amended and non-amended treatment blocks are visible. The unamended plots are far behind those with added carbon. Based on what I can see to date, I do not think it is to early to say that my initial hypothesis of two years ago has been validated:"We can use biochar as a method to sequester CO2 in your urban organic garden, without killing your plants!"

For any of you who might not have looked at the SeaChar calendar in awhile, I have been adding fun events where I will be representing SeaChar.

There are lot's of ways you can help. Steve and Vivian joined me for last Thursday's Sustainable Northeast Seattle's annual solar cookout. There was a great turn out, including live bluegrass music (the Tallboys) and goats! We charmed everyone with perfectly well behaved stoves, Theo's Chocolate fondue, a big pot of corn and a couple of batches of biochar produced from our TLUDs.

February 2010 Update:

SeaChar will be working at the South Seattle Community College Carbon Garden to welcome spring--on Saturday the 13th of March starting at 10am we will have a garden chore and stove demo day and at 1pm we will have our first meeting of 2010.

As any of you who have followed our activities this winter know: SeaChar has some exciting biochar related projects on tap for the coming year. The agenda for the meeting will be as follows:

  • Forming a  2010 biochar test plot committee (First order of Business: picking the spring crop)
  • An update on the Adam-retort building project (scheduled build: April-May)
  • An overview of the recently announced SeaChar/Sol Colibri: Estufa Finca... Central America stove project and how you can get involved (see Practitioner Profile article above)

SeaChar will also be tendering a freshly revised SeaChar Mission statement and matching goals and strategic for our discussion and possible approval.

Thanks to the good work of our volunteer Vivian Scott and the far sighted generosity of the curators of Bellevue's Open Satellite Gallery http://www.opensatellite.org, we will also have several hundred, small, wild native strawberry starts to plant at the plot. These are from the recently closed Meiro Kolzumi installation: "The Corner of Sweet and Bitter". This will be our group's first contribution to the Campus Crops Initiative, recently announced by the S&A Campus Sustainability Task Force http://www.southgoesgreen.blogspot.com; fitting support for Seattle's "Year of Urban Agriculture".

The plot is located at the south end (next to the cell-phone tower) of  SSCC's Delridge Campus (6000 16th Ave.SW. Seattle, 98106; http://www.southseattle.edu/campus/map.htm)

August 2009 Update:

Photos courtesy of SeaChar

Stove lineup

Line up of TLUD stoves at the event

Dr TLUD

Paul Anderson (Dr. TLUD)

Bucket with lid

Highlighting a stove made from a bucket

TLUD diagram

TLUD Diagram (click on image for higher resolution) courtesy of Dr. Anderson

TLUD Workshop: On Saturday, August 1, Seachar hosted Dr. Paul Anderson (Dr. TLUD) for an all-day workshop in the construction of Top-Lit Up Draft (TLUD) cookstoves.  The stoves can quickly be constructed from commonly available materials, and produce charcoal while providing heat for cooking (or other uses). Paul's TLUD stoves have been tested and shown to produce very low emissions of CO and particulates. The stoves can provide benefits wherever people rely on biomass for cooking. TLUD stoves use a wide variety of small pieces of biomass for fuel. The clean burn greatly improves indoor air quality compared with open burning and many other types of stoves. In addition, the charcoal can be used as biochar to improve soil fertility, sequester carbon, and potentially provide a source of income through carbon credits.

The key to the clean operation and the production of charcoal is the separation of the production of flammable gases and the combustion of those gases. The gases are produced by the heat of the limited flame within the biomass. The flame is constrained by limiting the amount of primary air. The combustion occurs with the introduction of secondary air above the biomass zone.

Read the full workshop synopsis here.

More information about the TLUDs is available at the following sites.
Theory of opertion: http://www.hedon.info/docs/BP53-Anderson-14.pdf
Video and graphic: http://www.thinkingglobalactinglocal.com/the-stovers/a-t-lud-stove-demonstration.html
Construction plans: http://www.bioenergylists.org/files/Construction%20Plans%202009-03-11.pdf
Emissions: http://www.bioenergylists.org/andersontludcopm

To really get a feel for what we did, check out slides from the day's events

July 2009 Update:

The team at SeaChar.org is proud to announce that after much work and planning, the Alterna Energy Biochar and Bailey's Compost treatments are in the ground. This signals the official start of our 5-year USDA supported biochar plot test. We have also begun a limited release of our soon to be available: SeaChar BlackBerry BioChar ("It's the gnarly char.") We have kept up our series of public outreach talks, tabling and demos, with more to come. We have just launched our new website: seachar.org and we hope it will grow into a valuable resource for information sharing and community building. Our Tech. Dept. (Don Hennick) is nearing completion of his solar fired, steam pyrolysis unit. We are hoping to debut his exciting prototype at this month's Seattle Stove Lab. From Thursday July 30th through Saturday August 1st, SeaChar is pleased to be hosting a visit from noted TLUD-Champion designer and biochar researcher: Dr. Paul Anderson. Dr. Anderson will present a talk and a design workshop.

August finds some of the SeaChar organizers heading to Summer Stove Camp at Aprovecho in Oregon, some heading to the North American IBI Conference in Boulder and one, Scott Eaton (our Coordinator of Biochar Development), heading to Nicaragua. Scott will be carrying biochar producing stoves, Spanish language biochar educational materials and a lot of great ideas. He will be hosted by the NGOs Agros International and Sustainable Harvest International, while he presents biochar workshops and stove demonstrations at their village projects on both coasts. The feedback and research Scott accumulates will help lay the groundwork for our planned 2010 Central America Biochar Development Project.

March 2009 Update:

SeaChar announces a test plot ground breaking work party and biochar stove demonstration on Saturday April 4th from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm. This concrete project provides us with a focus and it gives us a clearly defined program for which we can seek funding for. The organizers at SeaChar.org have identified several areas in which to develop well defined projects.