Supporters of biochar in South East Asia are trying to gather enthusiasts together under the umbrella of a regional group. There are a wide range of economic and agricultural development needs in the region. Biochar priorities and interests will be varied but it is hoped that this mix of strengths and needs will help increase the profile of biochar with potential local and international agricultural aid and research groups.
There are a number of aid and research groups active in the region, that have been involved in soil carbon research or have expressed interest in biochar (JICA, CGIAR-IRRI, APN, ACIAR, FAO-RAP). The group is tracking all biochar-related activities and research at the BIG-SEA Activity Database.
Biochar Activities in Singapore
Research interest from a number of groups in Singapore and Malaysia has led to an order being placed with BlackEarth in Australia for a 20ft container of biochar. The importation work is being led by Uniseal in Singapore, who are planning to undertake green-roof and other trials on biochar. BSL undertook the initial coordination for this initiative which also includes the research arm of the Singapore Parks Department (CUGE) and Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).
Report from CUGE
The Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology (CUGE) Division of Singapore National Parks Board has initiated research using biochar for urban soil improvement. Dr. Subhadip Ghosh, a researcher from CUGE has undertaken some initial trials using commercial charcoal on different types of soil-based root zone mixes typically used for turf grass and rooftop application and the results indicated that application of charcoal significantly increased the organic matter content and nutrient status of the soils. CUGE will conduct further research on efficacy of biochar for restoring soil quality for the growth of trees and grasses. These studies will determine whether biochar can replace sand in the growing media such as ASM (Approved Soil Mix). These studies will help to identify appropriate application rates and economic feasibility of applying biochar as an urban soil amendment compared to other materials currently being used.
Uniseal Singapore Pte Ltd
Uniseal will undertake a number of research activities based around the importation of biochar from Australia, focusing on the following initial work:
Biochar Activities in Malaysia
Two Cambodian students, Bona Moung and Piseth Yu, have completed their 5 months placement with UniKL MICET, and are set to return home to Phom Phen to continue their studies with the Royal University of Agriculture. The students had a very productive time investigating the heat transfer efficiency, specific PM10 emission and biochar yield from EFB pellets and coconut shells using Paul Anderson's TLUD, Crisipin Pendecott's VESTO, a traditional Malaysian clay stove and the three stone fire. In addition the biochar produced was characterised physico-chemically. Bona and Piseth will take back the biochar for pot assay testing early next year. A farewell BBQ was organised using the cooking stoves to prepare the food. That was fun! While we were sad to see Bona and Moung go we are cheered by the arrival of our first international PhD student from Uganda, Nsamba Hussein Kisiki. He'll be working with Dr Robert Bachmann from UniKL MICET, Prof. Gerard Cornelissen and Dr Sarah Hale from NGI (Norway) on biochar.
Universiti Putra Malysia
Universiti Putra Malysia, Serdang, are actively conducting research on biochar. The Faculty of Engineering is working on pyrolysis methods for different feedstock and we at the Faculty of Agriculture are carrying out experiments in the glasshouse and field on the application of the biochars (oil palm empty fruit bunch biochar and rice husk biochar) for cultivation of vegetable and field crop (maize and rice), as M.Sc. and Ph.D. projects. We are excited by the results that we are getting seems promising. We have participated in a few exhibitions to create awareness about biochar and its role for crop production and mitigation of climate change.
Malaysia Palm Oil Board (MPOB)
Work continues on the BEK research program at MPOB. The construction of a new house for the BEK was completed, which is spacious enough to accommodate the BEK this time around. A few batches of the feedstock have been run through since then, and some minor modification on the BEK are needed to optimize the performance of the unit (Suggestions and advices from other BEK’s user will be very helpful). Some properties of the biochar produced have been analyzed, and the results are reported in the extended abstract submitted to APBC 2011. Kong (the student/author) is going to present the poster on his work on this, and he is currently looking for sponsorship or travelling grant offered to students/young scientists to fund his trip to Kyoto this September.
The First Biochar Experimenter's Kit (BEK) Installed in Malaysia
Reported by: Kong Sieng Huat
As part of a research project by two postgraduate students, a BEK was installed at the Malaysia Palm Oil Board (MPOB). Julia Hasty (or Jay) from ALL Power Labs came over in mid-March to set up the unit along with Kong, Arasu and Cheong (another postgraduate student). The team assembled all the parts into a complete BEK and a simple trial run was conducted.
The challenge for the team is finding a permanent location for the unit. It is now under a small roof, just large enough to accommodate the whole unit. This means that the unit cannot be run if there is rainy and windy weather.
The team will run the unit with an experimental variety of feedstocks including oil palm biomass wastes, and is still determining the optimal size and shape for the feedstock.
The group feels that a specific BEK community forum to share experience and knowledge in operating the BEK, like a “BEK Users Forum” would be very important and useful.
Photo: Arasu, Cheong, Jay and Kong, courtesy of Kong Sieng Huat
Biochar in slash-and-burn agricultural systems in Northern Laos
SaafConsult will be working with the GTZ/GIZ in the Sayabouri province, Laos, in early 2011 to undertake an assessment of the technical feasibility for biochar applications as a complementary approach for REDD. The work aims to inform the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on the current status of implementing biochar as a carbon sequestration method in tropical countries and to assess the potential and technical feasibility for applying biochar in halting shifting cultivation (slash-and-burn) through the sustainable utilization of woody biomass to increase of soil fertility and improve carbon sequestration (slash and char). For more information, please contact Bryan Hugill (email@example.comfirstname.lastname@example.org
University of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Students Study Stoves
UniKL degree students have carried out preliminary studies on heat transfer efficiency, particulate and CO emissions as well as biochar production potential of improved stoves (Paul Anderson's TLUD, Crispin Pendecott's VESTO) and traditional Malaysian cooking stoves. Feedstocks tested include crushed coconut shells and EFB pellets. Experiments will be repeated this year to verify the findings from 2010. The improved cooking stove test project is also participating in a survey spearheaded by IBI for a World Bank study (mentioned above). Two degree students from the Royal Agriculture University, Cambodia, have been selected to join our team for a period of 6 months.
UniKL is also collaborating with the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) to convert solid palm oil mill waste into syngas, biooil and biochar. Experiments are carried out at lab- and field-scale in terms of biochar production and soil trials. AllPowerLabs' Biochar Experimenter Kit (BEK) is currently being set-up at MPOB to produce biochar for field trials in the second half of 2011.
Scientists from MARDI (Malaysia), UniKL, Cornell University (USA) and NGI (Norway) have also joined forces to investigate the sequestering of carbon and improve soil quality and crop yield.
Transforming Human Waste and Other Organic Matter into Highly Fertile Soil via Terra Preta Sanitation and Biochar:
The WAND Foundation Experience in the Philippines
With preliminary guidance from Ralf Otterpohl of the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) the Water, Agroforestry, Nutrition and Development (WAND) Foundation started a Terra Preta Sanitation and Biochar initiative in Libertad, Misamis Oriental, the Philippines. Otterpohl said, citing Lehmann et al., 2003b “that an analysis of a former civilization in the Amazon, nowadays Brazil, reveals concepts which enable a highly efficient handling of organic wastes. Terra Preta do Indio is the anthropogenic black soil that was produced by ancient cultures through the conversion of bio-waste and fecal matter into long-term fertile soils. These soils have maintained high amounts of organic carbon even several thousand years after they were abandoned. One of the surprising facts is that this soil is highly productive without fertilizer addition.”
Our initiative focuses on the implementation of ecological sanitation, small-scale gardening and community-based tree planting and the promotion of farm and non-farm livelihood activities among small, marginal farmers and peri-urban backyard garden enthusiasts. We started in 2003 and realized that it is possible to do away with using commercial fertilizer which is expensive and unaffordable for small farmers and instead we use recycled human waste. So we championed urine diverting, dehydration toilets, in later years developing simple, cheap yet effective models to use human waste for agriculture. In this way we also solve the problem of open defecation and the related disease concerns and help improve local nutrition and biodiversity by the implementation of backyard gardening and small-scale tree planting.
Our Terra Preta – Biochar mix include sawdust, urine, animal manure, feces, charcoal and the bacteria Bacillus subtilis. The feces is from the number of urine diverting, dehydration (ecosan) toilets that we established among local cooperators in 3 municipalities in Misamis Oriental and in Dipolog City. The charcoal we are using is partially burned rice chaff from rice mills in Dipolog City as well as charcoal from copra production. Coupled with this initiative is the promotion of rainwater harvesting and grey-water conservation by using recycled 200-liter drums and containers in water conservation. We have distributed 575 200-liter recycled drums to poor households. We also introduced Eco-Pee or the use of containers to conserve urine for home-gardening use. Urine is sterile (WHO guidelines) and can be used directly on plants. Our previous Eco-Pee design was for male users only but now we are piloting a unisex-type of Eco-Pee friendly to women and girls.
So far, our results are encouraging. Last November 2010, we started an experiment using our terra preta – biochar mix for coconuts, bananas and rice. We also provided the mix to our farmer-cooperators as pilot initiatives with the view of expanding this in the future. For more information, please contact Elmer V. Sayre, Ph.D., In-house Adviser, WAND Foundation, Libertad, Misamis Oriental.
Ecodana biochar project in West Kalimantan, Indonesia
Ecodana is partnering with Yayasan Dian Tama (YDT), a local Indonesian non-profit, to empower women by training them in sustainable agricultural techniques, including how to create Biochar, to increase the fertility of the soil and reduce their dependence on costly chemical fertilizer. They will also train women in marketing so they can sell their products and make a profit. Ecodana is a San Francisco based social enterprise whose mission is to improve the lives of people in rural areas around the world by facilitating funding for sustainable projects in their communities.
Cambodia Workshop on Biochar Production & Uses Report (Monday 22nd – Tuesday 23rd November 2010)
The workshop was a huge success, with 29 delegates attending the meeting, and 19 staying for the field trip the second day. This meeting discussed the current state of biochar production and use in Cambodia, and explored the potential for development of new technologies – both large and small scale, with a particular focus on gasification cook stoves. Issues for consideration to policy makers, and prototype guidelines for sustainable biochar deployment as an agricultural soil amendment were also discussed. This meeting is part of the ‘Enabling Bio-innovations for Poverty Alleviation in Asia Project’, funded through IDRC-CRDI (www.bioinnovationpolicies.ait.asia)
UBI projects in SEA
UBI is currently involved in developing an experimental/extension farm and a pilot project in Thailand. They have funding proposals submitted for 5 additional pilot projects for other distinct culture/ecotypes in Thailand and additional pilot projects in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. UBI are interested in making contact with those interested in working with the UBI concept in other culture/ecotype situations, particularly Malaysia (the shifting cut and burn agriculturists of Sarawak, and others) and the various culture/ecotypes of Indonesia. They are especially interested in working with planned or ongoing rural development projects that wish to include biochar in their projects, but are also willing to work with individuals interested in developing projects focusing biochar within the broader UBI concept. Click here for more information on UBI.
Biochar research collaborations in Indonesia
Prof. Agus Prasetya and Prof. Moh. Fahrurrozi from the chemical engineering department at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Java are seeking collaboration partners for biochar research projects in Indonesia. Their research interests are broad, including all aspects of biochar production, renewable energy, stove project implementation, carbon sequestration, agriculture utilization and rural development. They will be working with Eko Sb Setyawa from Chemmeco Inc.
Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) is the oldest and the largest state university in Indonesia. It was founded on December 19, 1949 and currently has 18 faculties, 69 undergraduate programs, 24 diploma programs and a Graduate School. Since December 2000, the university has taken a new status as a state-owned legal entity. The University is located in The Special Region of Yogyakarta, one of the smallest provinces in the country, which has been widely known as the center of Javanese culture as well as the center of learning. It has 3,200,000 inhabitants, 511,000 of whom reside in the city of Yogyakarta.
The School of Sustainable Agriculture, Universiti Malaysia Sabah has begun a research project titled "Maize Response to Soil Amended with Biochar and Inorganic Phosphorus Fertilizer". The primary objectives of this study are (i) to examine the effect of rice husk biochar on the growth and yield of maize grown on a Malaysian mineral soil fertilized with triple super-phosphate fertilizer and (ii) to determine maize phosphorus uptake. This is a final year research project by Thien Nyuk Yen under the supervision of Dr Mohamadu Boyie Jalloh. For more information on this project, contact Dr. Jalloh directly (email@example.com).
As part of the ‘Enabling Bio-innovations for Poverty Alleviation in Asia Project’, funded through IDRC-CRDI (www.bioinnovationpolicies.ait.asia); a workshop will be held on Biochar Production and Uses, Monday 22nd - Tuesday 23rd November 2010, at Angkor Village Resort, Siem Reap, Cambodia. The meeting will discuss the current state of biochar production and use in Cambodia, and will explore the potential for development of new technologies – both large and small scale, with a particular focus on gasification cook stoves. Issues for consideration to policy makers, and prototype guidelines for sustainable biochar deployment as an agricultural soil amendment will be discussed. Day 1 will be discussions and presentations, and day 2 will be optional field trips to biochar agricultural field trials, a commercial gasification unit, and a visit to biochar stove production including demonstrations. Click here for more information on this event and to register.
Biochar Malaysia: In Malaysia, research work on biochar is just beginning. We started with a workshop in December 2009, i.e. 'Biochar Malaysia Workshop 2009' at Universiti Putra Malaysia. Early this year members of the Faculty of Agriculture, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Serdang, have just started research projects funded by the Malaysian government on biochar application in agriculture specifically on sandy soils and in vegetable cultivation. A pilot plant set-up by a private environmental engineering company here has successfully produced a biochar from oil palm empty fruit bunches (an agro-waste produced by the palm oil mills) which is called EFB biochar. We are using this biochar for our projects. Otherwise, the only other biochar available is the burnt rice husks which are very low in carbon. The burnt rice husk is increasingly popular in plant nurseries; as a component of their potting mix. However, there is still a lot to be done in Malaysia to educate the public about carbon sequestration and climate change, and the role of biochar in climate change mitigation.
Assessing Opportunities for Biochar in Yunnan, China and the Greater Mekong Sub-region - Study Update
Biochar Systems Ltd (BSL) and SaafConsult have commenced a biochar related study for FAO-RAP in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS) under the GMS Economic Cooperation Program. The objective of this study is to examine opportunities to use biochar for the benefit of rural communities with a focus on Yunnan Province, China. Yunnan is one of two southern China provinces in the GSM. A Yunnan based study participant organisation is currently being finalised.
Planned outputs from the study include a report, project proposals and a GSM workshop. The study group is seeking biochar community support related to the preparation of proposals for follow-up projects that will be presented as part of the study...
REQUEST FOR PROJECT PROPOSALS
The study Terms of Agreement describe the Project Proposal Requirements thus...
" ... detailed project proposals for Biochar related activities in the GMS region will be prepared. Project proposals will:· ... Have particular focus on utilizing Biochar and bioenergy technologies for rural development and poverty reduction.
The proposals will be suitable for referral to potential private sector partners and/or the GMS Working Group on Agriculture and other donor organizations for further consideration and action.
The proposals will include:
We are hoping to collaborate with the biochar community on preparing Project Proposals that will be submitted as part of the study. Our current thinking is that the study could include the following Project Proposal subject headers.
We believe that the Project Proposals included in the study report will be in a strong position for further support from FAO/ADB. Your comments, suggestions and proposal ideas would be welcome. The draft report is scheduled for submission on 8 September 2010.
Trevor Richards (BSL)
Bryan Hugill (SaafConsult BV)
A new biochar project funded through the Asia Pacific Network for Global Change is focused on multi-locational biochar field trials in India, Philippines and Cambodia. Partners include ARTI India, IRRI, SME Cambodia and the University of Edinburgh's UK Biochar Research Centre. A mid-term project meeting was recently held in India, which included a trip to the maize trials which are being managed ARTI at their field station in Phaltan.
Back in Cambodia, since the rainy season is approaching, trials for rain fed paddy field rice are being prepared. Control plots, and plots amended with 40t/ha biochar will be set up (a similar design to the trials in the Philippines). Dry season rice has already been tested with biochar application, and showed a good response, the biochar which was applied in December 2009 is still visible in the soil and these plots will be monitored again this season. Yields are being measured and soil and biochar has been analysed to assess benefits to the soil.
As well as field trials, pot trials with lettuce and cabbage have already yielded results at the research farm of the APSARA Authority in Cambodia. Amendments of between 20 and 120t/ha were used in combination with additions of compost and lake sediment.
Different methods of biochar production are being used for the trials, using feedstocks of rice husks, sugar cane leaves and maize trash. In Cambodia biochar for the trials is produced from rice husk in a 150kW continuous feed gasification unit.
For more information please see the project blog: http://biocharm.wordpress.com/
Assessing Opportunities for Biochar in Yunnan, China and the Greater Mekong Sub-region
Biochar Systems Ltd (BSL) and SaafConsult have commenced a biochar related study for FAO-RAP in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS) under the GMS Economic Cooperation Program. The objective of this study is to examine opportunities to use biochar for the benefit of rural communities with a focus on Yunnan Province, China. Yunnan is one of two southern China provinces in the GSM. A Yunnan based study participant organization is still to be finalized.
Planned outputs from the study include a report, project proposals and a GSM workshop. The study group will be seeking biochar community support related to the preparation of proposals for follow-up projects that will be presented as part of the study. A further announcement will be made on this very soon.
The Biochar Malaysia Workshop 2010 was held from the 25 - 26 March 2010 at Universiti Kuala Lumpur MICET (www.micet.edu.my) and co-sponsored by IBI and Kusocom Concept Farms Sdn Bhd. Participants from as far as UK (Sarah Carter from the UK Biochar Research Centre, Edinburgh (http://biocharinnovation.wordpress.com) joined in to listen and discuss topics on soil and harbor sediment remediation with activated char (Dr Gerard Cornelissen and Dr Sarah Hale, NGI, Norway; www.ngi.no), biochar funding opportunities and activities in the SE Asia region (Trevor Richards, consultant) as well as theory and practice of physico-chemical biochar characterization methods (Dr Robert Bachmann). Another highlight included first hand witnessing of biochar production using Paul Anderson's TLUD (http://servalsgroup.blogspot.com/2009/05/tlud-gasifier-stoves-wood-stove-with.html) and NASMECHs (http://www.nasmech.com.my/Product.html) carbonator.
Dr Cornelissen and Dr Hale introduced a very sensitive and yet low-tech passive sampling method coupled to GC-MS for the detection of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in pore water of biochar amended soil. This method is expected to significantly enhance our quantitative understanding of the fate of this group of organic pollutants but also its release from certain low-carbonization grade biochars. Work is also underway at NGI to artificially age different types of biochar and quantify carbon loss. This parameter is of special interest for the advocacy of biochar as carbon sink, carbon credit trading etc.
Trevor Richards provided an insight into biochar activities in the SE Asia region including Dr Francis Ng’s "secret garden" on the roof top of 1Utama shopping center in Kuala Lumpur (http://tropicalhorticulture.blogspot.com/2009/05/horticultural-carbon-terra-preta-and.html), Dr Christian Knoblauch's (http://www.geowiss.uni-hamburg.de/i-boden/mitarb/cknoblauch.htm) and Jochen Binikowski's (http://www.buddel.de/kft/biochar_production.htm) work with biochar in the Philippines as well as Dr Karl Frogner low-tech biochar in Thailand (http://www.biochar-international.org/regional/thailand) to name but a few.
From Dr Francis' secret garden experience we learnt that in Malaysia, the most favoured soil for horticulture is garden black soil, which goes by the Malay name of tanah hitam (black soil). Black soil originated in household backyards where domestic waste was dumped and periodically burnt. The black colour was due to the accumulation of charcoal and soot in the soil over time. Tanah hitam in Malaysia seems to be very similar the terra preta in the Amazon. What was also interesting from a civil engineer's perspective is that the biochar soil mixture used on the roof of the shopping complex at 1Utama is lighter than pure conventional soil thus lessening the weight load on the building's infrastructure. Dr Francis' idea should be of interest to the green building sector.
Dr Bachmann provided a brief overview of various biochar production methods (e.g. torrefaction, slow/flash pyrolysis), systems and economics. Small-scale systems such as Lucia's Stove (http://worldstove.com/products/luciastove-for-developing-nations), Paul Anderson's TLUD, Belonio's rice husk stove (http://rolexawards.com/en/press-room/photo-downloads-2008-laureates-alexis-belonio.jsp#photo-download-3) and Anila's stove (www.bioenergylists.org/stovesdoc/ravikumar/Biochar_Anila.pdf) are suitable for hobby-gardeners and subsistence farmers with estimated biochar production costs of <20 USD/Mt, while pilot-scale systems such as Adam's Improved Charcoal Production System (ICPS) are appropriate for small-scale farmers with estimated production costs of <40 USD/Mt. At industrial scale (e.g. NASMECHs carbonator, Pacific Pyrolysis’ Slow Pyrolysis plant or Dynamotive's CQuest) biochar production costs between 200-1000 USD/Mt. Last but not least physico-chemical methods covered include pH of point of zero charge (pHpzc), CHNS, FTIR, BET. For more information please visit http://www.micet.edu.my.
The following is the first Far East biochar report - just a quick snapshot of some of the current known activities in the region. A more complete picture will be available when the regional interest group has more structure and a platform for presenting information. A google-group structure is proposed as an interim platform.
Jochen Binikowski has been working with biochar since February 2007. He is living in and reporting from the front line, on biochar experiments with farmers in the Philippines.
An ACIAR funded project "Building more profitable and resilient farming systems in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam and New South Wales", is being lead by Dr. Peter Slavich (NSW DII). Biochar experiments are underway in Aceh and Tamworth (NSW, Australia) on rice and dryland crops.
Funding has just been released for the first biochar soil trial in Malaysia. The study is being led by Theeba Manickam, a researcher with MARDI (govt. horticulture agency). A number of other researchers, universities, and agriculture organisations are expressing interest in biochar research. Overseas collaborations and funding options are being investigated. Some local and regionally specific research opportunities include soil rehabilitation (tin mining, bris) and the annual haze issue (slash&char).
Information on future, current and historical biochar work is being accumulated for reference on a future website. Any contribution to this would be welcome.