The Sonoma Biochar Initiative, in association with the California Biochar Association and the Sonoma Ecology Center, produced a two-day educational webinar series in mid-October called the Scaling Biochar Forum. This forum was focused on what is needed to sustainably scale the developing biochar industry and featured 27 speakers from around the country representing science, industry, entrepreneurial, and policy perspectives. All of the 20 to 30-minute presentations are now available on thescalingbiochar.comwebsite and you are encouraged to view or share them with others who may benefit from learning about this amazing natural climate solution that offers so many other benefits.
A crack crew of grape harvesters from Monterey Pacific Vineyard Management led by soil scientist Doug Beck, along with Josiah Hunt of Pacific Biochar and Raymond Baltar of Sonoma Ecology Center/Sonoma Biochar Initiative, recently weighed grape cluster samples from the 16 blocks of the Department of Water Resources field trial testing biochar’s efficacy at saving water in a vineyard setting. A report on the impressive results from the most current harvest is now availablehere.
You can see results from Sonoma Ecology Center’s previous report vineyard biochar field trialhere.
Mobile Kilns Bring Biochar Production to Forest, Farm and Ranch
From the Sonoma Ecology Newsletter: 7/18/20
As the planet heats up, so does interest in practical, affordable and scalable methods for drawing carbon out of the atmosphere. This helps explain the growing popularity of biochar, a “super charcoal” that improves soil, conserves water and sequesters carbon all at once.
This summer, Sonoma Ecology Center’s Sonoma Biochar Initiative (SBI) is taking local biochar production to a new level with portable kilns—a mobile biochar kit that can help foresters, farmers and others manage their surplus biomass better while drawing carbon out of the atmosphere.
“How do you make biochar inexpensively in the forest? This is how,” says Raymond Baltar, director of the Sonoma Biochar Initiative, which has been studying and promoting biochar production and use for years. Raymond’s expertise on the subject has resulted in grant projects, speaking engagements and even an appearance in a Leonardo diCaprio film on climate change.
Now, thanks to a grant from the North Coast Resource Partnership, SEC will obtain five “ring of fire” kilns—metal kilns about seven feet in diameter, designed by Oregon-based Wilson Biochar Associates for the purpose of easily turning forest slash and other organic material into biochar on site. Sonoma Biochar Initiative, in partnership with Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc., will utilize the kilns in the Usal Redwood Forest, and the Potter Valley Tribe will use them on forested property recently acquired from PG&E, to process forest slash there that otherwise would simply be burned in open piles.
The kilns will also be used at an alternative biomass processing technique demonstration event in Scott Valley (Siskiyou County) being organized by the Scott River Watershed Council, who will also be demonstrating the Tigercat Carbonator 500. This large-scale air-curtain-style biomass processor, owned by Sonoma County Forester Dan Falk, can process 15 to 20 tons of woody biomass per hour while also producing large amounts of high-quality biochar.
“There’s a lot of interest in these kilns and other alternate methods for processing forest slash,” Raymond says. After the grant is completed the Sonoma Biochar Initiative plans to “continue getting them out into the community,” he adds, by bringing them to farms, vineyards, ranches and other places where organic material is processed. Production and use of biochar will be further integrated into Sonoma Ecology Center’s restoration efforts as well.
If slash is burned or left to rot on the forest floor, “much of that material would otherwise degrade into CO2 over time,” Raymond explains. “While leaving organic material in the forest to degrade naturally is critical for a healthy forest ecosystem and should always be done as part of sustainable forestry activities, there is often an overabundance of this material created during fuels reduction activities, and the typical solution for dealing with it is burning in open piles.”
But by producing biochar instead, “We can save up to 50 percent of the carbon in the plant material that otherwise would reenter the atmosphere, and put it to good use right back in the forest or in nearby agricultural activities.”
The full mobile biochar kit includes a trailer to haul the kilns and other equipment, plus a water trailer to douse the flames at the right time. It also includes tools, fire-safe clothing, propane tanks, and “everything you would need as a landowner or forestry operation.” Training in the assembly and safe use of the kilns is also included in the grant project.
Check out Kelpie Wilson’s new, improved website and blog! Read about her workshops in Paradise, California, helping folks clean up after last year’s devastating Camp Fire. The biochar she made will help soils recover from fire impacts. She also added lots of new videos, documents, practice guidelines and photo galleries.
TreeMedia, filmmakers for the film Ice on Fire, has created a fundraiser called “Catching Carbon” for four of the carbon drawdown strategies profiled in the film, including biochar. Please consider donating! You CAN make a difference!
ROI Carbonator 500 Demo Day
Falk Forestry Mill
We co-sponsored this recent event that was attended by over 70 biomass procurement and utilization stakeholders, from Sonoma Water to NRCS and RCD’s, from tree care companies to composters, from the SFPUC to Jackson Family Wines, and from an amazing array of landowners, farmers, forestry professionals, and agricultural consultants to biochar enthusiasts.
The turnout was visual proof that people from many stakeholder sectors are interested in this type of technology that can process large amounts of biomass in a much cleaner way than typical open burn piles and that conserves carbon as biochar at the same time.
This machine is available to rent, either as a stand alone machine or with all of the balance of system infrastructure that is required and experienced operators from Falk Forestry. Contact Dan Falk if interested.
Dan Falk of Falk Forestry (far left, in silver hardhat) talks to the attendees at the Carbonator 500 demo event.
Carbonator 500 at work during the demonstration (notice the lack of smoke pollution!).
Biochar produced with the Carbonator 500
We are looking to showcase biochar-related projects or opportunities in California. If you have a project that is either in the works, now operational, or recently completed, please let us know by sending us a description up to 1500 words, along with your contact information. There are some amazing field trials, creative uses of biochar in filtration or pollution applications, innovative technologies, emerging informational sources such as books, articles and blogs, and grant RFP’s that we would like to spread the word about. Please let us know what you or others are up to and we will publicize it. Send queries to email@example.com.
Biochar Tree Seedling Pot Trials (Guess which one had biochar?)
Photo courtesy Grant Scheve, AgraMarketing
The Sonoma Biochar Initiative would like to thank the amazing cross section of people who attended and contributed to our Biochar Forum at Shone Farm in Sonoma County. Representatives from local RCD’s, NRCS, UC Cooperative Extension, a variety of farms, SCWA, Fire Safe Councils, the Sonoma County Forest Working Group, the County of Sonoma, two of the largest biochar producers on the West Coast, and many others just interested in how biochar fits into a low-carbon economy, shared ideas and ways to use biochar to solve common problems. Special thanks to Michael Maguire from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research for his update on the exciting grant projects and efforts to quantify biochar’s benefits that are supported through state funding, to Susan Haydon of Sonoma Water for her logistical help, and to Shone Farm for the use of their beautiful space.
Charlie McIntosh of Pacific Biochar presents recent results from SBI’s
DWR grant project at a vineyard near King City, Ca.
We are in the process of building a new coalition of stakeholders to scale biochar education and use both locally and throughout the state, so stay tuned. We will be holding a number of additional meetings in 2019 so if you missed this one you will have other chances to join this growing group of problem solvers seeking a better way to convert our bounty of surplus biomass resources and put them to better use as biochar in agriculture and elsewhere.
The California Strategic Growth Council has awarded two significant grants for biochar-related research. Ken Alex, Ex-Director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and SGC Chair said, “The SGC research grants are designed to fill gaps in our knowledge about some of the most promising climate change solutions, and move them more quickly to fruition.” Biochar production and use was highlighted in the most recent IPCC climate change report as one of the least expensive and easily scaled methods of drawing down carbon from the atmosphere, and this recognition has helped bring the biochar story to the forefront of many climate change mitigation discussions and actions. There is, however, much research that still needs to be done to better characterize which types of biochar will persist the longest in varying agricultural soils, under what type of farming protocols, as well as creation of a standardized system for rating biochars based on a set of common criteria and characteristics. Gaining acceptance from the farming community for biochar production and use using surplus biomass will also be critical for scaling its use, and this will also be studied.
These are some of the gaps in our knowledge about biochars that should be better understood and hopefully answered once this climate-change focused research and field trials are completed. Congratulations to Benjamin Z. Houlton of the UC Davis Muir Institute and collaborators who will be working on a $4.7 million grant project entitled “CALIFORNIA COLLABORATIVE ON CLIMATE CHANGE SOLUTIONS: WORKING LANDS INNOVATION CENTER—CATALYZING NEGATIVE CARBON EMISSIONS.” “The Working Lands Innovation Center’s objective is to scale and sustain CO2 capture and GHG emissions reductions by deploying a suite of cutting-edge soil amendment technologies, driving substantial co-benefits for California growers, ranchers, Tribes, communities, the economy, and environment.
This project will increase understanding of the mechanisms and potential for carbon sequestration in soil.” More information on this grant can be found here: http://sgc.ca.gov/programs/climate-research/docs/20181221-CCR_Summary_2019CCR20007.pdf And congratulations to Gerardo Diaz of UC Merced and collaborators who will be working on the $3 million grant project entitled “MOBILE BIOCHAR PRODUCTION FOR METHANE EMISSION REDUCTION AND SOIL AMENDMENT.” “The overall goal of this proposal is to determine how biochar can be produced and used in a closed cycle agricultural application to reduce GHG emissions, ameliorate agricultural waste disposal problems, improve the quality of life in low-income and disadvantaged farming and adjacent communities, and identify means to gain acceptance among farmers of small-scale biochar production and use as a sustainable best practice for California agriculture.” More information on this grant can be found here: http://sgc.ca.gov/programs/climate-research/docs/20181221-CCR_Summary_2019CCR20014.pdf
If you haven’t yet seen the great film Dirt Rich which profiles some of our good friends (Josiah Hunt, David Morell, Bob Wells) you can stream it for a small fee here: