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  Biochar News

  from USBI   


        August  2011 

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Welcome to the August US Biochar Initiative newsletter!  


Because many web browsers these days block graphics to speed delivery, use the Click here link at the very top of this email to load the entire document.    


For those of you scratching your head, biochar, used as soil conditioner thousands of years ago, has been rediscovered!  Baking biomass (wood, manure, crop residues, solid waste, etc.) in a special furnace with minimal oxygen, creates this form of charcoal. These furnaces capture all emissions, gasses and oils for reuse as energy. Putting biochar back in the soil improves soil productivity and sequesters carbon!  Learn more at USBI's website,   


USBI is a project of Sustainable Obtainable Solutions, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.  Check out that organization's site at  


In this newsletter you will find articles about the 2012 USBI national conference, September 24th as a day without fossil fuels, Erich Knight's dogging of EPA notables, a humble USBI poll, the draft of proposed biochar ethics, Oregon's progress in biochar standards, carbon-negative farming, the positing of a biochar thermostat in our future, the honoring of ALL Power Labs and our directors.  This newsletter is surprisingly upbeat, considering the world's situation.


Help us by letting us know what you and your biochar friends are up to.  With your permission, we can post that information on the USBI website so we can all learn from each other.  Stay tuned and let us know what you need from us. And help us grow our network! 

Happy Charring,                                                                                    

Gloria Flora  

Director, USBI

Biochar Logo and Tagline

USBI, a project of Sustainable Obtainable Solutions (SOS), provides a national exchange of information and activities in support of biochar research, development, demonstration and commercialization. It advocates for biochar research and applications.

Stories In this issue

Solicitations for USBI 2012 Conference

September 24, 2011 in your town - without fossil fuels

Commission for Environmental Cooperation

Poll of readers

The biochar industry's proposed sustainability ethics

The Climate Trust administers Oregon's CO2 Standard

Carbon-negative farming using biochar in soil

Another study, a bigger deal

ALL Power Labs

Our USBI advisory board


           We Gather ...


Solicitations for USBI 201Conference one

In June 2010 Iowa State was the site of the National USBI Conference.


Biochar Logo

There will be a 2012 national USBI Conference but we don't know where yet - or when - because that is up to you.


We are looking for proposals from you all.  In 2010 we received six and narrowed it down to four for the final selection.  So far we've met in Colorado and Iowa and we'd like to keep moving it around.  However, we would like a convenient location via air travel.


We will need accommodations for about 300 attendees. We have some seed money for the conference to get things started.  As an incentive, any money left over is yours.  


Help from USBI is offered.  We will do weekly conference calls with host organizations, involving many on the USBI Advisory Board.  We can help find sponsors and provide feedback on your plans.  


To see the full RFP, go here.    


If your biochar chapter is interested in hosting the 2012 USBI conference - with the help of USBI, let us know:  


In the meantime, there are many related local and regional gatherings planned.  Let us know about yours and check out others at our website.


September 24, 2011 in your town - without fossil fuels twoa  

 According to, September 24th's event sponsored by Moving Planet already has hundreds of big, ambitious events planned around the world.


Moving Planet is a worldwide rally to demand solutions to the climate crisis - a single day to move away from fossil fuels.'s website says "for too long, our leaders have denied and delayed, compromised and caved. That era must come to an end."


It continues, "Come on bike, on skates, on a board, or just on foot. Come with your neighbors and your friends, your family and your co-workers. Come be part of something huge. It's time to get moving on the climate crisis."


For ten examples of possible events, see International Biochar Initiative (IBI's website ). It includes the following #4:  


4. Incorporate biochar in a community garden: IBI has several publications that can help you test biochar in your soils and growing conditions: see the Guide to Conducting Biochar Trials and our short technical bulletins. See the SeaChar community garden project for an example.


Commission for Environmental Cooperation  three   

Erich Knight discusses the benefits of biochar with EPA directors 


Erich Knight is a real champion of biochar.  Knight, Eco Technologies Group Technical Adviser and University of California Riverside advisory board member, describes his on-the-fly briefings of the EPA directors and other dignitaries  here .  (This is in the form of a blog and it gives a real feel for what it's like to run after and pin down EPA Secretary Jackson and other Obama administration people.)  



  We Inquire ...   

Poll of readers  four

Straightforward questions for you.


This is not a fancy, schmancy poll with a built-in reporting system.  We just have a couple of questions:


1.  What would you like to see covered in this newsletter?

2.  What are the biggest obstacles you face in explaining biochar to your friends and family?

Tell us your concerns, please.  We would also be delighted to consider articles from you for this newsletter. 


The biochar industry's proposed sustainability ethics   five

by Gloria Flora, USBI Director 

This new biochar industry proposes the creation of a self-imposed ethics of sustainability.   Has there been another American industry that was reflective in its beginning stages, setting up protocols to forego wealth and to keep the health of people and the planet intact for future generations?  


And why does this new biochar industry do this extraordinary thing, proposing the creation of a self-imposed ethics of sustainability?


Because it is worried that greed will vacuum the world of its burnable matter, to the detriment of forests, wild lands and agricultural acreage, as oil peters out.


Listen to the beginning of the draft resolution of the Pacific Northwest Biochar and the U.S. Biochar Initiative:


To set forth a shared vision and direction for the future of this technology among Biochar proponents to prevent unintended consequences that could potentially arise from this process.


To make clear to a broader stakeholder group that the pioneering efforts in Biochar production are directed toward helping people and the planet and creating value.


...Whereas Biochar Production creates value in all the following ways:

    As an energy source

    Because it sequesters carbon

    As a valuable soil amendment

And whereas, each of these means of value creation could lead to a single end goal of wealth creation at the expense of people and the planet...


Let it be known that we Biochar producers, marketers and organizations shall strictly adhere to protocols that promote the health of people and the planet as the process creates value. Biochar must be created from terrestrially derived carbon (non-fossil) in a manner that ensures ecologically sound landscapes remain, with minimum production impacts and positive outcomes in a complete life-cycle analysis.


The biochar industry is picking up steam with new technology and research every day. The pressure to head off the worst consequences of global warming is pushing and pulling for fast results.  Here are the proposed protocols for your consideration.


Read the summary           Read the entire draft document           Please tell us what you think of this effort.  




  We Test ...


The Climate Trust administers Oregon's CO2 Standard six

From TCT website history .

Oregon's 1997 law requires protocols, quality standards and offsets. 


Since 1997 The Climate Trust, a nonprofit, has been administering Oregon's law on carbon dioxide standards.  Any new power plant there is required to reduce its carbon dioxide or directly fund a project that offsets its pollution or have The Climate Trust set up that offset.  Every new power plant has gone to The Climate Trust to accomplish the offsets.


As a result, a lot of data has been developed by TCT on biochar as an offset choice.  The organization just released a report for the West Coast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership entitled "Carbon Market Investment Criteria for Biochar Projects."  It describes what types of biochar projects can readily qualify as high-quality greenhouse gas offsets.


This is a big deal.   The report says "at its maximum sustainable potential, biochar could annually reduce 1.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e) or 12% of the world's GHG emissions."  Enabling farmers to make money burying, as biochar,  the waste they would normally open-air burn or allow to decay will greatly advance this strategy of sequestration.


See the Fact Sheet on Carbon Market Investment Criteria for Biochar Projects on the page at the link above. 


Carbon-negative farming using biochar in soil seven

by David Yarrow, December 2010 

In his eight-page pdf Yarrow summarizes a hope of humanity.  He concludes:


Higher carbon in living soils improves plant growth, to fix more carbon as biomass, sequester more carbon as char, increase productivity, decrease fertilizers, leaching and out-gas, improve fertilizer efficiency. This reduces annual addiction to fertilizers, and sets in motion many positive feedbacks to inch us back from the exponential edge of a climate change cliff.


Not mere mechanism, reaction path or metabolic cycle. This is partnership with other living intelligence.   


 To read the entire pdf, which is detailed, readable science, go to:  


Another study, a bigger deal eight

 Article says biochar could help "build a sustainable future for the human civilization on Earth"  


A recent article in Energy & Environmental Science finds that smokeless biochar production could offset the world's fossil fuel CO2 by 38%.  The authors suggest that after the world's agricultural lands have reached their maximum capacity for storing carbon, "(i)t may be possible to provide a global "thermostat" mechanism by creating biochar carbon energy storage reserves. This biomass-pyrolysis 'carbon-negative' energy approach merits serious research and development worldwide to help provide clean energy and control global warming for a sustainable future of human civilization on Earth." p. 1695


 The authors suggest the storing of excess biochar above and below ground (mines, landfills, and/or even at sea).  They say the storage places can be limitless and that "(w)ith this approach, it is possible not only to stop but also to reverse the trend of global warming if needed." p.1702  


See James Weifu Lee, Bob Hawkins, Danny M. Day and Donald C. Reicosky, Sustainability: the capacity of smokeless biomass pyrolysis for energy production, global carbon capture and sequestration, Energy & Environmental Science, Vol.3, No. 11, Nov. 2010, pp. 1695-1705. 



  We Honor ...  

 ALL Power Labs nine     

Innovative engineers working to provide answers  


Innovative engineers are onto biochar like June bugs on a lit porch light in Northern Wisconsin.  Among other innovators, USBI tracks ALL Power Labs of Berkeley, CA http://www.gekgasifier.comALL Power describes itself as the global leader in small-scale gasificaion. The "gek" in the web url stands for gasifier experimentation kit.  Jim Mason, the head of All Power, talks about "the rabbit hole of biomass thermal conversion" as the company welds together projects to create energy and biochar from various kinds of biomass.  


 Although it is not discussed often, there is a choice that is made by biomass enthusiasts.  Running the pyrolysis (gasification) process at higher heat (>700C) results in energy and byproducts of syngas and bio-oil but it leaves ash or an inferior or limited biochar byproduct.  Running the pyrolysis process at a lower temperature (>350C) results in a good quality biochar and smaller amounts of syngas and bio-oil.


So, ALL Power also has "BEKs" or biochar experimentation kits.  USBI talked with Ariel Fisk-Vittori, a M. Architecture innovator working in ALL Power's product development, about the BEK.  He invites everyone to stop by and visit ALL Power and reveals that on the horizon is a gasifier product that will do both energy and biochar creation.



Our USBI Advisory Board:  eleven   

Here are the honored members of our USBI Advisory Board

Jason Aramburu, Albert Bates, Dr. Ron Larson, Jonah Levine, Dr. Tom Miles, and Kelpie Wilson are on the Board. For a full introduction, go to:  USBI Advisory Board


Other resources:

There are a number of research papers available from Cornell University and other scholarly sources on our website: 


World-wide, the interest in biochar is heating up,  

We Work ... 

 USBI Feedstocks 


The Montana bitterroot flower
Help "feed" USBI with contributions of articles, ideas, donations, and book purchases. 


We'd love to hear from you.  And please share this with friends.  


 Until we have our on-line store set-up, email your order to  

 Or, order by mail to USBI, P.O. Box 1424, Helena, MT 59624  


Books Available - Newsletter Inauguration PRICE REDUCTIONS!  

The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change by Albert Bates (New Society publishers, BC Canada, 2010)

Our price: $15.00

List price: $17.95

S&H: $2.50  

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Biochar for Environmental Management edited by Johannes Lehmann and Stephen Joseph (Earthscan, London/Washington, D.C., 2010) (Here's the definitive book.  Plop this tome down on your coffee table between your know-it-all brother-in-law's feet and his Coors Lite!) 

Our price: $58.00  - $6 LESS THAN AMAZON!! 

List price: $80.00

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The Biochar Debate: Charcoal's Potential to Reverse Climate Change and Build Soil Fertility by James Bruges (Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, Vermont, 2009)

Our price: $12.00  

List price: $14.95  

S&H: $2.50

$ 14.50 total    

Thanks for all you do!



Director, U.S. Biochar Initiative