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  Biochar News

  from USBI   


        October 2011 

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Welcome to the October 2011 US Biochar Initiative newsletter.  There is so much activity around biochar in the U.S. that is it hard to keep track of all the innovations and experiments - but we aim to try! 


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,


IN THIS ISSUE:  This edition of USBI October 2011 Newsletter contains:


We also offer an idea for a Holiday gift: give a tree to loved ones which will be planted for them in the Helena or Lewis and Clark National Forests!   


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

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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.

   We Gather ...


The Pacific Northwest and Biocharone 

One of the founders of the Pacific Northwest biochar group, John Miedema, talks about low-hanging fruit. 


About three or four years ago John Miedema (pronounced MEE-da-ma) was one of the founders of the Pacific Northwest Biochar Initiative (PNBI).  In his interview with USBI recently he said that the PNW geographical area was full of forward-thinking individuals, focused on the potential of biomass.  He thinks it is "really like a wide group, talking at a central hearth.  We can all gather around and use our own skill sets."


His skill set includes studying sustainable agriculture in school in the 1980's when it did not really exist.  He knows permaculture and is a master electrician.  In his job as Director of Biomass Energy at Thompson Timber Co. in Corvallis OR, Miedema says he is pursuing nutrient cycling in agriculture.


Biochar, he says, has particular potential in two areas he calls the "low hanging fruit."  He sees using biochar as a substitute for vermiculite in planting mixes and using biochar to remediate contamination.  Both are line of sight areas that are easy for people to see the value all the way back to their production.


That line of sight, he says, is essential for people to understand how important activity in those areas is and how much sense it makes.  For instance, vermiculite production has a huge carbon footprint and is costly, with 60% of the production in the U.S.  Biochar is carbon reductive, according to the life cycle analysis done by the Climate Trust, substantially cheaper and works better than vermiculite.


The same situation exists in the area of using biochar in remediation of watersheds and taking up heavy metals in urban contaminated sites.  (See the June 2011 USBI Newsletter and below )


Miedema is encouraged that biomass use for heat and soil amendments needs to be locally located and small scale.  He notes that the American Council for Renewable Energy considers keeping it small and decentralized is a national security need.


He knows that a great deal of vigorous academic and applied research is needed to reach standards and certification for biochar but it looks good as Portland looks to him and others for answers in the growing biochar industry.


For more, click that link to see "Building the Biocarbon Economy: How the Northwest Can Lead - Recycling Carbon: Bioeconomic Development - Building biocarbon through creating new jobs producing bioproducts and bioenergy" by Patrick Mazza, Research Director Climate Solutions Revised 5.13.11 


Note:  Miedema was the originator (with Gloria Flora's subsequent additional work) of the January 2011 draft biochar sustainability protocols that appeared in the August 2011 USBI Newsletter


USBI 2012 Conferencetwo 

Thanks for the proposals for the USBI 2012 conference.  


Biochar LogoWe are evaluating the proposals submitted for the 2012 conference.  Thank you very much for your submissions.  We'll keep you in suspense until the December newsletter, announcing our choice then. 


Meet the USBI Advisory Board:twoa


Jason Aramburu, Albert Bates, Dr. Ron Larson, Jonah Levine, Dr. Tom Miles, Kelpie Wilson are on the Board.  Now, for a full introduction, go toUSBI Advisory Board  


Board member Kelpie Wilson in Germany for fourbInternational Biochar Initiative 

Wilson tours the advanced biochar operations and interviews researchers.


The tour of German progress on biochar is found at 


Board member Jason Aramburu receives Social Venture Network Innovation Award 

Re:char's CEO Aramburu receives award 


Here's a link to an article about Aramburu's award and re:char, his Austin, Texas organization's work with subsistence farmers in Kenya: award 



  We Study ...   


Biochar resources for teachersthree  

A combined effort by NASA's Doris Hamill, IBI, USBI and Biochar Northeast gives you this resource.   


Doris Hamill, a physicist with NASA, started this resource for teachers on her own time.  She is in the process of applying to be a part of NASA's Earth & Science Education program with the documents provided here.  Her intent is to provide these materials to 10,000 or more high schools through the NASA program.  She provides them here as that process proceeds.


Doris was the primary author and team leader who worked with International Biochar Initiative, U.S. Biochar Initiative, and Biochar Northeast in a focused effort to produce the ten documents found here:


Many thanks to Jock Gill for his archives and link on


The materials are open source, co-creation and free to use.  They include:

    a lesson plan

    a power point presentation on biochar and global warming

    a power point presentation on biochar and sustainability

    a power point presentation on the physics of fire

    how to make a small can TLUD pyrolizer

    how to make biochar in that pyrolizer

    a teacher's guide to the plant experiments

    a power point presentation on plants and biochar

    a power point presentation on biochar and pH

    a list of resources


We, at USBI, hope this will knock your socks off.


Biochar and the biomass recycling industrythreea 

To realize its full potential as a tool for carbon cycle management and to sustainably increase soil productivity, biochar should be tested in combination with other organic waste streams.   

In BioCycle, August 2011, Vol. 52, No. 8, p. 50, an article appears entitled "Biochar and the Biomass Recycling Industry."  It can be read in its entirety at the above link.

The authors of the article, Jim Grob, Art Donnelly, Gloria Flora and Thomas Miles, respond to Dr. Sally Brown's Climate Change Connections column in the April 2011 issue of BioCycle - "Carbon Cycling 101" which referenced research conducted by Seachar, a Seattle, Washington-based biochar advocacy group.


The research involved incorporation of biochar and compost alone, and then combined, on plots that then were seeded. Seachar invited Brown to tour the plots. Wrote Brown in her BioCycle column, "from a scientific perspective, nothing significant happened on the Seattle plots with regard to the use of biochar." 


Seachar's disappointment in the comments about biochar in Brown's April column ultimately led to BioCycle inviting Seachar to write an article in response.  It's a thorough response and very educational to all those who compost and char, separately or together.  



  We Test ...  

USDA is on biocharfoura   

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) had a $1.1 billion budget for 2010.  A search finds 1000 entries for biochar. 


If you go to, there is a search box.  If you type in biochar, you get pecan shell biochar, peanut shell biochar,  designer biochar for various soils and on and on with 1000 entries.   

Dr. David A. Laird of the USDA National Soil Tilth (fancy name for condition of tilled soil) Laboratory says the following, "A distributed network of [biochar] pyrolyzers will bring jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities to rural communities and allow a greater portion of the revenue to be retained by those communities."

He adds, "Presently, agricultural is one of the most highest greenhouse gas emitting sectors of society.  It's also highly dependent on huge amounts of fossil fuels to run tractors, make fertilizer, and ship food long distances.  Biochar offers a unique opportunity to help transform agriculture from being part of the problem to being part of the solution."

The above quotes can be found on Dr. Laird's web page  .  This page is a series of articles covering almost all aspects of biochar and the soil.  Some of it is fascinating current research but most of it gives the reader the kind of basic information that explains biochar's importance.  


DuPont and chicken manure biochar four 

Mercury remediation using chicken manure biochar.


DuPont is working on remediation of its contamination at its plants and this article covers a particular biochar remediation substantially preventing the uptake of mercury by insects, plants and fish.


Erich Knight of the Southeast Biochar group reports: "I just got a call(late August) from Richard Landis (Engineering Associate, Mechanical Systems Design & Development at DuPont). They have been doing field test(s) for months at the old DuPont plant in Waynesboro, VA and are collaborating with Oak Ridge on further testing there.  They produced and tested 40 different chars in house, then field tested the best in a pond onsite.  Their initial results were a 95% reduction of mercury uptake into the food web."


"The excitement in his voice was palpable. They plan further testing with river bank stabilization and eventually in situ river sediment testing. They are also planning for more field testing at higher levels of contamination at Oak Ridge Laboratories."


Knight goes on, "Six months ago I had a phone consult with the director of sustainability at DuPont. When I contacted her for updates, prior to the talk I gave to the EPA chiefs at CEC, she replied that biochar was just on the list of technologies being assessed by the climate change division at DuPont.

However, Richard, the environmental engineer I first engaged at DuPont a year ago, called last week with this great news."


Knight's conclusion, "If DuPont goes full scale we could be eating fish from the Shenandoah river again within a decade. Also this high value work could provide the local poultry farmers hundreds of dollars more per ton for their High-P manure chars." 


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, 


Another resource is Albert Bates' website The Great Change.

We Work ... 

 USBI Feedstocks 


The Montana bitterroot flower

Help "feed" USBI with contributions of articles, ideas, donations, gifts of planted trees 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  



Holiday gifts of trees planted in the Helena and Lewis and Clark National Forests   

USBI has arranged with the Helena and Lewis and Clark National Forests to plant up to 2000 trees in that forest.  Depending on the variety they plant (ponderosa pine, douglas fir, lodge pole pine, or spruce) this could cover five to ten acres.


Some nonprofit organizations sell trees as fundraisers and suggest charging $6 for a tree that you then have to plant yourself.  We propose to sell a $5 PLANTED tree to you to give to loved ones. Next spring when the Forest Service reports to us, we will tell you where your trees were planted.   


When you order (please note we can't promise a specific species) using the link just above (the "ask_us" link), we will send a card to the gift's recipient(s) but you have to give us their mailing or email address.  Is this a deal or what?  And you are helping the earth in the climate change challenge.   


Books Available - 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  

$17.50 total   


Biochar for Environmental Management edited by Johannes Lehmann and Stephen Joseph (Earthscan, London/Washington, D.C., 2010)

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

List price: $80.00

S&H: $5.00  

$ 63.00 total  


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