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  Biochar News

   from USBI   


        December  2011 

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Welcome to the December 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!  (Learn more at USBI's website,


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!  



 We offer an idea for a Holiday gift tree to loved ones.  The trees will be planted for them in the Helena National Forest in the Cave Gulch - Maudlow Tosten Fire Rehabilitation area!   This is a fundraiser activity for us. 


Happy Charring, 


Gloria Flora  

Director, USBI

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

 We Gather,

 Celebrate ...


USBI 2012 Conference   

The Sonoma Biochar Initiative and the Sonoma Ecology Center will host.  


Biochar LogoThank you for your submissions of proposals for next year's conference.  The Sonoma Biochar Initiative and the Sonoma Ecology Center in Sonoma County, California, along with a number of other partners, will host the conference on July 29 through August 1, 2012.


Sonoma Biochar Initiative's Oren Wool says, "The 2012 conference will bring together growers, entrepreneurs, investors, scientists, policymakers, policy analysts, engineers, producers, users, and students on the topic of biochar.  SBI will publish the schedule and program in Spring 2012.  SBI expects the Conference to attract as many as 400 attendees from North America and International destinations.  For additional information visit the SBI website at 


Meanwhile, because of the great interest in these conferences, we are going to be doing this annually instead of every two years.  How else can we keep up with the accelerating pace of this industry!


That means we will be accepting proposals through February, 2012 for the USBI 2013 conference.  Contact us at


The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) works on twodinternational specifications for biochar    

IBI presented October webinars and offers votes for members.


IBI held informational webinars in October for those who wished to contribute or continue contributing to IBI's ongoing, global, transparent process of establishing guidelines for specifications of biochars (formerly referred to as "standards").  

The final open public comment period for the guidelines began on October 15, 2011 and ran until November 15, 2011. You can review the final draft document and follow the course of development of the guidelines; please go to:
comments on characterization standard

At the close of the final comment period, and after all applicable changes to the guidelines are incorporated, IBI will host a balloting process to allow all IBI members to vote on adoption of the final guidelines. Watch the above link for the dates and process.

Utah conference: Restoring the West   
 Ecology and technology synergy.

A conference held in mid-October in Utah combined biochar with biomass technology and made it exciting and intelligible.  Called Restoring the West, the conference was a product of a 23-member committee and their public and private organizations.  It was headed by Darren McAvoy, Extension Forestry Associate with Utah State University in Logan.  The two-day event divided the speakers into either "ecology" or "utilization."  Ecology dealt with the waste stream biomass in farm fields and forests.  Utilization dealt with technologies like designing pyrolyzers to thermally convert those waste streams without emissions.  It also included transportation issues, such as semis with rear wheel steering and monster tractors.

As you might expect, this conference was well-attended and high on hope for providing heat, energy, ecological and farm solutions that may be our gift to thousands of years and generations of humans, not to mention earth's other inhabitants. 

Note:  USBI's Gloria Flora provided materials on the proposed sustainable guidelines for the biochar industry.  Those guidelines or ethics include cautions against overzealous establishment of plantations and/or genetic modifications for biomass production.  The guidelines also caution against excessive biomass removal and, instead, using waste streams that would normally be piled and/or burned from our fields, forests and cities.  The displayed poster can be found here.  Please send any comments on the sustainability guidelines to USBI.

California has a new easy-access electric grid law   

CalCAN coalition celebrates legislative victory.


The California Climate and Agriculture Network or CalCAN is a coalition that advances policy solutions at "the nexus of climate change and sustainable agriculture."  It is celebrating a substantial October victory here

That victory is Governor Brown's signing of SB 489, the Renewable Energy Equity Act.  It enables innovative, renewable energy projects by allowing easy connections to the electric grid. 
CalCAN lists two examples of the type of agriculture renewable energy projects that will benefit from the Renewable Energy Equity Act:
1. Russ Lester at Dixon Ridge Farms, producer and processor of organic walnuts near Winters, uses walnut shells as the feedstock to produce electricity to power his freezers (used to keep the walnuts fresh and kill insect pests) and heat from the gasification process to dry the walnuts. Dixon Ridge has not been able to get their small-scale bioenergy project connected to the grid and credited for the energy they produce. Under SB 489, Dixon Ridge Farms will be credited on the farm's utility bill for the renewable energy produced.
2. Straus Family Dairy in Marin County installed a methane biodigester that produces electricity to power the dairy operation and their electric vehicles. SB 489 would enable these kinds of small-scale biogas projects to tie into the grid.

 __________ fourc

More CA news: cap-and-trade rules pass 

An October 20th unanimous action by the CA Air Resources Board creates the first state market system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


The new rules begin in 2013 and will cover the most polluting industries first, followed by nearly every other industry in 2015.  The object of the rules under the 2006 climate change law is to reduce emissions down to the 1990 levels by 2020.

The law and rules were fought by Texas oil companies that tried to pass Proposition 23 last year.  Companies will now have to meet the caps or buy credits or offsets if they can't.  Unfortunately, the U.S. Congress has not been able to pass a similar law.

The rules will be phased in and are intended to reward reductions of emissions but some environmental justice groups oppose these provisions.  They argue for more consideration of poor neighborhoods breathing these emissions, objecting to the purchase of credits or offsets which allow the pollution to continue.

Many biochar supporters insist that providing for offsets will create a market for biochar, which is a recognized offset product.  Farmers, hoping to create biochar from their farm waste to enhance their soils and sequestrate carbon, look forward to an additional stream of money in offsets to finance those activities.

The CA Air Resources Board will operate the offset markets.  The Los Angeles Times reported, "By 2016, about $10 billion in carbon allowances are expected to be traded through the California market, which will be the second-largest carbon market in the world behind the European Union."

To read the entire article, go to:,0,1125437.story  



  We Study ...   


Branson/Virgin Earth Challenge announce finalists threein $25 million contest to create a safe technology and business to capture carbon from thin air  

 Four of the finalists are biochar companies and two are U.S. biochar companies: Biochar Solutions and Full Circle Biochar.


(Calgary) On November 3rd, the 2011 Global Clean Energy Congress announced the 11 finalists out of 2,600 applicants for the prize.  Biochar Solutions and Full Circle Biochar are two of the U.S. companies who propose biochar solutions.

The full list is: Biochar Solutions (US); Biorecro (Sweden); Black Carbon (Denmark); Carbon Engineering (Canada); Climeworks (Switzerland); Coaway (US); Full Circle Biochar (US); Global Thermostat (US); Kilimanjaro Energy (US); Smart Stones (Netherlands) and The Savory Institute (US).  The press release says, "The leading organizations bring expertise and solutions from a wide range of areas which include air capture, biochar, bio-energy with carbon capture and storage, enhanced weathering on land, and land management."

To read the entire article go here


Strawberries and biochar    

UC Santa Cruz has won a 2.6 million dollar grant that will include applying biochar to strawberry fields to manage nitrogen.


According to a report in the California Santa Cruz Sentinel, a $2.6 million grant to study the efficiency of growing strawberries and vegetables has been awarded to UC Santa Cruz.

The project is headed by UCSC professor Carol Shennan.  It will include using biochar to manage nitrogen in the strawberry crops. Biochar is described in this account as "a charcoal product that may be able to capture carbon dioxide and improve the health of the soil."

The project is working with about a dozen farmers in seven different sites to test various configurations of planting, Shennan said.

The full Santa Cruz Sentinel report can be found here. 



  We Test ...


Drinking water, pesticides and biochar     

The University of Colorado-Boulder has research on pesticide removal from drinking water using biochar.


In response to the October newsletter, USBI got an email from a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado-Boulder.  Josh Kearns is in Environmental Engineering for Developing Countries there and, in an interview, reports that he has been doing research on biochar for household water treatment.  He says pine wood in a moderate-uptake, forced draft TLUD pyrolysis wood stove (made from a gallon paint can) gives his lab preliminary biochar findings that are very encouraging.


 The resultant biochar reduced the common pesticide 2,4D levels in water to 3 or 5 micrograms per liter from a 100 micrograms starting level.  He makes the point that U.S. levels of 70 micrograms and International levels of 30 micrograms per liter are the standards for drinking water levels of 2,4D contamination.  He considers 3 or 5 micrograms a highly successful result.


Kearns says NGOs and missionary groups in developing countries are "generally blind to chemical contaminants in drinking water," concentrating instead on pathogens.  He says, after using the biochar in the simple filter system, it is then buried as a soil amendment.

He has worked in Thailand in the Burma border area since 2006.  He says four thousand-year-old Sanskrit documents describe the use of charcoal for purifying water for religious purposes.  He and his colleagues like the local, low-tech environmental quality of these simple filter solutions to contaminated drinking water.

Unlike his simple solutions, he says the "activated carbon" in commercial drinking water purification products usually uses chemicals, lignite or bituminous coal to create "activation" on an industrial scale.

He shares, as creative commons, a poster he used to describe his project at a recent conference at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  It can be found here.


Ray Gallian of Sonoma Biochar reports:     

In a tour of All Power Labs in Berkeley, Ray meets inspiration. 


Posted: 31 Oct 2011 08:54 PM PDT  

On Monday 10/24 our Biochar Working Group, consisting of SBI members and Sonoma County agencies, traveled to All Power Labs in Berkeley to review their famous gasifier-generators. I attended a workshop there a year ago, and was impressed then with their new Power Pallet, a computer controlled gasifier tied to a 10 KW generator. An elegance of positive feedback, once fully cycling the 700C exhaust from the engine heats the pyrolysis chamber, heating the biomass and rending the carbon from the energy gasses, which are then filtered and cycled back across the hot char, both cleaning the gas and adding carbon, for cycling as fuel to the engine. ...


Now, a year later, they have a 20 KW Power Pallet. Several finished units waited with tags for far flung destinations, Mexico, Indonesia, Malaysia.  Out in the yard was the next prototype, a Godzilla among lizards, the 100 KW unit. They don't call it Godzilla, but it fits, if only in a shipping container. It is (a) project for the University of Minnesota, funded by DOE. One partner in the grant is Cummins Diesel, so that is the power plant. They will have to make some modifications to the process, as they usually work with a sparked engine, with visions of turbo-charged V8's for round two. The entire package will be shipped, and active, in a 20 foot shipping container. One quarter engine, one quarter gasifier, and one half biomass storage and handling. The scheme in all these units is ease of deployability.


So we were there not only to marvel at innovations in gasifiers, but to connect with and revive a sense of mission related to biochar. APL, especially founder Jim Mason, was intrigued by our efforts in Sonoma County, and the national presence the USBI conference will bring to the area. The sum of our meeting, extended by mutual interest, was that now was the time to take a closer, systemic look at biochar production. And showing that innovative spirit again, they roughed out a design for a biochar maker, that just might be a mutual project. With all feeling jazzed at the possibilities for collaboration, we left with sense that, like organizing the conference, biochar is on its way, out west.  Ray Gallian 


For more about All Power Labs go to our August 2011 USBI Newsletter and an interview with All Power product developer Ariel Fisk-Vittori:  August 2011 USBI Newsletter 


Other resources:

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


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


USBI Newsletter Archive:seven 

June 2011 USBI Newsletter 

August 2011 USBI Newsletter 

October 2011 USBI Newsletter  



Here are youtube biochar presentations by Gloria Flora from March 2011 (Please consider sharing your biochar photos/videos on this new youtube channel; use our website or this contact email to talk with us about that): 

What is biochar? 

Who thought of biochar? 

Biochar done sustainably  


Also, there is a Ecotechnologies Group video on youtube from September 2010 showing a biochar trip to the Amazon that includes climbing down ladders into Terra Preta pits.   


Here's a wonderful BBC video of Jason Aramburu, CEO of re:char and a member of USBI's advisory board, in W. Kenya talking about biochar:   


Errata - Dr. David Laird was shown in the October 2011 USBI newsletter in a USDA National Soil Tilth website.  A site was shown for him also.  He is, instead, currently working for Iowa State and can be reached at:

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 National Forest     

USBI has arranged with the Helena National Forest to plant up to 2000 trees in the Cave Gulch - Maudlow Tosten Fire Rehabilitation area of 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.   


When you order (please note we can't promise a specific species), you can use the post office box or the "ask_us" email link above.  You can also use the Donate button at the top left of the home page ( ) and then go down to the "designation" box to write in "trees".  If you want us to send the recipient of the gift a card from us, please also go to the "ask_us" email link, above, and we will send a card.  Be sure to tell us their complete 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


In this issue:

2012 National USBI Conference at Sonoma, CA

IBI Biochar Specifications

Restoring the West - Utah conference

CA Easy Access Electric Grid law

CA now has cap-and-trade offset markets

$25 million dollar prize for carbon capture solution

USDA awards 2.6 million dollar grant: strawberries and biochar involved.

CO researcher Josh Kearns removes pesticides from drinking water using biochar

Ray Gallian, Sonoma Biochar visits All Power Labs

Holiday gift: a tree planted in a National Forest for a loved one and the Earth

Archive of past USBI newsletters

youtube videos on biochar