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  Biochar News

  from USBI   


        February  2012  

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integrative strategy


Welcome to the February 2012 US Biochar Initiative newsletter, a project of Sustainable Obtainable Solutions.   We welcome your support, ideas and donations to help us help you!

Please check out our website  And tell us how to make it even better!  
This issue hones in on technology, specifically the Branson/Virgin Earth Challenge competition that highlights some progress being made.  See the sidebar to the right for the stories.      
Let 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.  Help us grow our network by sharing this issue with friends!

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

 We Gather,

Celebrate ...


2012 USBI Conference   

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


Biochar Logo 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 director Raymond Baltar says, "We are focusing on the practical use and production of biochar at the community level and what will be needed to bring biochar into the mainstream. This includes economic models and marketing strategies, policy innovations, agricultural implementation techniques, cutting edge soil science, etc."  


Call for abstracts: This call for abstracts concludes February 10, 2012. Abstracts are requested covering all aspects of biochar use, production, and research -- from agricultural and other biochar users, biochar producers, scientists, engineers, students, policy analysts and policy makers. We seek abstracts of 200-300 words on one page including graphics. Submit your abstract online at abstracts. All abstracts will be considered for posters. Conference organizers will select papers for oral presentations from the set of abstracts received. Notification of acceptance will be provided by March 10, 2012.


Registration for the conference opens in February. Go here to register.  Baltar says, "We will be offering significant savings for Early Registration as well as very affordable food and lodging rates to stay on campus in the Biochar Village we will be creating.  Northern California is the perfect place to plan an extended vacation around the conference with our rugged coastline, towering redwood groves, world-class wineries, and of course, the City of San Francisco, all with an hour's drive of Sonoma State University."


For additional information go to the following links on Conference Sponsorship, and a General Conference Handout.


Heads up on 2013!  

Meanwhile, because of the great interest in these conferences, we are going to be gathering 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 March 16, 2012 for the USBI 2013 Conference.  Contact us at

__________  twod

The race for the 25 million dollar prize    

We are familiar with two of the finalists in the Branson-Virgin Earth Challenge: Biochar Solutions and Full Circle Biochar.


The Global Clean Energy Congress is a global platform to demonstrate, discuss and debate clean energy strategies and technologies. The Congress was held November 1-3, 2011 in Calgary.


At the conference, eleven finalists were announced for the Virgin Earth Challenge, out of 2600 submissions.   Launched by Sir Richard Branson in February 2007, the Virgin Earth Challenge is a race for a $25 million prize for the successful commercialization of ways of taking greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and keeping them out with no countervailing impacts.         


Of the three biochar finalists, one, Black Carbon from Denmark, has both Denmark and European Union funding. The two other finalist biochar companies are U.S. companies and are discussed below.  One of them, Biochar Solutions, has a USBI colleague connected to it: Jonah Levine, a member of the USBI Advisory Board. (See the end of this newsletter for an analysis of non-biochar finalists.)  

We also know David Shearer, CEO of Full Circle Biochar, the other biochar U.S. finalist.  He presented at the Restoring the West conference last October in Utah.  He and USBI's Gloria Flora served on the same question-and-answer panel at that conference. 


So the question is, what do each of these U.S. biochar organizations offer the world as finalists for this prize?

First up: Biochar Solutions    
 Ecology, technology and carbon sequestration.

Biochar Solutions, a new Colorado business active since July 2011, produces and sells carefully engineered biochar and customized biochar products, provides commercial research and development support, conducts carbon negative field-scale restoration work,  and deploys continuous process industrial equipment to convert forest residues into biochar and bioenergy. 

It holds the manufacturing and sales license for the Biochar Engineering Corporation's B-1000 Thermal Conversion System. This pyrolizer is unique, according to Jonah Levine, an engineer with Biochar Solutions.  It is a continuous process that results in low ash and high quality biochar with both adsorption and absorption qualities.  Adsorption refers to the ability of a substance to attract chemicals to its surface.  Like activated carbon, biochar adsorbs contaminates and other chemicals, making it ideal for mine reclamation.  Absorption is the ability of a substance to act like a sponge.  Biochar holds water in that way. 

The company currently  produces a commercial version of the B-1000 that does not use a pressure process, reducing costs.  Their clients seek biochar for agricultural soil fertility, land restoration, high value horticulture applications, turf-grass substrate, and forest biomass management.  The has a picture of the B-1000 at the top, along with links to dramatic reclamation results and a marketing link for biochar products. 

Next, Full Circle Biochar  

Soil science, technology and carbon sequestration.


Full Circle Biochar was founded in 2007 in San Francisco.  Its website says it has partnered with leading biochar research institutions (Cornell and Edinburgh Universities and the Rabobank network, the largest global agricultural bank) to accelerate the deployment of biochars into global agricultural markets.    


It has created BioCoreTM and BioChargeTM technologies that it says are tailored for the needs of large-scale agricultural markets.  It has taken a unique "platform" approach to biochar development and deployment that is customized for specific feedstocks. Its website,, says, "Our platforms utilize proprietary pyrolysis and post-pyrolysis strategies that deliver standardized and stabilized biochar products, proven energy outputs, and carbon credit protocols." 


A 2009 Ode Magazine article interviewed Full Circle's CEO David Shearer.  He said in the article, 


"This is potentially a $50 billion industry. If you factor in the agriculture benefits, the soil restoration benefits, the carbon benefits and the energy benefits, it's a huge number."   


According to the article, upward of 10 American universities are experimenting with biochar. In 2009, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland launched the U.K. Biochar Research Centre. That same year, New Zealand's Massey University did the same with the New Zealand Biochar Research Center.   

Here is the link to the full text of the Ode Magazine article.   


European Union Contest 

International call for biochar technology and product quality contest.  Submission date of Letter of Intent: before February 29, 2012    


Swedish environmental engineer Edward Someus sent USBI the following announcement:  


"On behalf of the European Commission-contracted FP7 REFERTIL Consortium we are searching for available commercial, industrial or pilot scale tested recycling technologies suitable for  biochar production and use in open ecological soil environment.  


In this context, we would like to clearly identify market available biochar vendor(s) and the biochar technology owner(s). Laboratory  scale, research units or homemade biochar solutions will not be selected for evaluation.


 For more information on participation in this contest with the February 29, 2012 deadline, go to: "


Note on standards development:  "First in the world, a Government - in this case the European Union - takes progressive initiative to develop  official, accredited and EU27 mandatory standards for biochar production and applications, which progress is happening within the REFERTIL project frame October 1, 2011 - October 1, 2013."  

___________ fourc

Listserves for those interested in biochar 

Thanks to Tom Miles, this service allows wide-ranging biochar discussions.


There are great listserves for those of us fascinated by biochar and its great promise!  According to Tom Miles (T.R. Miles, Technical Consultants, Inc., Portland, OR), who provides the technical maintenance for this service,  the listserve was set up to fulfill "Andrew Parker's original intent of informing 'Stoves' participants about current issues with biochar."

That listserve has expanded from simply 'Stoves' to include a policy group (
  This general discussion group focuses on how biochar can best be used, including specific experiences with different chars, crops and soils.

There is also  This on-line community deals with specific discussions on methods of making biochar.

Miles says, "We are entering our sixth year of discussion on these biochar lists. I created the lists in 2006 at the request of Ron Larson and Erich Knight to support what at that time was the "Agrichar Intiative" and later became the International Biochar Initiative. ... The supporting website can be found at:"
On this website, at the top, is a link entitled "Join the biochar discussion".  That link takes you through the sign-up process to the already-mentioned groups and other sites we'll cover in future newsletters. 

Many thanks to Tom Miles.  He asks only that participants don't cross-post so that the conversations keep their focus.



  Did you know? ...   


Biochar used to alleviate stench share their information


From "bajarobl"
Fri Dec 23, 2011 8:19 am (PST)
Rather than convert the stinky composting waste to biochar, try just adding biochar.

In Costa Rica a compost producer had a contract to haul off the solid (gunky) residue from a large dairy processor, which he composted and sold as organic fertilizer. But the odor from his compost piles was so skanky that the municipality was going to close him down, at which point he contacted me. Adding 10% (by volume) wood biochar to his stinky compost piles reduced the odor to an acceptable level.

This proved to be an economic solution without even considering the enhanced qualities of the compost blend, yet alone carbon sequestering value.

Posted by: "Erich Knight"   erich_knight
Fri Dec 23, 2011 8:36 am (PST)
Use of 20% char in the composting process as reported in this work by C.
Steiner, at U of GA, showed a* 52% reduction of NH3 ammonia loss* to *
Volatilization* when char is used as a composting accelerator. This will
have profound value-added consequences for the commercial composting
industry by reduction of their GHG emissions and the sale of compost as an
organic nitrogen fertilizer.

__________ threea

Biochar bricks?  Can it be called "biochar" if the end   product does not touch the ground?   

Let us know what you think about this - our email.  Maybe it should be called char bricks?  


Eco Friendly materials // Biochar bricks
By maria.amescua | Published: December 21, 2011

Biochar has many advantages including those of construction materials such as bricks, panels, and blocks, by using this component in materials the building walls become lighter and more insulate. Bricks are made using, rice husk biochar (a byproduct from rice mills), cement and sand. The recommended usage for the material is, around paths and plants, inside walls and high walls, for insulation uses, for termite resistant issues, and when light weight materials are needed.


This entry was posted in IC.2 Energy, Maria Elena Amescua Dacasa. Iaac blog is used by Masters in advanced architecture in Catalonia.  



 We analyze ...


The other Branson/Virgin Earth Challenge Finalists 

Six of the other finalists are air-capture companies. 

The Branson/Virgin Earth Challenge, as mentioned above, has eleven finalists competing for the $25 million prize. We covered biochar finalists,  above.

Six other finalists are air-capture companies.  Air-capture involves grabbing the air, ideally,  around power plants and other major producers of carbon dioxide, separating out the carbon dioxide and then sequestering or using it in ways that are carbon negative.  Until recently, the technology to accomplish this did not exist.

The largest and oldest air-capture company is
Biorecro, a Swedish company using Bio Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).  Its website says, "The BECCS technology has been tested in pilot facilities over the past decade and larger-scale storage is now being initiated. In 2013, a total of one and a half million tons of carbon dioxide per year will be stored away from the atmosphere in a handful of projects. In order to meet the climate change mitigation challenge, this capacity must be expanded rapidly.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), by 2050 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide need to be returned from the atmosphere into the ground using BECCS technology in order to effectively reach the two-degree target to avoid serious climate change." 

This company has funding from the U.N. and the U.S. Dept. of Energy (seven regional programs with $1 billion), along with collaborations with the International Energy Agency, Natural Step, the Mistra foundation, and Innovation Norway.  The Biorecro website says the Stockholm School of Economics conducted a study, which "indicated that more than 25 million tons of negative emissions per year could be produced with BECCS in Sweden by 2020."

Analysis. Biochar Solutions CEO Morgan Williams discussed the value of the contest to the planet in a recent USBI interview.  He said it "furthers the conversation about the draw down of carbon dioxide and really recognizes the task ahead and the need for broad approaches."  He called the contest "pretty empowering" but he pointed out that it requires each contestant to achieve a plan that withdraws one billion tons per year of actual carbon over a period of ten years.  The equivalent of that in CO2 is 3.75 billion tons a year for a period of ten years.

He calls that goal "technologically difficult" and one that he doubts any of the finalists could do alone.  He says the contest encourages collaboration.  As to air-capture technology, he says, "Some would argue biochar has more of an opportunity to scale quickly than does air-capture," which requires huge facilities and large amounts of energy.


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 

December 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:    

We Work ... 

 USBI Feedstocks nine


The Montana bitterroot flower
Help "feed" USBI with contributions of articles, ideas, donations, purchase of planted trees and books. 


Also, we'd love to hear from you.  And please share this with friends.  


Until we have our on-line store set-up, email your book order to ask_us@s-o-solutions.orgTo order a tree to be planted in the Helena National Forest, go to our website Or, order by mail to USBI, P.O. Box 1424, Helena, MT 59624 


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 Co. CA

25 million dollar prize

Finalist Biochar Solutions profile

Finalist Full Circle Biochar profile

European Union contest

Listserves for those interested in biochar

Using biochar to alleviate stench

Biochar Bricks?

Analyzing the other $25 million finalists

Archive of past USBI newsletters

youtube videos on biochar

Buy a biochar book or a planted tree!