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  Biochar News

   from USBI   


        June  2012  

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


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.  



There is an advantage to being involved in the start of a new industry that offers the world hope.  We can celebrate our pioneers.  You can see what we are made of by reading the interviews below with Tom Miles and Albert Bates.


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 commerc
ialization. It advocates for biochar research
and applications.

 We Gather,

 Celebrate ...


USBI 2012 Conference: Time to Register!     

The Sonoma Biochar Initiative and the Sonoma Ecology Center will host on July 29 - August 1, 2012.  


Biochar LogoLet the celebrating begin!  Hurry up and register, for heaven's sake!  The Sonoma Biochar Initiative and the Sonoma Ecology Center in Sonoma County, California, along with a number of other partners, will host the 2012 national USBI Conference on July 29 through August 1, 2012.


Producers - Come and show off your technology and biochar products! 


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."


Here is the registration page.  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



International Biochar Standards 

IBI announces completion of first biochar standards.  


The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) announced recently that it has completed the process of writing and getting its members' approval of the first international biochar standards.  IBI spokesperson Kelpie Wilson said, "The IBI Biochar Standards are the result of a multi-year development process that was global, transparent and inclusive, and that involved the input and participation of hundreds of research scientists, entrepreneurs, farmers and other stakeholders in the drafting, review and approval of the document."

Wilson called this the first step in the "(d)eployment of a sustainable biochar systems at all scales (that) can help solve the global food security crisis and the global climate change crisis by enhancing soil fertility, avoiding greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering stable carbon in soils." 
Congratulations, IBI!  These standards provide the tools to define biochar and confirm its characteristics for safe use.  This is a big deal.  Go to this IBI website for a full discussion:

Interviewing Biochar Pioneers    
Two more of our pioneers are spotlighted here: Tom Miles and Albert Bates.

Tom Miles is a fifth generation wood products businessman in Oregon.  His interests are in both agriculture and forestry.  A graduate in forestry, he has lived in Brazil, Tunisia, England, Costa Rica and Mexico.  It was after Mexico that he returned to Oregon and began running the family business since his father died.

Miles says the operation at T R Miles Technical Consultants Inc. ( is run as a "mutually assisted living arrangement" with his 96-year-old mother as the anchor, answering the phone and making lunch.  His daughter, Erin Rasmussen, is the techie at the business, creating web sites and running the bioenergy listserve.  Tom's other daughter is an environmental engineer in Florida.
Although he's been working with gasification for 35 years, it has only been since 2006 that he began exploring biochar as a product.  Gasification is the high temperature burning of waste materials in pyrolysis kilns to make energy.  The high temperature makes syngas and bio-oil as byproducts but little biochar.  Biochar production uses the same process at lower temperatures, 400-600C, to make more biochar, but not as much syngas and bio-oil.

"Biochar is not going fast enough," Miles says.  He thinks more directed research is needed with field trials to establish biochar's reputation for remediation of petroleum oils and metals in both the soil and retention ponds.  He thinks the substitution of biochar for vermiculite in soil amendments and as a medium for tree seedlings is making headway.  After all, he points out, China and South Africa use natural gas to make puffy vermiculite, which results in a product expensive in energy output and transportation costs.

Miles has convinced Sunmark Environmental to add 10% biochar to its "Perma Matrix."  He calls that product "straw through a hose."  He created it using waste straw or recycled paper many years ago.  To that Sunmark adds native seeds, fertilizer, and biochar, spraying it on the disturbed soil of construction sites.  It's usually sprayed with a color added so that the applicator can see where he's been but the color eventually disappears in ultraviolet light.

So the next time you see vividly-colored soil at a construction site, remember Miles and that, deep down, the soil color is the black of biochar.


Albert Bates, a member of the USBI advisory board, lives in a famous commune in Tennessee called The Farm.  He, too, is famous.  His Wikipedia page is here.  


This is a man who began as a horse trainer as a teenager and put his New York bar license to good use.  His curriculum vitae lists the cases, clients, and testimony that cover most of the issues in U.S. environmental and civil rights history since the 1960s.  Then there are the books and the movies.


His website gives a staggering sense of his concerns, also found in his 2006 book Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook, Recipes for Changing Times.  He says, "We are in a defining phase of human evolution. Fail, and we relegate life on the planet to fungi deep in caves and bacteria on the ocean floor, if that. Succeed, and we take the next step in our own progress as a species - and life is, once again, truly great."


He came by his general sense of foreboding about climate change in a law suit he filed 20 years ago.  Biochar gives him a hope that the world might actually have a response that has its own incentives to proliferate.  He thinks it might reverse what he calls the juggernaut that is creating climate change.  We may move into a new way to do agriculture and he "envisions a better future."  


For biochar people, his book The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change is a must read.  It came out in the Fall of 2010 from New Society.  It can be purchased on the links above and also in the "Feedstocks" purchase section at the end of this newsletter.   

Biochar mine reclamation - Latest results are in
The Hope Mine in Aspen, Colorado

A year ago the first edition of this newsletter (June 2011) chronicled the first remediation of a mine with biochar.  It was the start of the joint project of the USFS, Flux Farm Foundation and Aspen, Colorado's For the Forest organization.  Called the Hope Mine Biochar Reclamation Project, it was designed to neutralize the heavy metals in a three story pile of mine tailings teetering just above the source of the drinking water for Aspen, Colorado.

Recently the Aspen Daily News reported that the successful results of that project are in.  "Since 2010, foresters have used biochar to successfully re-vegetate the riverside slope of mine waste, restoring soil ravaged by silver tailings. It was the first project of its kind in the world. ... The approach is scalable, officials believe, to the 23,000 abandoned mines in Colorado's forests. Abandoned mines and the toxic debris left behind by the operations have contaminated 40 percent of the headwaters in the mountain west, according to forest officials, and biochar could help stop river and stream pollution."

23,000 abandoned mines!  In just the state of Colorado.  The article goes on "Reclamation efforts have been ongoing in Colorado for decades, yet they've barely scratched the surface of the environmental and public safety needs created by them, officials said. There are an estimated 700 abandoned mine sites in Pitkin County alone. ... Olivia Garcia, the abandoned mine land coordinator for the White River National Forest said, "We have numerous open mine features in Aspen and it's going to probably take my generation and another generation to close them all up."

That's a lot of biochar.



  We Study ...


 Green roofs and biochar ten 

An interview with Valerie Navarro 


In the Faroe Islands in the Norwegian Sea, sod roofs protect re-created Viking homes from the fierce climate.  This simple use of soil and sod as insulation is now known in the U.S. as "green roofs."  According to a study by Penn State's Green Roof Research Center, green roofs can reduce heat flow as much as 70-90% in a warm climate and 10-30% in a cold climate.

Living Elements Inc. CEO Valerie Navarro cites that study to her clients who want to build sustainably.  In a time when conservation of energy is becoming a primary consideration of builders, green roofs in cities reduce energy use and cool cities.  According to Wikipedia, "about ten green roof research centers exist in the US and activities exist in about 40 countries. ... (I)t has now been estimated that if all the roofs in a major city were greened, urban temperatures could be reduced by as much as 7 degrees Celsius (12.6 degrees F)."  They are now a "game changer," according to Navarro.

She has been providing information to clients on building materials and their performance data for twenty-some years and she is now advising construction of green roofs.  At one time builders shied away from those roofs because the weight of soil, water and vegetation required a 20% increase in the cost of engineering and materials for that weight.

Now those costs can be cut in half with biochar, due to its light weight and other characteristics.  She says, "Biochar solves a lot of green roof issues.  It is key."  Her business recommends a customized, clean biochar that uses waste feedstocks such as prunings from almond trees and city trees.  That pelletized biochar has mycorrhizal additions that create their own nutrient environment, cutting the use of fertilizers.  The biochar reduces the weight of the soil and reduces water usage since it retains water.  Further, for cities that have storm water problems, biochar retains up to 75% of rainwater and slowly releases it into the roof's soil and air.

More than that, builders in California, where Navarro works, use biochar to sequester carbon.  This results in a climate change offset, a source of a credit under that state's carbon reduction program.

Although she says urban farming on roofs is just beginning, "by 2050, the use of roofs to grow food in cities will be needed.  The extent of our current agricultural lands are not going to cut it."


__________   fourb

How soon we forget 

Steven Edholm gives us his research sent out to a biochar listserve. 


Steven Edholm sent some great research to a biochar listserve.  We want to share it with you.  Edholm is a paleotechnic, which he says means "doing old stuff" like "tanning, stone tools, making ropes and cords, and making and using fire."

He works on problems related to subsistence activities and more sustainable living.  His interest in biochar resulted in research to find writings from the 19th century in Europe and America that discuss biochar, then called charcoal.

Edholm says, "(T)he most motivating examples were the numerous testimonies about the decades long persistence of noticeably high fertility at the sites of old charcoal burning pits.  The persistence of the biochar effect has really driven my interest and I think this is true across the board for the biochar movement.  I like to do things that will have a lasting positive effect whether its planting fruit trees for posterity or building a structure that won't be on its way to the landfill in 20 years.

Being an avid gardener and orchardist, I think it's fantastic to find a solution that can confer such fine long term benefits with a single application.   The durability of biochar stands in stark contrast to much of the soil work that we usually apply in agriculture.  I also felt that the great enthusiasm that these men had for the subject spoke volumes, and I think that is mirrored in the excitement of the present biochar movement." 


His research is a good read.  It appears we knew a lot about biochar then.  His surprising results can be found on his blog:  



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

February 2012 USBI Newsletter  

April 2012 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:  


As long as we are being thorough in this resource part of the newsletter, here is the agenda and the papers that were presented at the second USBI conference in 2010 at Iowa State: 2010 USBI Conference at Iowa State


We Work ... 

 USBI Feedstocks 


The Montana bitterroot flower

Help "feed" USBI with contributions of articles, ideas, donations, gifts of 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 1013, Colville, WA 99114   



 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 completes standards for biochar

Biochar Pioneer Interviews: Tom Miles and Albert Bates

Mine reclamation with biochar- update on the Hope mine in CO

Green roofs, an interview with Valerie Navarro

Steven Edholm, research on biochar in Europe and America in the 19th century

Biochar books

Archive of past USBI newsletters

youtube videos on biochar