Tuesday 29 December 2009

New biochar study collaboration in Cambodia

MaD - Making a Difference for Good!: MaD Organic Farm is an Edinburgh University Biochar Experimental Farm!

I wonder if small stove technology is appropriate in the Cambodian rural setting? I've been advised that fossil fuel distribution for cooking is not entrenched and that there is a charcoal industry for cooking.

Would the introduction of biochar producing stoves, such as those promoted by Worldstove, be a catalyst for change? If freely available waste biomass could replace charcoal as the fuel of choice, and at the same time biochar is identified as improving crop yields & reducing local fertilizer costs / inputs, then a virtuous circle can develop.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Biochar Malaysia Workshop 14 December 2009

University Putra Malaysia organised a one-day biochar workshop on 14 December 2009. Dr Johannes Lehmann was the keynote speaker.

Dr Lehmann also helped facilitate the afternoon workshop activities. Attendees broke into 6 groups to discuss specific biochar issues in relation to the local settings. The ideas and issues summarized from the group presentations are to be distilled and disseminated by the organisers. We now await the results which will hopefully include proposals for the formation of an Malaysian biochar interest group and the coordinated development of biochar research in Malaysia.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Boulder Conference Proceedings

A website dedicate to the August 2009 biochar conference at the University of Colorado has now been posted...
"Welcome to the website for the 2009 North American Biochar Conference, held in Boulder, Colorado from August 9 - 12, 2009. The purpose of this site is to provide visitors access to the papers, posters and presentations—as well as other related resources—from the conference."

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Biochar testing standards

The subject of biochar production has an extraordinary number of variables. The variables could be grouped as follows,
  • biomass (wastes & process residues - plant/animal/human, dedicated crops/coppice, algae)
  • scale: kg/day > tonnes/hr (cooking stove > gardener kiln/retort > farm/community > industrial production)
  • conversion process: traditional/simple > future/complex; batch or continuous; gasification, pyrolysis, HTC, microwave; slow, fast or flash carbonization; high or low temperature
  • process products: biochar, producer gas, heat, steam, CO2, electricity, bio-oil/wood vinegar, ash, refined products (charcoal, activated carbon, gas/liquid fuels/products, fertilizer)
  • post-production inoculation (minerals, fertilizers, wood vinegar, compost, urine, humus, Mycorrhizae/microfauna)
  • economic, environmental and social settings.
How do all these variables affect the safety and efficacy of biochar? does it matter? I keep reading that not all biochars are the same. From the list above, this is hardly surprising but I don't think safety will be an issue. The negative impacts of declining soil carbon due to industrial / contemporary farming practices seem to be well understood. The terra preta field trial has been running well for some time. The large and growing number of formal and informal soil trials around the world will be the ultimate arbiter but thats not going to produce a biochar industry any time soon.

These 'upstream' variables for biochar production are matched by 'downstream' application variables for climate, geography, soil type, land use (crop, grass, forest, plantation, organic, intensive, tillage), application rates/methods, utilisation goals/objectives (soil enhancement, remediation, fertilizer reduction/efficiency, carbon sequestration, emission/erosion control).

The decision to make/buy/use biochar may be relatively simple - optimizing the economic outcome based on the many variables will be the hard part. Having some standard assessment criteria between the upstream production and downstream application would aid the decision process. Help may soon be at hand with the development of biochar testing standards...

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Regional progress report to IBI

The following is the first Far East biochar report. Just a quick snapshot on some of the current known activities in the region. A more complete picture will be available when the regional interest group has more structure and a platform for presenting information. A google-group structure is proposed as an interum platform.

Jochen Binikowski has been working with biochar since February 2007. He is living in and reporting from the front line, on biochar experiments with farmers in the Philippines.

An ACIAR funded project "Building more profitable and resilient farming systems in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam and New South Wales", is being lead by Dr. Peter Slavich (NSW DII) . Biochar experiments are underway in Aceh and Tamworth (NSW, Australia) on rice and dryland crops.

Funding has just been released for the first biochar soil trial in Malaysia. The study is being led by Theeba Manickam, a researcher with MARDI (govt. horticulture agency). A number of other researchers, universities and agriculture organisations are expressing interest in biochar research. Overseas collaborations and funding options are being investigated. Some local and regionally specific research opportunities include soil rehabilitation (tin mining, bris) and the annual haze issue (slash&char).

Information on future, current and historical biochar work is being accumulated for reference on a future website. Any contribution to this would be welcome.

Friday 31 July 2009

Microfinance and biochar

Check out if you are not familar with the concept. I think this is an ideal vehicle for promoting biochar in the developing world. It could also be an avenue for distribution of stoves.

Some concepts & issues:

  1. This will allow targeted lending to biochar development.
  2. Loan repayment may have to be structured to follow increased harvest / production.
  3. Lender takes the risk associated with increase in production?
  4. If borrowing was for purchase of biochar for soil enhancement, then it may create a increased demand for charcoal?
  5. This may create local demand & markets for waste biomass.
  6. Could help develop local retort technology, pyrolysis entrepreurs & local energy production.
  7. A structure may be provided for better feed-back on soil enhancement outcomes.
  8. A structure may be provided for carbon credit value distribution (loan repayment?)
  9. How can stove distribution be integrated?
A proposal would need to be prepared to educate/lobby the MF organisations. Maybe a subject for IBI to support or lead in the future.

Thursday 30 July 2009

IBI support for South East Asian biochar interest group

IBI have kindly included a red dot on their world map in support of a South East Asian biochar interest group ( Dialogue is underway with various international groups seeking support for this work. Your participation and support would be welcome.

Dr Francis
Ng makes some interesting observations on his Tropical Garden blog related to the annual regional haze problem in SEA. Forests have been cleared by settlers to gain informal title over the land. They annually slash&burn this land to hold title and in the hope of selling land for future palm oil expansion. Christoph Steiner has studied and written on similar issues in the Amazon proposing a slash&char alternative. Could a future biochar industry help solve the intractable haze problem in SEA? What sort of structures would need to be in place to protect the remaining natural forest?

Thursday 11 June 2009

Asia-Pacific conference proceedings

The proceedings from the 17-20 May Gold Coast conference are now available from

I have had some positive feed-back from Japan, Singapore and within Malaysia for the establishment of a South East Asia biochar group. I am still hopeful about getting some online discussion underway. Please also contact me separately by email if you wish.

Thursday 28 May 2009

IBI South East Asia

I have created this blog with the specific goal of establishing a South East Asian biochar interest group similar to others that are show-cased on the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) website.

I recently attended the first Asia-Pacific Biochar Conference and noted that groups are currently active in Japan, Australia and New Zealand only (in the SEA region). I foresee that groups will eventually be formed in many SEA countries. I hope to gather interest for a group here in Malaysia, but as a first step, I propose that a regional group be formed. I suggest this because there are many countries in the region at various stages of economic development that may struggle to get a group underway. Also, regional activity on biochar currently ranges from minor to almost nil.

I have contacted IBI and received their support for a SEA biochar group. They will be able to offer a webpage on their new site which will be released mid-June.

I suggest that a small management team be tasked with activities leading to the formal establishment of the SEA group. These activities might be,
  1. communication with IBI & existing regional groups (Japan, Australia, NZ)
  2. planning for a management team meeting
  3. discussion on the structure of a regional group
  4. regional biochar initiatives
  5. investigation of local, regional & international funding avenues for the above activities.
I don't think that a management team or biochar group needs formal structure yet. This could happen as and when activity grows.

If you have an opinion on this proposal, then I would welcome your posting to this blog.

Kind regards,