Friday 28 April 2017

Biochar average crop boost of 25% in tropics

This research supports potential biochar crop benefits for SEA region. It will be interesting to see how temperate biochar world responds to findings. There are plenty of reasons to use biochar other than crop production enhancement... and there are plenty of temperate soils with deficiencies that biochar can help with and thus boost crop yields. I think that a 'meta-analysis' flattens out all the data, hiding success and failure. The researchers have provided a link to their data spreadsheet. Maybe the results can be refined based on soil deficiency? This would be more useful?

new research on effect of biochar in open field crops:

"Biochar boosts tropical but not temperate crop yields''

"For years it has been promoted as a soil additive to increase crop yields. A new study casts doubt on that view, finding that biochar only improves crop growth in the tropics, with no yield benefit at all in the temperate zone.

The team of researchers gathered data from more than 1,000 empirical observations conducted around the world, each measuring the effect of biochar on crop yield. Then, they used meta-analysis, an advanced statistical technique that analyses many studies at the same time, to test whether the beneficial effect of biochar addition depends on geography.

That’s when the surprising result emerged: “Location, location, location: it really matters for biochar”, said Dr. Jeffery, lead author of the study and senior lecturer at Harper Adams University. “Biochar had a huge benefit in the tropics, a 25 per cent increase in yield. But in the temperate zone, there was just no effect at all. We were really surprised.”

The surprise came because past work has assumed that the beneficial yield effects of biochar are universal, applying to soils no matter where they occur. The new study was the first to test rigorously whether geography matters, and the researchers were able to do this because of the very large dataset they assembled.

The idea of biochar was inspired by a rare type of soil that occurs in the tropics, ‘terra preta’ – Portuguese for ‘black earth’, so named because the soil is rich in black carbon, the partially burned remains of old plants, much like charcoal. ‘Terra preta’ is fertile, with favourable pH, unlike typical tropical soils which are low in fertility and acidic. Initial experiments showed that adding biochar to typical tropical soils increased crop yields, making it possible for farmers to cultivate a plot of land in these soils for more than a few years.

The new study supports that view: “Our findings confirm that biochar can benefit farms in low-nutrient, acidic soils such as in the tropics”, explained Dr. Jeffery. “But in more fertile soils, such as those in the temperate zone, obtaining yield increases through biochar application is much less certain.” While it is possible that, biochar may maintain yields in some soils, while cutting costs on the purchase and application of fertilisers and agricultural lime, more research is needed to identify soils where such applications are relevant.

Many other benefits have been claimed for biochar, including managing waste, sequestering carbon in the soil, soil greenhouse gas flux mitigation, crop disease suppression, and being more environmentally friendly than adding synthetic chemicals to the soil. The new study did not evaluate these other potential benefits, and the authors note that some of these may still hold in both temperate and tropical regions, and that biochar research needs to focus on trade-offs between biochar’s interaction with these ecosystem services.

“While there may be other benefits to using biochar in the temperate zone, like increasing soil carbon to slow climate change”, said Dr. Jeffery, “our analysis, summarising over 1,000 observations, shows that the yield benefits just aren’t there. So if the goal for biochar application is boosting crop yield, stick to the tropics.”

The report has been published, open access, in Environmental Research Letters."

Saturday 22 April 2017

Award for Hans-Peter Schmidt's work in Nepal

Biochar project wins best International Development Project

An NDF project testing biochar’s potential as fertiliser in Nepal was commended in April 2017 with an award for best International Development Project.
The award was given to Landell Mills for best International Development Project by British Expertise International. Landell Mills is a UK-based international development consulting firm. The project was an Asian Development Bank-administered and NDF-funded project in Nepal titled Mainstreaming Climate Change Risk Management in Development. Landell Mills was the technical assistance service provider. project assessed the viability for scale-up of biochar use as a strategy for addressing climate mitigation and adaptation by improving soil health, fertility and plant productivity, and resulting farm income. Biochar is charcoal fertiliser made from various kinds of waste biomass. It represents an inexpensive way to increase crop yields and holds significant environmental benefits including reduced loss of nutrients and greenhouse gas emissions.
The project was highly successful as it provided evidence from numerous field trials that urine-enriched biochar can, in three different climate zones, improve crop yields in a climate-friendly manner. Some trials showed yield increases of up to 300%.
The most appropriate technology for biochar production at the farm level in Nepal is the soil pit Kon-Tiki flame curtain kiln. Benefits include high-quality biochar production, low emissions, no need for start-up fuel, short pyrolysis time and, importantly, easy and cheap construction and operation, with no initial capital investment except labour. The technology is thus affordable for small-scale farmers in Nepal. The project showed strong scaling-up potential and included numerous lessons learnt that are valuable for all future biochar projects.
NDF congratulates Landell Mills as well as everyone involved in realising the project.

Wednesday 19 April 2017

IBI Webinar: Sewage sludge & Biochar, 26Apr

Reminder! One Week from Today.
New this month: one of our IBI members has put together an 11 page summary of recent sewage sludge and biochar peer reviewed academic research.  This packet will be available only to IBI members and those that register for this webinar!
International Biochar Initiative - Educational Webinar Series
 Sewage Sludge & Biochar
April 26, 2017 • 1:00- 2:30pm ET (United States)
As the world's population continues to increase, our need to find sustainable methods of managing human waste becomes increasingly more important.  Carbonizing waste through pyrolysis or gasification offers some significant advantages over other common waste management practices including substantial reductions in the overall volume of waste, nutrient recovery, renewable energy production, reducing GHG emissions related to wastewater management, immobilization of toxins, to name a few.
Dr. Saran Sohi, an academic from the University of Edinburgh, will provide an overview of scientific research being conducted on the topic of biochar derived from sewage sludge, including the potential for recovery and re-use of Phosphorus.
Jeff Hallowell, CEO of Biomass Controls, has been collaborating with the Gates Foundation for several years where their technology is being used to carbonize human sewage in India.  Jeff will share an overview of the project including lessons learned, challenges and the vast opportunities, especially for remote communities, to convert human waste into biochar.
This webinar will be of interest to wastewater treatment managers both in the developed and developing world, biochar producers, researchers, climate researchers and more.  An interactive Q&A period will follow at the end of the Webinar.  Questions may be submitted during the event or prior to it via email:

Free to IBI Members or $40 for non-members
To Register:
Registration includes access to the slides and a recording of the webinar.
IBI Members register here (go to the upcoming webinars section). Your event link will be emailed to you after successful confirmation about your membership status.
Non-IBI members register here.

Dr. Saran Sohi
Dr. Sohi leads the soil science dimension of the UK Biochar Research Center (UKBRC) which was launched in 2009. 
The Centre is based in the University of Edinburgh, within the School of GeoScience and emerging out of the Scottish Centre for Carbon Storage.

Collectively the UKBRC addresses biochar production technologies, the function of biochar in soil, potential carbon-equivalent gains from pyrolysis-biochar systems, and scoping socio-economic opportunities and issues (including regulation and land-use).

HallowellJeff Hallowell
Jeff has over 30 years of experience in the computer technology industry with companies such as Xerox, Oracle, Netscape and United Healthcare.  As the former President of ClearStak for five years, Jeff worked on pollution reduction and improving efficiency on hydronic and forced air heats, wood boilers, pellet burners, biochar kilns and wood stoves.  His experience includes the development and modification of automatic controls for each biomass system including Biomass Controls' patented Pollution Control Device and Intelligent Biofuel Controller.  Currently Jeff is working on several projects including rolling out human excreta-to-biochar processing systems that provide a suitable sanitation option to meet the needs of the urban poor as part of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundaiton.  He was also the Project Manager for the Relocate, LLC project to process human solid waste to biochar in the arctic climate of Kivalina, Alaska.

Moderator:  Kathleen Draper
Kathleen is a member of the IBI Board and Chair of IBI's Information Hub. She is also the US Director of the Ithaka Institute for Carbon Intelligence. The Institute is an open source network focusing on beneficial carbon sequestration strategies which simultaneously provide economic development opportunities both in the developed and developing world. She is an editor and writer for The Biochar Journal, sponsored by the Ithaka Institute. Kathleen also works with various different universities and individuals on projects that are investigating the use of biochar in cement and other building and packaging products to develop products with lower embodied carbon which can be made from locally available organic waste. She has written extensively about various topics related to biochar and is a co-author of the book "Terra Preta: How the World's Most Fertile Soil Can Help Reverse Climate Change and Reduce World Hunger".

For more information:
What questions do you have about biochar quality and use? Please send your questions by April 23rd to For more information or if you have any questions about registration please email Vera Medici at
Want to become an IBI member?  Visit our membership page to help support IBI.

Monday 17 April 2017

Fire Free Alliance and biochar?

There are some interesting carbon threads between the current ideas at FFA and my previous post on Michael Shafer article. Check out the video linked below...

Climate change, developed world v. developing world and biochar

Michael Shafer's article (abstract below) is provocative and worthy contribution the climate change debate. It is being discussed within the biochar community. If you want to join this discussion, ahead of the formal publication of his article, then please get in touch.

Climate change, developed world v. developing world and biochar

Dr. D. Michael Shafer
Director, Warm Heart Foundation, A.Phrao, Chiang Mai


Because we are among the world’s 1.2 billion rich people and not its 5.4 billion poor, it is easy to think about the climate crisis, solutions to the climate crisis and sustainability in terms of developed world actions and initiatives. Given the focus of diplomatic, media, policy, and scientific attention, this is entirely understandable. It is also entirely wrongheaded. If you ask, Where can we most easily improve environmental outcomes? Achieve sustainability? Reverse climate change? To say nothing of, where can we alleviate the most suffering and promote the greatest good? The answers are all found in the developing world. Environmental action in the developing world by and for the world’s poorest 2.54 billion people, very small farmers, can do more right now and at less cost to advance our shared interest in global sustainability than anything else imaginable.

What is to be done? Convince billions of small farmers in the developing world to turn their crop wastes into biochar instead of burning it. How? By providing small farmers a profitable business proposition to take up biochar production through imitation, not outside intervention, and by developing markets for any biochar they produce in excess of what they can use on their farms.

On the face of it, this easily stated proposal seems ridiculous. Building businesses, profit incentives, and making markets in the wilderness to say nothing of convincing billions of illiterate farmers to do anything pose an immense challenge. What is biochar? What does burning crop wastes have to do with the crisis of our times? Why should we even consider handing over such a complex problem to the low-tech that mere peasants can manage when this is obviously a problem for the world’s best and brightest working in its top research labs?

Because engaging billions of illiterate farmers in local markets for biochar is easier, cheaper and faster than any other option. Because biochar is solid CO2 removed from the atmosphere, smoke removed from the air, smog kept from happening and food security for billions. Because burning crop wastes contribute as much to climate change as India. Because stopping the burning by converting to biochar production would remove hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere annually and save millions of lives. Because the best and the brightest have no high-tech solutions at hand in their labs. Because the poor are ready, willing and able to save us right now. Because we are out of time.

The purpose of this entirely non-traditional paper is not to challenge an existing theory, provide a new one or even offer new data. Its purpose is not to specify or clarify distinctions in data. Rather, its aim is to connect and integrate, to create a single narrative that binds large, complex and normally separate realms for the purpose of permitting action. This paper builds on well-established science, but into order to forge a compelling tale that “fits together” otherwise disparate pieces. It is not science, but scientifically informed story telling. Why? Not to denigrate science, but because policy-makers, politicians and the public are moved by stories, not science.

I start by reconceiving climate change as a poor man’s problem, now and in the future, as climate interacts with population growth to further imperil food security for the world’s poorest. Second, I suggest how the immediacy of the climate crisis in the developing world gives the poor a fundamentally different perspective than the rich. The rich feel that they can continue the effort to slow the rate at which we add carbon to the atmosphere; the poor must pursue efforts to remove carbon and reverse climate change. I then present crop waste burning in the developing world and its consequences for climate change and public health. Fourth, I connect crop waste burning to poor farmers who contribute much to climate change, and are the first to suffer its consequences. With the pieces assembled, I next introduce biochar which if made by these small farmers provides them a powerful soil amendment to improve soil quality, plant health and crop yields, and in the making sequesters CO2 and averts the emission of smog precursors and particulates. Finally, I take up implementation, or, rather, “how to avoid the question: who pays?”

Climate change in context: The poor man’s problem
The climate change consequences of crop waste burning
The health consequences of crop waste burning
Poverty and crop burning
How can we deliver a better life to billions of small, poor farmers?
Where is the problem?
Is there a way out?
Making a market for biochar
Putting biochar back into a bigger picture


Friday 14 April 2017

More from the Philippines on mine closures

By Mike U. Crismundo

Butuan City – Miners and workers displaced by the closure or suspension of mining firms in the region can turn to biochar technology as an alternative source of inocme and livelihood, which was recently introduced by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Some 14 mining firms were either ordered closed or suspended by the DENR in Dinagat Islands, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur.
Workers and residents from other areas of the Caraga region have ventured into biochar technology introduced by DENR Secretary Regina Lopez and are reaping economic dividends, DENR 13 Regional Director Dr. Charles C. Fabre said.
Biochar is a charred biomass strictly from agricultural waste such as rice hull and straw, coconut husk and shell, corn cobs, wood trimmings, twigs produced by high-heat with very limited oxygen.
Biochar is used as a soil enhancer and fertilizer to increase yield and is also linked to minimal carbon emissions.
“This technology can be the solution of the people in communities reeling from the effects of the suspension of the mining operation to augment their income,” the regions’ DENR chief said.
He added that workers in host mining communities who were formerly dependent on mining have now diverted their attention to agriculture while utilizing Biochar technology as their alternate livelihood.
“I believe that the Biochar can address environmental problems like unsanitary landfills, unsanitary livestock raising practices, unsanitary sewage disposal, green house gas emission from agriculture, greenhouse gas emission from landfills and heavy degraded land from mining.” Fabre added.

Thursday 13 April 2017

New research from Indonesia on low temp. biochar & N

Biochar as a Carrier for Nitrogen Plant Nutrition: The Release of Nitrogen from Biochar Enriched with Ammonium Sulfate and Nitrate Acid

E. I. Wisnubroto 1) , W.H. Utomo 2) and H.T. Soelistyari 1)
1)University Tribhuwana Tunggadewi, Malang, Indonesia.
2)International Research Centre for Management of Degraded and Mining Lands, University of Brawijaya, Malang, Indonesia.


An experiment was conducted to study the characteristics and stability of biochar enriched with ammonium sulfate and nitrate acid. Two feedstuffs of biochar (namely poultry litter and corn-cobs) were enriched with ammonium sulfate and nitrate acid. To investigate the release of nitrogen from the enriched biochar, a lysimeter study was carried out. The results showed that either ammonium sulfate or nitrate acid was good enough to be used as the materials for enriching biochar. However, ammonium sulfate yielded a relative better enriched biochar compared to the nitrate acid enriched biochar. Nitrogen in ammonium enriched biochar was relatively more stable compared to that of nitrogen in nitrate enriched biochar. Until 120 days of incubation, nitrogen content in a soil applied with ammonium enriched biochar made from corn-cobs was 0,13 %, 0.15 %, and 0.14 % for acid, neutral and calcareous soil respectively. These were higher compared to nitrogen content applied with the same biochar feedstuffs enriched with nitrate, i.e.: 0.012 %; 0.11%; and 0.11 % in acid, neutral and calcareous soil. Biochar with diameter size of less than 0.5 mm was good enough used for enrichment.