Monday 6 May 2019

Biochar Enthusiasts South East Asia... new FB-group

I have been posting here on biochar since May 2009. 10 years and 453 posts later, I'm feeling it become a burden in its current form, with very little group feed-back. Although (like many!) I hate many aspects of Facebook, I have found it much easier to manage and more engaging (based on my experience with 

I hope the new group will resemble 'flame cap' production in the region... the current site feels like a smoldering old earth pile! There are a number of biochar groups in SEA but language and distance are a barrier to cooperation. I hope this new group can provide more useful linkage across the region. I would welcome discussion, regional posts and help... do feel free to join the group.

I will push out another newsletter under the current format to circulate the news. 

Tuesday 16 April 2019

Haze issue in Thailand

Haze: What to do about corn without killing the golden goose?

opinion April 15, 2019 19:44
By Michael Shafer

We have a big, known problem: Corn is a major source of Thailand’s chronic haze crisis. We also have a big, unknown problem: Corn is a link in a multibillion-dollar supply chain that is vital to Thailand and also many of its poorest people.  The really big problem, therefore, is not what to do about corn and corn’s contribution to the haze crisis.

The really big problem is how to fix corn without killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Warm Heart Foundation believes it has a low-cost and immediately replicable solution. First, though, it would be useful to review the agricultural origins of the haze crisis.
Corn is nasty stuff. The way we cultivate it in Thailand is inexcusable, no question. Corn burning accounts for much of the Northern haze crisis. Just three Northern provinces, Chiang Rai, Nan and Tak, grow 1.67 million rai of corn – 24 per cent of the national total.) The haze kills and sickens tens of thousands; we all pay for their care.
What’s the corn problem?
Scale. Corn has gone from a regular part of the Thai diet to our biggest and fastest growing crop – that we cannot eat. It’s hog corn, 95 per cent of it unfit for human consumption. How did we get here? Demand for meat, milk and ice cream from a fast growing global and Thai middle class. Chickens, pigs and cows transform corn-based feed into drumsticks, steaks and Magnum bars very inefficiently.
 The cheapest places to grow – and the farmers most desperate to do it – are in the rural North where steep slopes and bad soil are good for nothing else. Laws protect such lands, but the officials charged with enforcement ignore burning forest for new fields because more is better. (In 2017-18, 3.67 million rai of corn – 52 per cent of Thailand’s total – grew in protected forest.) The government itself, with the Thai Animal Feed Association, encouraged rice farmers to plant corn as a second crop in their paddies, to “conserve water”.
What, then, is the problem?
The overwhelming expansion of corn on fragile soils in protected forests that are among the few remaining areas of biodiversity in Thailand. Monocropped corn generates huge pest pressure and demand for pesticides with lethal consequences. Corn itself is a particularly wasteful crop; only 22.2 per cent is kernel, while 78.2 per cent remains in the field to be cleared somehow before the next planting. (Burning is easiest, but since more than half of fields lie within forests, the forests burn, too.)
How do you “fix” this sick goose?
A recent article in The Nation highlights the work of leading Thai organisations that understand the problem and have wise solutions (“Thai govt urged to help farmers shift practices”, April 8). As BioThai director Withoon Lienchamroon observes, because just a few large companies, encouraged by government policies, are responsible, it ought to be possible to force a sustainable public-private solution to support integrated farming, not monocropping. Researcher Olarn Ongla adds that policy must also address farmers’ poverty, which prevents them from shifting to more sustainable techniques.
Sounds great – but despite the social costs of haze, neither government nor companies have incentives to play. Today, government and companies confront minimum costs and risks. Government has limited forest monitoring and use-enforcement costs or agricultural extension costs at the rural fringe. Elected with a popular majority, it can ignore protests in an opposition area. Doing nothing also avoids the risk of failure, dangerous when legitimacy depends on the ability to deliver quick, tangible successes. Meanwhile the companies face no risk of more costly corn, the largest cost component in animal production, and can use CSR programmes to placate opposition as they transition to foreign production
Killing the goose that lays the gold
What happens if such a scheme is imposed? The companies exit, with terrible consequences for Thailand. Companies produce corn in the Thai North because land and labour are cheap. If remaining in Thailand becomes too costly, they move to Myanmar. The growing conditions are similar, the labour is cheaper and there is no regulation. With the Asean Free Trade Agreement, the cost of importing corn to Thailand is minimal, although transportation is inconvenient. How best to solve that? Move the chickens, hogs and cattle to Myanmar along with the slaughterhouses, etc. The cost is soon paid back by the lower cost of doing business.
As a result, burning in Thailand, forest encroachment and the amount of corn raised decrease. We outsource the problem, but ineffectively. The haze continues from Myanmar, where tens of thousands more people are exposed. Closer to home, tens of thousands of Thais employed in the shipping, care, slaughter and processing of meats and dairy lose their jobs, a fate shared by large numbers of landless farmers. There are no ready replacement crops, sources of demand or funds. Rural communities collapse faster, more uneducated and untrained farmers pour into the cities. Thai imports of chicken, pork and beef spike. The goose is dead without an alternative source of gold ready at hand.
Does the goose have to die?
Warm Heart thinks not. We are small Thai Foundation (CM273) without the international and national funding of big NGOs. We do not make plans for government or for major corporations. We believe that corn is here to stay, essential to the lives of Thailand’s poorest farmers who are forgotten in public discussion. We see a way to resolve the haze crisis through the market and poor farmers’ hunger for better lives: give them incentives and means to profit from not burning their corn waste. Right now.
Warm Heart believes that we, the citizens of the North, can choose between two futures. The next decade can be clouded with haze or small farmers can learn to convert crop waste to biochar and sell it as briquettes or fertiliser.
There is nothing high-tech, high cost, imported or impressive about Warm Heart’s solution. We teach poor farmers to teach other poor farmers to make their own equipment and biochar. An old Thai farmer teaching another farmer to make biochar from crop waste in a small, unkempt field using equipment designed in Thailand and built by the farmer himself is not something that goes on nice websites or merits a write-up in academic journals. But it works. This is not a vague promise. This is not a theoretical possibility. This does not require years of testing. This is known and tested. If tens of thousands of small farmers learned to do this right now, there would be far less haze in the air next year.
Michael Shafer is director of the Warm Heart Foundation in Phrao, Chiang Mai.

Thursday 4 April 2019

Problem soils - biochar can help

Biochar amendment improves crop production in problem soils: A review

This China-USA review looks at improve plant growth in...
  • soils with physical constraints
  • acid soils
  • alkaline soils
  • nutrient deficient soil
  • salt-affected soils
  • metal-contaminated soil

Friday 22 March 2019

Bamboo biochar research - regional cooperation

"Faculty of Agriculture UGM established a consortium with Universitas Syiah Kuala, Universitas Andalas, Universitas Udayana Ghent University, Belgium, to do research in using bamboo as biochar. Biochar is active charcoal use to improve soil and reduce agricultural environmental pollution. It is also potential to maintain soil fertility.
The cooperation that lasts for three years started this year with the Flemish Interuniversity Council Belgium and promoter Prof. Stefaan De Neve from Ghent University and Dr. Benito Heru Purwanto from UGM.
Heru Purwanto said the research had started since November 2018 by inviting representatives from five universities. In March a discussion, workshop and field visit were made at Sidorejo village in Ngablak, Magelang. “Alongside the event we held a discussion that was attended by an internal tim project and doctoral students conducting biochar research at UGM,” said Heru in a release sent on Wednesday (20/3).
Heru explained although still preliminary, the biochar research cooperated with researchers from research agencies in the country as well as biochar experts from Balai Penelitian Tanah Bogor and Balai Penelitian Tanaman Rawa South Kalimantan.
“We also invited farmer groups to do biochar making practices,” he said."

Sunday 10 March 2019

Rice husk biochar and urea - 2yr study

Effects of biochar and nitrogen fertilizer on soil physicochemical properties, nitrogen use efficiency and upland rice (Oryza sativa) yield grown on an Alfisol in Southwestern Nigeria

Received: 24 March 2018 / Accepted: 12 February 2019 © The Author(s) 2019



Biochar and inorganic fertilizer when co-applied have been reported to increase crop yield and enhance soil fertility. However, studies on this complementary effect on soil properties and rain-fed upland rice performance in Sub-Saharan Africa are still scanty.


Field factorial studies conducted over 2 years was set up to investigate the interactions between rice husk biochar and inorganic nitrogen (N) fertilizer on a sandy clay loam Alfisol. A two-factor (4 × 4) in RCBD where rice husk biochar was incorporated at four doses, 0, 3, 6, and 12 t/ha−1, inorganic N fertilizer (urea) at four rates, 0, 30, 60 and 90 N kg/ha−1, and their combinations was adopted.


Results showed that combination of biochar and N fertilizer exerted significant (P > 0.05) interactive effect on rice harvest index, grain and straw yield and N-use efficiency. Interaction between biochar and N fertilizer increased agronomic efficiency by 140% and grain nutrient recovery by 191% over 2 years. Combination of biochar and N fertilizer reduced soil bulk density, increased water holding capacity and soil chemical status such as pH, N, P, K, Corg, Ca, ECEC and base saturation, all within the top 10 cm depth of the soil.


Overall, the results established that rice husk biochar can be used as a soil conditioner to enhance upland rice yield on an Alfisol. The combined dose of 3–6 t/ha−1 biochar and 30 kg/ha−1 of N fertilizer is thus recommended for upland rice farmers in the study area.

Sunday 3 March 2019

Three year study on biochar & bamboo in Indonesia

The following news was posted to the IBI February newsletter:
"A good deal of research on biochar comes from Indonesia, but much of it misses mainstream academic publications. A new three-year project is underway led by Ghent University, Belgium to help the Indonesian scientific community obtain better worldwide standing using their bamboo biochar industry as a sample case."
From the website:
"This networking project in essence addresses the problem of low soil fertility and related food security issues in Indonesia by harnessing the potential of bamboo derived biochar for soil improvement. Given the high scientific and societal impact of biochar research, notably in soil science, the production and use of bamboo biochar (in a limited number of field experiments) will allow us to address probably the main challenge in academic research in Indonesia, namely the limited international impact. Within this project, biochar will be used as a case study to very significantly increase the international impact of the participating universities, through the organisation of workshops on hypothesis testing, on experimental set-up and on scientific writing with impact, through bringing the Indonesian partners into contact with non-Indonesian research institutes with internationally successful biochar research, and through the sharing of experiences and the learning process over the entire project duration. The inclusion of diverse universities from Java, Bali, West Sumatra and Aceh will maximize the overall project impact.ic community obtain better worldwide standing using their bamboo biochar industry as a sample case."

Friday 22 February 2019

Microwave pyrolysis in Malaysia

Journal of Chemical Technology & Biotechnology, 2019

BACKGROUND: Oil palm shell (OPS) is a biomass widely available from palm oil mills. Self-purging microwave pyrolysis (SPMP) was performed to produce carbon-rich biochar from OPS for the adsorption of methylene blue dye. The effect of feedstock amount on the pyrolysis temperature, yield and characteristics of the biochar were investigated.

RESULT: The amount of feedstock was directly proportional to the final pyrolysis temperature. The pyrolysis reached a maximum final temperature of 760 ∘C when ≥300 g of OPS was loaded into the reactor without microwave absorbent. A heating rate of up to 105 ∘C min−1 was recorded, producing a yield of 40wt% of biochar at a short processing time of 20 min. The biochar obtained at 700 ∘C showed relatively low volatile matter (24wt%), higher fixed carbon content (66wt%), carbon (78.5 wt%), oxygen (17.7 wt%), a highly porous structure with high BET surface area of 410m2 g−1 and pore volume of 0.16 cm3 g−1, and recorded a methylene blue dye adsorption efficiency of 20mg g−1.

CONCLUSION: The SPMP approach showed exceptional promise to produce biochar with low H/C ratio (0.5) and O/C ratio (0.2), which indicated a high degree of carbonization and stability of the biochar to act as a durable agent in wastewater treatment.

Thursday 21 February 2019

Biochar & mushroom cultivation - Malaysia & China

Journal of Chemical Technology & Biotechnology, 2019

BACKGROUND: Spent mushroom substrate (SMS), largely produced as an agriculture waste from mushroom cultivation, was transformed into biochar via microwave vacuum pyrolysis under different ratios of SMS to microwave absorbent (1:1, 1:2, and 1:3). The biochar was then examined for its potential to be re-used in mushroom cultivation as a growth medium added to conventional mushroom bag log (plastic bag with mushroom seeds and culture substrates containing rice straw, sawdust, lime and water), with emphasis on its ability to form mycelium – a fungus that grows into mushroom from its seeds.
RESULT: The pyrolysis generated up to 36 wt% biochar yield with a large adsorption area (up to215m2 g-1) and less water (4 wt%), indicating that many adsorption sites are available on which mushroom seeds, nutrient and water can be adsorbed onto in order to form mycelium (and subsequently mushroom). The biochar added to grow mushroom in bag log recorded a higher water retention percentage (up to 59%), a higher mycelium colonization length in 8 days (6.3 cm), coverage area (up to 259 cm2) and total mycelium growth volume (317 cm3), and resulted in a higher yield of mushroom (200 gmonth-1) than that recorded for the conventional bag log without biochar (160 gmonth-1).
CONCLUSION: The results indicated that biochar produced from SMS using microwave vacuum pyrolysis shows great potential in retaining water and nutrient that in turn promotes the formation of mycelium that leads to increased growth of mushroom in its cultivation.

Thursday 14 February 2019

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Bauxite mining remediation

Should this be of interest to Malaysian federal and Kuantan state govt. agencies. But does anyone care about soil and land restoration in Kuantan?

Aged biochar alters nitrogen pathways in bauxite-processing residue sand: Environmental impact and biogeochemical mechanisms


"Low nitrogen (N) content and retention in bauxite-processing residue sand (BRS) disposal areas pose a great challenge to the establishment of sustainable vegetation cover in this highly alkaline environment. The budget and fate of applied N in BRS and its potential environmental impacts are largely unknown. We investigated the effect of combined application of biochars [aged acidic (AC) vs alkaline pine (PC)] and di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) fertiliser on ammonia (NH3) volatilisation, nitrous oxide (N2O) emission and N retention in a 116-day glasshouse study. The application of AC to BRS decreased pH (≈0.5 units) in BRS, while PC biochar increased pH (≈0.3 units). The application of AC reduced NH3 volatilisation by ca. 80%, while PC by ca. 25%. On the other hand, the AC treatment increased N2O emission by 5 folds. However, the N loss via N2O emission in the AC treatment only accounted for ca. 0.4% of applied N. The reduction in BRS pH and increased retention of mineral N due to the presence of oxygen-containing (phenolic and carboxylic) functional groups in AC may be responsible for reduced NH3 volatilisation and increased N2O emission. This study has highlighted the potential of biochar (particularly aged biochar) in improving N retention and minimising environmental impacts in highly alkaline environments."


Sunday 6 January 2019

Rice straw biochar reduces N loss








Ammonia (NH3) volatilization is a major loss of nitrogen fertilizer in paddy fields. The incorporation of straw or biochar has been considered to be the alternative options for soil improvement and agriculture sustainability. A field experiment was conducted to evaluate the potential role of rice straw and rice straw derived biochar in controlling NH3 volatilization according to the conventional nitrogen fertilizer level (urea, 270 kg N ha−1) during one rice (Oryza sativa L., cv. Xiushui134) growing season. Four treatments comprised rice straw at the rate of 8 t ha−1 (RS); rice straw derived biochar at the rate of 2.8 t ha−1 (RSBL); rice straw derived biochar at the rate of 22.5 t ha−1 (RSBH) and a control (CK). Compared to straw application, biochar incorporation reduced the cumulative NH3 volatilization (about 20%) from paddy fields significantly (p < 0.05), promoted rice yields and plant N aboveground as well as increased the abundance of ammoxidation amoA genes. In contrast with control, the ratios of NH3-N and total N input for RS, RSBL and RSBH declined significantly 4.15%, 4.40% and 11.12%, respectively (p < 0.05). Reduced NH3 volatilization in RSB treatments were mainly attributed to the decrease of NH4+-N concentration in the surface water, which could resulted from the enhancement of rice growth and the promotion of ammonia oxidation in soil. The increase of soil pH and soil CEC with biochar amendment played an important role on nitrogen retention and nitrogen cycle in soil. These results indicated that the incorporation of rice straw derived biochar instead of rice straw could be a promising approach to control NH3 volatilization and improve rice yield.

Biochar enhances animal growth

Effect of biochar on growth performance of local “Yellow” cattle fed ensiled cassava roots, fresh brewers’ grains and rice straw

Bounthavy Vongkhamchanh, T R Preston[1], R A Leng[2], Le Van An[3] and Duong Thanh Hai[3]

Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, Champasack University, Champasak, Lao PDR
1 Centro para la Investigación en Sistemas Sostenibles de Producción Agropecuaria (CIPAV), Carrera 25 No 6-62 Cali, Colombia
2 University of New England, Armidale NSW, Australia
3 Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, Hue University, Vietnam


In a 56-day experiment with 6 local Yellow cattle fed ensiled cassava root-urea, brewers’ grains and rice straw, there were indications (p=0.08) that after an initial 4-week adaptation to the diet, the cattle were growing faster when 1% of biochar (derived from rice husk) was incorporated in the diet.

Friday 4 January 2019

Apologies to all who have posted comments

I've just discovered 57 comments awaiting moderation!
I did not have blogger configured properly (to get notice of a comment).
Some comments dated back to 2016!
Fixed now.
Humble apologies from the hopeless editor.