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Dec 18, 2011, 6:19:30 PM12/18/11
to Biochar
Are there any active group owners/anyone mind if I request to be this
groups owner?

Brendon Evans

Dec 19, 2011, 3:51:39 PM12/19/11
I don't think I ever received an email after joining a year or so back so it
would be great to have someone motivated at the top. I still find the
subject very interesting and promising so would like to receive more



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Jim C

Dec 19, 2011, 5:00:45 PM12/19/11
No problems here.  I was wondering if this group was still active or not...

On Sun, Dec 18, 2011 at 6:19 PM, Ipad41001 <> wrote:
Are there any active group owners/anyone mind if I request to be this
groups owner?

Nando Breiter

Dec 20, 2011, 4:16:22 AM12/20/11

There is a much more active biochar group here:

To me, after having been involved rather deeply for the last 4 years, biochar remains both interesting and promising. However, I've found it very difficult to get biochar to work financially. Pyrolysis is simple in concept, but in practice, easily available feedstocks are often too moist, have different or too large (or too small) particle sizes. Sophisticated pyrolysis and feedstock preparation technology can overcome these obstacles, but it is necessarily expensive. Transporting feedstock over even a small distance become prohibitively expensive.

Interest in mitigating climate change has waned in recent years. Biochar was never a good fit to existing carbon markets anyway, sequestration in soils is not well accepted as a methodology because of the uncertainty. Nevertheless, carbon is being exhausted in agricultural soils and biochar is an excellent way to restore it, especially in tropical areas where humification doesn't work well in the first place to build up soil carbon. To me, recycling carbon back to the soil makes a lot of sense. Again, the tough part seems to be wiggling such sensibility into an economic model that would work at scale. The economic highways we have cut through society have made certain goods quite cheap, especially food, but at a cost of inflexibility.

I think a lot of farmers would love to be able to increase the carbon levels of their soils with biochar. I worked for a time on a biochar project with a company in South Africa with fruit orchards across the country. The management team was very excited about the it. Carbon levels in most soils are poor in the region, depressing potential yields by 50%. The feedstock necessary is right at hand in the form of pruning waste. Gross financial yield per hectare is very high - increasing fruit yield by 50% can mean an additional $10,000 gross income per hectare for an apple orchard (instead of a few hundred dollars at most for grains) . Seems like a perfect scenario ... except that the orchard we worked with on a trial basis was barely making ends meet and didn't have the capital to invest in biochar production and incorporation. First year trial results were somewhat inconclusive, which was predictable given the fact that the char was added in a root pruning trench running alongside the trees just before the growing season began. Seeing those results, management gave up on the trial.

If I were to do it again, I'd set up a simple, very small scale trial, to make sure it was affordable, and run it for 4 or 5 years. On the way, we concluded that it was probably only affordable to incorporate the biochar in new orchards, but then you don't see results until the trees sufficiently mature, so that takes years (of investment before seeing any returns). I have ideas how a machine might be designed to inject biochar in the root zone of orchard trees with minimal damage to the roots, but even with such a machine, incorporation would be expensive. I'm convinced it can be done, but it would take a very dedicated, savvy orchard manager and years of experimentation to find ways to implement such a project.

I've had a string of promising biochar projects collapse like the above. It's made me wiser and much poorer than I would have been had I not gotten so involved.

The ideals of biochar are certainly worthy. Implementing them at scale will take patient, on the ground experimentation over many years and investment beyond that which most farmers would be able to undertake. Anyone wanting to get involved at scale should be ready to be in it for a long and probably expensive haul.

For the hobbyist, the guy or gal with a garden, or for small scale businesses making a biochar-based substrate, the path is much easier, and much less risky.

Kind regards,


CarbonZero Project
Via Rompada 40
6987 Caslano

+41 (0)91 600 9601
+41 (0)76 303 4477 cell
skype: ariamedia

Erich Knight

Dec 20, 2011, 12:46:43 PM12/20/11
Thanks for the round up Nando,

I have forgotten who started this google group, the 4 Yahoo groups collectively have 1400 subscribers and are very active.

All my news
is cced to this one SE-Google group, so you don't have to join all 4 of the bellow Yahoo discussion categories;

I'm sort of the cub reporter of the Yahoo lists, search under my name for breaking news on all aspects of biochar , most all other questions can be searched for here;
IBI Media page:

Biochar data base,    TP-REPP
Nice category tabs, (also,archive of first years list posts before moving the dicussions to Yahoo) ie  ;





Current Yahoo Biochar Discussions
 The  Biochar List  at Yahoo has split into specialized areas of focus ;

Disscusion Groups;
The group home page location, General orientation:
Biochar (
Biochar POLICY;
Biochar Soils;
Biochar Production;

If you want to see my current best summation for a talk to the EPA directors of north America, read the talk and links on this thread;
"Five minutes with Lisa Jackson et al"
at Yahoo Biochar full report on the Commission for Environmental Cooperation talk, June 22
Other applications Not included in the CEC talk , are current Biochar mercury remediation work I instigated with DuPont & ORNL in Waynesboro, VA, showing a 95% reduction of Hg moving up the food web, and the Japan Biochar Association's work toward radionuclide remediation.  Also as a feed ration for livestock (1/2 CH4 belching) & aquaculture (2X size);

From US Biochar 2010 Conference at ISU;
The most recent overview of biochar and its benefits, These authors have done a very nice job of distilling a great deal of information about biochar and applying it to the US context:

US -Focused Biochar report: Assessment of Biochar's Benefits for the USA

Can't wait to here of your work.

Erich J. Knight
540 289 9750

John Hatch

Dec 20, 2011, 9:57:26 AM12/20/11

I appreciated your letter very much; the problems with application do seem to be a big stumbling block to adoption. I like some of the things I've read about where it's being trialled in land reclamation projects. I like lower tech solutions; things like suface application mixed with manure or compost and incorporation in the soil using intensive grazing with cattle or hogs. In an orchard I imagine you could try drilling a lot of post holes and filling with a biochar mix. I think, however, that a more effective use would be as part of a larger change in how the orchard was managed with changes in vegetation and management around the trees to improve moisture retention, fertility and general soil health and with biochar providing a supporting framework rather than a complete answer.

Brendon Evans

Dec 20, 2011, 3:11:37 PM12/20/11

Very interesting Nando. Thank you for the information. It is only a matter of time before interest in mitigating climate change becomes a front burner item, although by that time it will likely be too late to turn things around…if it isn’t already.


I know very little about all this but it seems to me that orchards would not be the best type of agriculture to benefit from biochar due to the problems you mentioned. Annual crops on the other hand, where the biochar could be tilled into the soil every few years would be a better fit I would think.


Do oil prices have much of an impact on biochar? Seems like increased oil prices would drive up the cost of many fertilizers, which in turn should make biochar more competitive, I would think, although maybe oil drives up the cost of biochar production as well.


Best regards,



Nando Breiter

Dec 20, 2011, 4:40:19 PM12/20/11

I started the google group many years back. If someone wants to help me moderate it, I'd most likely be fine with that, but there hasn't been much to do.

I used to be much more active on the biochar lists, almost a daily contributor ... 

Nando Breiter

Dec 20, 2011, 4:57:43 PM12/20/11

The drawback to using biochar at scale for broadacre crops is the cost per hectare is high while the increased profit potential per hectare is low, in general terms. Various techniques might help mitigate that gap, but it's an uphill battle to break even from the get go. To put some numbers on that, you could easily invest $10,000 per hectare for the biochar alone at a dosage rate of 20 tonnes per hectare for a potential gross profit gain of a few hundred bucks per hectare and year. The fact that it would cost less to incorporate the char in an open field doesn't help convince the bank, nor the farmer for that matter, to literally bet his farm on biochar.

The numbers look much better for high value per hectare crops.

Cost of oil affects feedstock and biochar transport costs at scale, but not biochar production cost alone.

Brendon Evans

Dec 20, 2011, 5:46:43 PM12/20/11

Makes good since that it is currently only economically viable with the high value crops.


However, I think it is a just a matter of time before the economics make sense. I would imagine that the profit margins will change drastically if they push through the a carbon tax, carbon credits  or some other incentives to reduce carbon emissions. All businesses will be looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprints and large, midsize and maybe even small scale Agricultural operations would be in a good position to capitalize that demand with large scale biochar applications.


I would think some medium size operations would also be viable on the local municipality level (towns/cities) if they were looking to reduce their carbon footprint for a greener image or by mandate if the above carbon taxes/credits etc ever come to pass.


Of course until it makes since economically it will not come to pass.

Nando Breiter

Dec 21, 2011, 4:38:36 AM12/21/11

One of the challenges with biochar is that the economics of each large scale scenario are complex. It isn't necessarily true that biochar is only economically viable with high value crops. We discussed developing a biochar installation with a large Japanese manufacturing firm with the objective to produce steam for their factories as the main economic justification for the investment. They are hesitant, it seems, because we are not a large engineering firm who could guarantee performance of the system, and they of course have a point. We have told them that performance will be highly dependent on feedstock, but that doesn't help to advance the negotiations, which have been ongoing for a year and a half now and seem to have stalled.

Kind regards,


CarbonZero Project
Via Rompada 40
6987 Caslano

+41 (0)91 600 9601
+41 (0)76 303 4477 cell
skype: ariamedia

Erich Knight

Dec 21, 2011, 10:04:53 AM12/21/11
Yes high value crops will lead, I have not reported, or responded to, the many google alerts I get from Marijuana growing forums, but they were early adapters.
In situ bioremediation will also lead the way. along with the feed ration applications.

 Personally, the one most rewarding moment of the year for me was after returning from my talk to the EPA chiefs in Montreal,  I sent the text to the climate change office at DOE with a cc to Dr. Rattan Lal at OSU, the most cited soil scientist in the world, ( or as Dr.Jeff Novak at ARS joked; "In the universe" :). Dr. Lal replied to me with thanks and  was impressed,  commending me on conceptualizing & articulating the concept.  Your humble gardener was On cloud 9 for weeks.
A report , text & links are here;

Instigation of Hg remediation with DuPont ran a close second, ( I would like to contact Dow's counter part, environmental engineer to Richard Landis at DuPont, and brief him about ORNL collaboration to spark them to join in.
 finely  Re-Instigation of field trials at the Rodale Institute with Dr. East, "Robert M East" <>,

Other Biochar News;

Blue Sky Biochar,  a division of International Tech Corporation, is near start up of their TRU reactor to replace coal fired power with Carbon negative power & Char at FaceBook's new server Farm. Their front man is Mike ( )
ITC with decades of experience in pyrolysis for waste feedstock & steel drum reconditioning, now has a purpose built reactor for char production 
International Tech Corp. (ITC)

If you want to put your jaw on the floor look at the "Super Stone Clean Biochar" results of char as a feed ration. the indeterminate growth species of shrimp, clams & eels are just  amazing. For animal health, char as a 3% feed ration for livestock & aquaculture has shown phenomenal results. Ruminant livestock CH4 belching reduced by half and in indeterminate growth species has doubled their size and reduced mortality buy 20% ;

Mine Scarred Land Remediation;
New hope for old mines
Flux Farm of Colorado,
 In collaboration with our project partners (Colorado Department of Agriculture, Colorado State University, BEST Energies, Dynamotive Energy Corporation, Aspen Valley Land Trust, Flying Dog Ranch, and The Community Office of Resource Efficiency), Flux Farm is investigating how application method, application rate (tons per acre), and biochar processing method, impact soil chemical and microbial properties along with the yield of volunteer grass and alfalfa.  The project will also address the total cost, per ton, per acre, to apply biochar to pastures and consider the value of any agronomic benefits and potential revenue from generating carbon credits from sequestered biochar

A Visit From Saint Sustainability

'Tis the night before Christmas
and all through the soils
many creatures are stirring
to lessen our toils.

With Vilsack in our stockings and Salazar in our caps,
We can all settle in for a short Christmas nap...

For planting comes early
and we need time enough
for our charcoal to settle
in microbes and duff

Kyoto will be calling
for carbon to the earth
which will leave us all smiling
full of great mirth

Then from the compost
there came such a clatter
I arouse with my spade fork
to organic matter!

The wee-beasties were popping
in asexual love
the hyphae were shedding
Glomalin gloves
the nematodes writhing
in a holiday feast
a cornucopia for all
from mighty to least

So all the pyrolysis
should scale up, but quick!
to make the Earth jolly
just like Saint Nick!

2012..... the New Dawn for Biochar..... it all makes sense now ..........the end of the Mayan calendar :)

Thanks to all of you for this important work
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