Farmers exploring ‘super soil’ as alternative to chemicals

Read the full story in the Rutland Herald.

As any successful farmer or gardener knows, trying to plant in soil starved of nutrients and moisture almost guarantees failure.

Working with soil treated with carbon “biochar,” however, is like working with dirt on natural steroids.

Carbon coating gives biochar its garden-greening power

Read the full story at Colorado State University.

For more than 100 years, biochar, a carbon-rich, charcoal-like substance made from oxygen-deprived plant or other organic matter, has both delighted and puzzled scientists. As a soil additive, biochar can store carbon and thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and it can slow-release nutrients to act as a non-toxic fertilizer.

But the precise chemistry by which biochar stores nutrients and promotes plant growth has remained a mystery, so its commercial potential has been severely limited.

Now, an international team of researchers, with key contributions by Colorado State University experts, has illuminated unprecedented detail and mechanistic understanding of biochar’s seemingly miraculous properties. The Nature Communications study, led by Germany’s University of Tuebingen and published Oct. 20, demonstrated how composting of biochar creates a very thin organic coating that significantly improves the biochar’s fertilizing capabilities. A combination of advanced analytical techniques confirmed that the coating strengthens the biochar’s interactions with water and its ability to store soil nitrates and other nutrients.

Ag Energy Solutions finds unexpected market for biochar

Read the full story in the Spokane Journal of Business.

Carbon Logic, the first product line to be produced by Ag Energy Solutions Inc., of Spokane Valley, is going to pot—yes, the green leafy stuff.

Ag Energy originally was formed in 2010 to make equipment to convert agricultural waste into energy. For now, however, the company has pivoted its mission to market the byproduct the equipment produces, says David Drinkard, Ag Energy CEO. And one of its first customers is the marijuana industry.

New model suggests scrubbing CO2 from the atmosphere

Read the full story from Cornell University.

New Cornell research suggests an economically viable model to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to thwart runaway, point-of-no-return global warming.

The researchers propose using a “bioenergy-biochar system” that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in an environmental pinch, until other removal methods become economically feasible and in regions where other methods are impractical. Their work appeared in the Oct. 21 edition of Nature Communications.

Environmental Comparison of Biochar and Activated Carbon for Tertiary Wastewater Treatment

Kyle A. Thompson, Kyle K. Shimabuku, Joshua P. Kearns, Detlef R. U. Knappe, R. Scott Summers, and Sherri M. Cook. “Environmental Comparison of Biochar and Activated Carbon for Tertiary Wastewater Treatment.” Environmental Science & Technology 2016 50 (20), 11253-11262. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b03239

Abstract: Micropollutants in wastewater present environmental and human health challenges. Powdered activated carbon (PAC) can effectively remove organic micropollutants, but PAC production is energy intensive and expensive. Biochar adsorbents can cost less and sequester carbon; however, net benefits depend on biochar production conditions and treatment capabilities. Here, life cycle assessment was used to compare 10 environmental impacts from the production and use of wood biochar, biosolids biochar, and coal-derived PAC to remove sulfamethoxazole from wastewater. Moderate capacity wood biochar had environmental benefits in four categories (smog, global warming, respiratory effects, noncarcinogenics) linked to energy recovery and carbon sequestration, and environmental impacts worse than PAC in two categories (eutrophication, carcinogenics). Low capacity wood biochar had even larger benefits for global warming, respiratory effects, and noncarcinogenics, but exhibited worse impacts than PAC in five categories due to larger biochar dose requirements to reach the treatment objective. Biosolids biochar had the worst relative environmental performance due to energy use for biosolids drying and the need for supplemental adsorbent. Overall, moderate capacity wood biochar is an environmentally superior alternative to coal-based PAC for micropollutant removal from wastewater, and its use can offset a wastewater facility’s carbon footprint.

Effects of biochar and marble mud on mine waste properties to reclaim tailing ponds

M. A. Muñoz, J. G. Guzman, R. Zornoza, F. Moreno, A. Faz, andR. Lal (2016). “Effects of biochar and marble mud on mine waste properties to reclaim tailing ponds.” Land Degradation and Development online ahead of print. DOI: 10.1002/ldr.2521.

Abstract: The effects of biochar addition in improving soil physical properties are not clearly understood in mining tailings. The objective of this study was to determine the effects of 3 different types of biochars, in addition to marble mud (MM) and their mixtures, on the structural stability and water retention of mine wastes in Cartagena, Spain. Biochars were produced at 500 °C from pig manure (PM), cotton (Gossipium hirsutum L.) residues (CR) and municipal solid waste (MSW). Biochars were added to the mine waste along with marble mud and a control (no amendments added). These mixtures were incubated in cores for 90 days (25 °C). PM and CR mixed with MM decreased soil bulk density (from 0.98 g cm-3 to 0.89 and 0.84 g cm-3, respectively). Amendments had no significant effect on total porosity whereas they increased gas diffusion by 100%, except for MSW.Marble mud improved the plant available water from 0.59 to 2.56 cm as its combination with biochars, extremely relevant in water scarce climates. The micropores were likely replaced by mesopores when application of PM, CR, MM and biochars + MM and they improved water retention. Total carbon (TC) and total nitrogen (TN) increased by using biochars and MM and no significant effects were assessed on aggregates. In general, MM mixed with PM and CR derived biochar improved the structural stability and exhibited a strong impact in reclaiming physical quality on mine tailings.

Farms Harvest Cuts in Carbon Dioxide via Soil

Read the full story in Scientific American.

Increasingly more research shows that agricultural practices like cover cropping, no-till farming, composting or even the use of biochar can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, boosting the organic matter in the soil.