Getting the Biochar Industry Up To Speed: What can we learn from the Pellet Business?

Read the full story from the International Biochar Initiative.

Biochar is seemingly well positioned for success. The world needs improved soils and better use of fertilizers to provide sufficient food in the future. It must also reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Biochar can positively impact these global challenges and, politics aside, these needs are immediate. Biochar’s environmental credentials are exemplary, and it has even been touted as a “geo-engineering” solution.

Given this background and an abundance of good press, why is so little biochar being produced, sold and used? It is worth considering this carefully as the industry plans for its future. Building the wood pellet industry in the US during the 1980s provides some historical perspective for this discussion, and as an early leader of that industry, I will attempt to provide some insight.

Profile: Developing Biochar Research and Production Capabilities in Ghana

Read the full story from the International Biochar Initiative.

When Ghanaian researcher Edward Yeboah was introduced to biochar, his first reaction was that it might go a long way to address the poor soil health situation in Ghana. This was in 2006 while he was working at Dr. Johannes Lehmann’s Lab Group as a Visiting Scientist at Cornell University, US. Edward also met Dr. Saran Sohi, currently of the UK Biochar Research Center, in 2006 and they started a working collaboration in biochar. A year later, Edward won an African Fellowship Programme Award supported by the Gatsby Foundation and traveled to the UK to spend one year working with Dr. Sohi at Rothamsted Research, in Harpeneden, UK where they studied density fractionation approaches to understand soil organic matter dynamics in soils.

Upon his return to Ghana, Edward introduced biochar to the research community through his colleagues at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Soil Research Institute (CSIR-Soil Research Institute). In collaboration with CSIR-Crops Research Institute, Kwadaso, they installed an initial field trial to study biochar. In 2008, Dr. Sohi and Edward got support from the Royal Society-Leverhulme Trust, UK under the Ghana/Tanzania-UK Fellowship for Dr. Sohi to conduct an exploratory visit to Ghana. The interest in biochar that was instilled in the research community during that initial visit has taken off and now a number of institutions and researchers in Ghana are working on biochar.

Update on IBI’s Characterization Standards

IBI’s initiative to create globally-developed and accepted standards for biochar characterization, production and utilization has completed the most recent round of working group discussions. The working groups received valuable feedback from the larger biochar community and they are continuing to determine appropriate test methodologies for physical biochar properties and potential toxins based on existing soil quality and soil amendment analytical tests. The working groups are now assessing  the potential utilization of existing standardized classification and testing procedures for soil amendments such as compost and fertilizers to determine the most appropriate threshold reporting levels for toxicity and physical biochar properties. Standards and test methodology selection has focused on three key elements: biochar-appropriate tests, global applicability, and test accessibility. Discussions held during February and March resulted in the conclusion that Material Safety Data Sheet development will likely become an important part of biochar product labeling for safe transportation, trade, and handling.

The end product of this effort is the establishment of biochar standards developed in a global, transparent, scientifically-based process. The goal in this particular phase of the work is to produce a universally developed characterization and standards document that any of the IBI members or member organizations can utilize as a basis for governmental and third-party certification agencies to develop national biochar standards. IBI will be developing its own biochar material certification program based on these standards. The second version of the standards draft and all other updates are available at:

IBI welcomes all comments and suggestions from the biochar community as we proceed with development of these critical standards. An additional public comment period will be established when the standards have been completed, and prior to publication, as well.

Biochar – putting carbon back

Read the full story at New Agriculturalist.

If burning fossil fuels has caused global warming, trapping atmospheric carbon dioxide in a stable, solid form and putting it back in the ground could be part of the solution. Made from organic wastes such as crop residues, rather than cut timber, ‘green charcoal’ is more eco-friendly than traditional charcoal. Moreover, when a finely chopped form of green charcoal known as ‘biochar’ is used as a soil improver, it not only sequesters carbon dioxide, but retains water, nutrients and growth-promoting microorganisms in the root zone, resulting in much improved crop yields.

Guidelines for the Development and Testing of Pyrolysis Plants to Produce Biochar

Download the publication from the International Biochar Initiative. The publication is designed to assist in the development and testing of small pyrolysis plants. Because there are personal and environmental health and safety risks inherent in producing biochar, IBI has developed these Guidelines to assist in the safe and effective development and testing of biochar production technologies.