Adelaide Hills Biochar Initiative


by Brian Lewis - July 7th, 2017.
Filed under: Articles.

Extract from a letter from Tom Miles, Chairman, International Biochar Initiative, 7 July 2017.

Sustainable agriculture and soil fertility have been central to the terra preta/agrichar/biochar development since the beginning of the current development efforts (2003-2017). Carbon sequestration was much touted as a potential source of funding for biochar production and use but never the only focus. Just look at the literature and the discussions on this list.

In my company we started looking at biochar as a co-product of gasification in about 2003. We had heard about “terra preta” and we had had experience in the 1970s with the beneficial effect of charcoal on crops in poor soils in Central America, on our grass seed crops here in Oregon, and in the 1990s with charcoal as a component of potting media.
Nikolaus Foidl and others had shared their experiences with charcoal on this list and on the improved cooking stoves list.

In 2004 Danny Day held a conference at University of Georgia in which UGA reported on their work with biochar and seedlings. Dr. Makato Ogawa reported to that conference on the relationship of micro-organisms to charcoal and his extensive use of biochar to restore tree health in Japan.

IBI, then International Agrichar Initiative (IAI), was organized in 2006. Erich Knight, Ron Larson, and I started the terra preta email list in 2006 to support the IAI effort. The term “biochar” was coined by the late Peter Reed to replace “agrichar” which had been trademarked by a private company. A lot of this history is on the web.

In 2008-2012 IBI got a boost to develop biochar for carbon sequestration, thanks to the efforts of people like Stephen Joseph who were part of that process. About that time Europe and Australia also invested heavily in biochar research for soil fertility and carbon sequestration.

Recently biochar research and use has substantially increased in China and South Asia. Some of the research has been re-discovering how biochar has been used historically and how to apply it today. For example, charcoal had been used for many years as an essential element of seedling planting mixes by friends working in Central America. Other efforts have been on how biochar can be modified to enhance its properties.

Today, tens of thousands of tons of biochar are used for environmental remediation, soil fertility, and other uses.
Our challenges continue to be to match the different qualities of biochars with appropriate uses, and to learn how to take advantage of short and long term benefits.

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