USBI Newsletter Spring 2017
  US Biochar Initiative Newsletter Spring 2017
UBET volunteers survey forestry biomass to be turned into biochar
Coaltec has opened a new plant that will convert turkey litter to biochar
From: TOM MILES, Executive Director

As Spring emerges in North America we look forward to new results from commercial and research applications of biochar. During the last three months we have seen new biochar products, producers, and production capacity; biochar field demonstrations and field days; and new research and education. We see more opportunities for learning and improved product acceptance as new biochar amended products compete for shelf space in garden centers.

US Composting Council: Biochar was well represented by six of us at the annual meeting of the US Composting Council in Los Angeles, California. Producers attending were: Phil Blom, Terra Char; Josiah Hunt,  Pacific Biochar; and Michael Whitman, Bluesky Biochar.  After my overview of biochar in North America, Jack Hoeck, Rexius Products, described how he uses biochar in compost to make retail garden products. Dr. Dave Crohn presented interim results from turf trials with biochar and other amendments at University of California, Riverside. Several composters who have used biochar requested that suppliers provide biochars with consistent quality and a standard set of analyses. Others had heard about biochar and were interested to learn how it can be used in composting. 

Webinars: USBI has collaborated with IBI to present webinars on biochar classification, compost and biochar, and biochar analysis. The webinars have been well attended and have raised new questions for biochar research and use. Upcoming webinars include: April 26Sewage sludge and biochar; May - Biochar building materials & Composites; June - Carbonizing Urban Green Waste.   

Biochar Standards: In keeping with our goals from Biochar 2016, USBI has issued a draft working standard for biochar analysis. The draft is intended to provide a common list of analyses to better characterize biochars. It is drawn from existing standards and simplified to reduce costs. The draft will be submitted to producers and will available on the USBI website.

Industry Directory: Our next project will be an online industry directory. The directory will be a convenient place to locate biochar suppliers, technology providers, laboratories, research, experts, and services.         
Meetings: We look forward to upcoming biochar workshops and conferences in California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and West Virginia.  Check our Facebook page for latest info.

USBI Project Reports  
Industry-led biochar standard and reporting program - USBI is spearheading an effort to launch a simplified biochar characterization sheet that can be used by US biochar producers to quickly characterize basic biochar properties for sales information and comparison. While biochar researchers have an extensive toolkit for probing biochar properties needed in research, the biochar industry needs a simpler list of properties and tests at this stage of the industry’s development. The simple list includes items such as basic proximate analysis (fractions of moisture, carbon and ash), bulk density, particle size distribution, water holding capacity, pH and electrical conductivity, as well as surface activity. USBI will publish this list for review and adoption by any biochar producer who wishes to use it, with the expectation that tests and methods will change over time as new information becomes available. If you would like to have input into the initial drafting phase, please contact Jonah Levine at

2018 USBI Conference - Planning is underway for 2018 US Biochar Symposium. USBI is in contact with potential hosts about dates and a venue. Stay tuned for more information coming soon.

USBI Website Upgrades on the Way - The 2016 USBI Symposium website has been very popular as a resource with dozens of presentations from last summer’s exciting conference. USBI also has a website for the organization that is being updated so that it can serve as a resource of information including calendar items, reports, and eventually, a US Biochar Initiative Business Directory. Stay tuned for our new website at 

US Biochar Opportunities
Amazon Smile. You can support USBI through the Amazon Smile program. If you make purchases through, go to instead and look for the “supporting” indicator. You can click on the dropdown button there and choose to support USBI with a percentage of your purchases.

Support Needed for Biochar Forestry Pilot Project.
Drew Veg Biochar is the name of a fuel reduction project on the Umpqua National Forest, near the town of Drew, Oregon. The US Forest Service conducts many such projects on National Forests every year for the purpose of reducing fire hazard by removing dense stands of younger trees, mostly in plantations and areas that were previously logged. Some of the wood may be big enough to sell to sawmills, but much of it must be piled and burned onsite for disposal. This burning produces large amounts of smoke. Umpqua Biochar Education Team has a better idea. They want to turn this material into biochar using simple kilns and conservation burn piles. They need to raise $3000 by April 30 to pay a contractor to build the piles and for other expenses. They are also looking for volunteers to work in the forest making biochar next fall. See how you can help at

Collecting Northwest Biochar Stories. With funding support from the US Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Forestry, the Pacific NW biochar working group is interested in learning about your recent biochar project success stories in OR, WA, ID, and MT. If you are interested in sending a project summary, please contact Matt Delaney at

US Biochar Industry News
New producers include: Oregon Biochar Solutions; two in the South and Southwest, who are still “under the radar”; Airex Energy in Quebec, Canada;  Karr Group, in Onalaska, Washington; Bioforcetech in Redlands, California, has a novel biological drying and pyrolysis process to carbonize municipal sewage sludge; Innovative Reduction Strategies has been testing their prototype mobile pyrolyzer in Edmonton, Canada; a US biochar company is experimenting with small scale power generation; Coaltec Energy will soon begin operating a new turkey litter-to-heat and biochar gasification facility at River View Farms, Indiana; and, two European biochar producers are looking for production sites in the US, one is EBC certified.  

Coaltec Soon to Convert Turkey Litter to Biochar and Power in Indiana. River View Farms will process turkey litter, turkey pullet manure, and hog manure solids, and produce approximately 4,000 tons of biochar per year. Electricity will be generated using an organic Rankine cycle (ORC) generator. The system is expected to be operational in 2 to 3 weeks. More info at

Products and Markets: Airex Energy expects to have Canadian Department of Agriculture approval for their biochar product;  Element 6 Products has obtained the first California Department of Food and Agriculture approval for a biochar based turf ("Turf Rescue") product; Cool Planet has increased their market presence; Wakefield Biochar is working with associations of landscape architects to encourage biochar use; BiocharNow supplied biochar to sequester mercury at the South River Science Team River Bank Remediation and Restoration project in Virginia; biochar is increasingly included as a co-product in energy projects for heat, power and liquid fuels, like the La Tuque project in Northern Quebec and an ICM Inc. advanced ethanol plant in Kansas; the UBET Drew Veg project explores ways to recover forest residues as biochar; biochar is finding its way into odor control products like EcoPett animal bedding and litter; and, Kellogg Garden Products has incorporated biochar in new soil amendments.   

Kellogg Garden Products introduces Biochar Amended Blends in California (Photo: Pacific Biochar)

Biochar Science
Biochar research: A wide range of research topics has been covered recently including the use of biochar to: improve anaerobic digestion ; remove pharmaceuticals from urine;  improve nitrogen efficiency and slow release in soils; reduce emissions from open burning; enable closed loop waste processing at a dairy farm; biochar and wood ash amendments for forestry in the lake states; feasibility of converting shelterbelt biomass to biochar; effect of biochar on yields in crops and turf, and  rangeland improvement.  Findings with less positive, or even negative, impacts from certain types of biochar in specific applications help the biochar industry clarify when and where biochar is best suited and where it should be avoided.  The California Biochar Research Advisory Board began its activities with a survey to its members soliciting the state of the art in many aspects of biochar. See the USBI Facebook page for research updates.   

Fun Fact: It’s Electric! Cornell researchers have discovered that one way the biochar promotes microbial life in soil is through its electrical properties. A new paper published in Nature Communications (Rapid Electron Transfer by the Carbon Matrix in Natural Pyrogenic Carbon) describes how biochar improves the “wiring” in soil by providing better conductivity than soils without biochar. See more at: Cornell News

Inspirational Quote
From Teddy Roosevelt, with modifications by USBI Board Member, Kathleen Draper, in response to recent challenges to biochar:
"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the (wo)man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust (biochar!) and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so this his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither knew victory nor defeat."
Upcoming US Biochar Events
April 8 - Michigan Biochar Demonstration. Come join us for a fun afternoon of Biochar production presented by: Michigan Ecovillage, Eco-Mash & Sierra Club Agriculture and Food Committee. Mendon, MI 12:00 noon to 4 pm. More information here.

April 26 - International Biochar Initiative Educational Webinar Series , Sewage Sludge & Biochar   1:00- 2:30pm EDT Dr. Saran Sohi , University of Edinburgh, will provide an overview of scientific research biochar derived from sewage sludge, including the potential for recovery and re-use of phosphorus. Jeff Hallowell, Biomass Controls, has collaborated with the Gates Foundation to carbonize human sewage in India. He will share an overview of the project, lessons learned, challenges, and opportunities. An interactive Q&A period will follow at the end of the Webinar. More information here.

May 6 - Biochar 101: Making Biochar from Woody Biomass. Sponsored by  Northwest Natural Resource Group  San Juan Island, WA 98250. Register here. 

May 12 and 13 - Firewise Expo Biochar Demonstration. Wilson Biochar Associates and members of the Umpqua Biochar Education Team will demonstrate biochar kilns and conservation burn methods at the Southern Oregon Firewise Expo at Jackson County Fire District 3; 8333 Agate Road in White City, Oregon. Join federal, state and local fire, forestry and emergency partners on Friday, May 12th and Saturday, May 13th from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

May 20 - Carbon Farming & Biochar Workshop. A one day workshop is being held on May 20th to provide education on carbon farming methods and biochar.  The workshop will review proposed carbon farming legislation for the state of New York and its potential impact on farmers. Speakers include USBI board member Kathleen Draper and biochar researcher Johannes Lehman. Demonstrations on how to make biochar at home, on farm and industrial scale will also be on display. The event will be hosted at the Boathouse Beer Garden (6128 State Route 89, Romulus, NY 14541) from 10am to 4pm on Saturday May 20th. Registration information can be found at:\events. For more information contact Kathleen Draper at

June 1 - The Illinois Biochar Group (IBG) will hold its next meeting on Friday, June 2nd, 2017, 11:30 am to 3:30 pm at the USDA's National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois. It will begin with a lunch and networking session from 11:30 am - 1:00 pm. A tour of NCAUR will be available at 12:30, presentations will start at about 1:15, followed by networking. Agenda will be available in May .  If you are interested in presenting a short 10-15 minute talk about your biochar work, please contact Steve Peterson ( or 309-681-6325) by May 19th

June 12-16 - Biochar from the Ground Up. This is a four day intensive workshop hosted by The Farm, Summertown, TN.  This workshop is focused on providing an overview of non-soil uses of biochar uses including its use in building materials, filtration, livestock farming, sewage sludge, and remediation.  It will provide a review of research and current practices on uses, production, regulations and more. More info and registration here.

July 14 - First Annual West Virginia Biochar Showcase. Biochar Education Initiative for poultry growers, landscapers, researchers, educators and farmers.Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College. 316 Eastern Dr, Moorefield, West Virginia 26836

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