USDA Agricultural Research Service Biochar Research
Our research community provides important support and guidance for biochar production and use. Multi-year research can validate claims that we make for biochar, guide the appropriate use of biochars for environmental and agricultural applications according to their composition and characteristics, and stimulate new uses to help diversify markets and help make biochar production viable. At the recent Water Environment Foundation conference we visited USDA-ARS researcher Dr. Isabel Lima . Isabel is a member of the International Biochar Initiative Science Committee and one of many USDA ARS scientists who work on biochar.
The "Carbon Kitchen" at Isabel's Lab
We were treated to a tour of the USDA-ARS Southern Regional Research Center, in New Orleans, Louisiana, where Dr. Lima has been cooking up biochars and activated carbons from manures and crop residues for more than 17 years. Her poultry litter biochar pellets are denser and less dusty than any that we have seen. They do not disintegrate in water. She found that poultry litter biochars are very good at adsorbing metals and should be used for filtration and mine remediation. She assists groups like the Mid-Atlantic Biochar Working Group with biochar options for poultry litter.
Densified Poultry Litter Char
Carbons from sugar cane residues and manures 
She has published many papers on biochars which she has presented at various biochar conferences. She has recently carbonized sugar cane residues including bagasse and leaves. 

As part of the Commodity Utilization Research Unit at the Southern Regional Research Center she has helped develop food products such as a sunflower seed substitute for peanut butter (e.g. Sunbutter ), and test safe use of materials used in the production of sugar. The group also researches nanocellulose from cotton and other agricultural fibers. We look forward to her continued work.
Creating a Roadmap: The future of biochar research at USDA-ARS
The USDA-ARS has extensively studied the agricultural and environmental uses of biochar and the mechanisms that drive improvements in soil health and crop productivity. USBI met with USDA-ARS scientists and other stakeholders with interests in biochar research to develop a roadmap that would facilitate the development of biochar-based technologies and use guidelines.

The meeting was coordinated by Dr. Kristin Trippe and Dr. Claire Phillips (Corvallis, Oregon), Dr. Kurt Spokas (St. Paul, Minnesota) and Dr Jeff Novak (Florence, South Carolina). Participants from the ARS included soil scientists, microbiologists, plant physiologists, microbiologists, chemists, a chemical engineer, a food technologist and national program managers. Other stakeholders included Dr. Mark Johnson, EPA, Holly Prendeville, USDA NW Climate Hub, Jim Archuleta, USDA Forest Service, Wood Utilization Program, Dr. Johannes Lehmann , Cornell University/IBI, and Tom Miles , USBI.

One goal of the workshop was to determine if there is enough scientific information about biochar to develop a more general statement about its benefits for an implementation guidance document. Several knowns and unknowns were identified. Examples of were given of decision support tools that address specific soil properties such as hydraulic conductivity and soil fertility (e.g. ).

Another goal was to facilitate study comparison and the ability to make recommendations for biochar-based amendments. Long term field studies at existing USDA ARS locations were identified. The importance of balancing regional needs with and long term locations was recognized.

There has been significant collaboration across agencies. Participants recognized the collaboration with academics, USDA, USEPA , USDA Climate Hub and private entities.

The workshop resolved to strengthen CHARnet, which is an exiting international network of USDA-ARS and academic scientists. Proposals were made for sharing resources, such as laboratory capabilities, within USDA-ARS. A biochar resource library was proposed to produce, house and distribute well-characterized and agronomically relevant biochars for use in federal,academic and industry-sponsored research.

Workshop participants recognized current economic challenges and the need to demonstrate economic uses of biochars.

A report of the meeting was published in the October 2018 edition of CSA News.
Our challenge as producers and users of biochar is to communicate with USDA ARS researchers to make sure that their investigations are relevant and useful, and to show our appreciation for the valuable work that they do to support our community and our industry.
Thanks to participants who came from around the world to Biochar 2018: