Biochar conference explores its use in forestry, agriculture

Eric Mortenson

Capital Press

Published on July 18, 2016 12:32PM

Capital Press File
Biochar made from bluegrass screenings is shown in this photo. An upcoming conference will focus on research involving the substance.

Capital Press File Biochar made from bluegrass screenings is shown in this photo. An upcoming conference will focus on research involving the substance.


The status and future of biochar is the subject of a four-day conference in August.

The conference, titled “The Synergy of Science and Industry: Biochar’s Connection to Ecology, Soil, Food and Energy,” happens Aug. 22-25 at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Registration costs $375 for the full conference; $250 for students and nonprofits; $150 for one-day attendance.

Biochar is essentially charcoal produced by a pyrolysis process of heating biomass in a low-oxygen environment. The biomass fuel can include such things as logging slash or field straw, which is why it draws interest from the timber and ag industries,

Researchers and industry advocates say biochar has multiple uses in agriculture and forestry. It can provide a quick fix to depleted soil by reducing acidity, retaining moisture and storing carbon. Conference Chair Tom Miles, founder of T.R. Miles Technical Consultants Inc., in Portland, said it’s already used by vineyards in drought-stricken California.

In Japan, biochar develops the strong root systems needed to transplant rice. Commercial cannabis growers favor biochar for the same reason, Miles said.

In Eastern Oregon, OSU dryland cropping agronomist Stephen Machado is in the third year of researching biochar’s use on Columbia Basin wheat and pea crops.

One application of biochar continues to produce a “nice response” in test plots, Machado said.

Wheat yields increased 20 to 33 percent and pea yields increased at a similar rate, Machado said. Soil pH also improved.

“I’m a true believer,” Machado said.

He cautioned that not all biochar products are the same, however. The chemistry of the biomass material used to make biochar and the chemistry of the soil on which it will be applied must be considered, he said.

Miles, the conference chair, said biochar increasingly is used in bioswales to filter stormwater or to capture pollutants, and has been shown to remove phosphorous from dairy manure.

Research is progressing on multiple fronts, and entrepreneurs are jumping into biochar production. The Corvallis conference is intended for farmers, foresters, policy makers, biochar producers and other industry professionals and entrepreneurs.

Online

More conference information, including schedule and registration details: http://usbi2016.org

Additional information is available through the Northwest Biochar Working Group: http://nwbiochar.org



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