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2013 North American Biochar Symposium: Science, Passion and Practice

Carbon Capture, Co-Products, Feedstocks, Forestry/Wood, Massachusetts, Original Writing, Opinions Advanced Biofuels USA, Other Conferences/Events, Presentations, R & D Focus
November 25, 2013

by Danilo Gusmao de Quadros (Advanced Biofuels USA)*  Biochar is a black matter produced by pyrolysis of biomass (burned without or with a little amount of oxygen), which can be used as a soil amendment. Pyrolysis is a thermochemical process that has been used to produce biofuels from feedstock through the conversion of bio-oil and syngas, resulting the co-product biochar.
Dan at NESFIIn the beautiful countryside of Massachusetts, at U-MASS (University of Massachusetts) auditorium in Amherst, from October 13th to 16th the 2013 North American Biochar Symposium took place. While the brown leaves were falling from the trees and people were overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape, this passionate community at the conference seemed to be thinking about how to transform the dry leaves’ beauty into biochar. Great interest in recent discoveries motivated more than 300 attendees to listen to the researchers carefully and to participate in a full schedule, from the morning to the evening, with plenaries and tracks, discussing many topics about the production, commercialization, and utilization of biochar.
Biochar plenaryThe plenaries were conducted by experts from organizations and academia giving us the real scenario of the relation among biochar and agriculture, energy, education, and sustainability.
The tracks themes were so interesting that would be great to multiply yourself to be able to participate simultaneously in many sessions. Unfortunately, we are just one, and the choice about what to watch was a difficult decision. We had four options: feedstocks and production; benefits of biochar; scales, sales, and market; policy and community engagement. Although the sessions were all filmed (http://www.youtube.com/usbiochar ), it is not the same as being there in the flesh.
Biochar Tech Field DayBiochar has been used in organic agriculture and sustainable systems, however in addition I noticed an increasing market, such as: houseplants, gardens, horticulture, nurseries and greenhouses.
The presence of farmers and small business owners was one of the highlights of the symposium. They exchanged experiences about improving devices to produce biochar using  available feedstocks. With academia represented by professors and graduate students from universities, the attendees had the opportunity to learn about the influence of the production process (temperature and time) on biochar quality, considering physical and chemical traits, having access to the results of its application on soil fertility and plant nutrition, soil carbon sequestration and storage, water soil capacity, soil remediation (absorbing heavy metals), and crop production.
Biochar Tech Field Day 2 (2)Representatives of many organizations described replicable experiences using biochar which focused on renewable energy, agriculture, sanitation and social sustainable development. These presentations inspired  the audience to use biochar and work together for a better world.
The banquet was an enjoyable time to taste biochar-produced food. This was an effective way to attract the local farming community to the conference to demonstrate the benefits to them of using biochar as a soil amendment.
The last day we had a very interesting Tech Field Day, where we were shown the new devices to produce biochar in small and large scales, putting into practice the knowledge learned in theory. One more time, the presence of growers and small farmers of the region was amazing. The extended, practical part of the symposium is an idea to be followed because it creates a direct link from the science to the application, educating people, and involving the local community, and enabling them to recognize the university’s role and its importance.
The closing of this event was epic and unique.  People stood up, took the microphone and release their thoughts to build together a new future. It was so rich because it represented the diversity of this sector (researchers, farmers, producers, companies, organizations, and government). (http://scholarworks.umass.edu/biochar/2013/Scale/1/ – closing feedback).
Has the science supported the dreams of the visionaries?
Biochar fits very well in organic agriculture. International organizations have been working hard to spread the many benefits of biochar on the Internet. Scientists, however, do not always say what the visionaries want to hear.
What we could see in the research and practical works presented in the symposium were that the benefits of biochar are unquestionable in many aspects. However, there many variables, such as kind of feedstock, process of production, interaction with soil type, and specie of crop, which affect the benefit:cost ratio. So, biochar is not the miracle powder some people expect. Still to be studied, case by case, is the utilization for long term benefit, considering the environmental benefits and profit for biochar producers and crop growers.
As a co-product of bioenergy production from biomass pyrolysis, where syngas and bio-oils are relevant, biochar is an important component of this equation, contributing positively to the profit of the business.
For futher information about biochar I recommend http://scholarworks.umass.edu/biochar/2013/ to access the material published for the symposium.
*Dan Quadros is Research Scholar at the University of Florida and Volunteer at Advanced Biofuels USA:  E-mail: daniloquadros@hotmail.com
 
If you would like to know more about pyrolysis used to produce biofuels from feedstocks, biochar concepts, its effect in soil properties and the relation with environment, listen to the exclusive interview of Dr. Johannes Lehmann  conducted by Dan Quadros.
Dr. J. LehmannDr. Johannes Lehmann is one of the most important scientists when the subject is biochar. He is a professor of soil biogeochemistry and soil fertility management at Cornell University in New York. During the past 10 years, he has focused on nano-scale investigations of soil organic matter, the biogeochemistry of black carbon and sequestration in soil. As a member of the steering group of the US National Soil Carbon Network, Dr. Lehmann has testified in the US Congress, briefed the President’s council of advisors, and was part of Workgroup 2 on Monitoring and Assessment of Sustainable Land Management of UNCCD. Dr. Lehmann has authored more than 150 journal publications, is co-founder and Chair of the Board of the International Biochar Initiative, and member of several editorial boards.
 
1 – Why produce bioenergy and biofuels from feedstocks?
Response to Question 1
2 – Why pyrolysis (for generating biofuels from feedstocks compared with other options to obtain advanced liquid biofuels or bioenergy)?
Response to Question 2
3 – How are drop-in biofuels produced using pyrolysis?
Response to Question 3
4 – Nowadays, is it competitive in terms of economics?
Response to Question 4
5 – What is difference between biochar and charcoal?
Response to Question 5
6 – Could you explain the relationship between biochar application and carbon sequestration?
Response to Question 6
7 – What is the relationship between biochar and water in soil?
Response to Question 7
8 – What are the main points to characterize the biochar?
Response to Question 8
9 – How do you see the biochar market in US?
Response to Question 9
 
How do biochar and biofuels production through pyrolysis fit in a business world? To discover this and much more listen to the exclusive interview of personnel of Amaron Energy conducted by Dan Quadros.
Dr. Eric EddingsAmaron Energy is a research and development firm focused on clean, renewable technologies for producing energy through next generation pyrolysis of biomass. It has produced and commercialized pyrolysis units including mobile devices.
Dr. Eric Eddings is a professor at University of Utah, College of Engineering. He has been a collaborator at Amaron Energy doing research and development. His research is in the general areas of practical combustion devices and the utilization of solid and liquid fuels, as well as in the development of alternative fuel resources.
Tom Gardner conducts Business Development at Amaron Energy.
1 – What is pyrolysis?
Response to Question 1 by Dr. Eddings
2 – How are biofuels produce using pyrolysis?
Response to Question 2 by Dr. Eddings
3 – Could you list the advantages and limitations of pyrolysis compared with other technologies to get biofuels from feedstocks?
Response to Question 3 by Dr. Eddings
Response to Question 3 by Mr. Gardner

Tom Gardner
4 – People that are looking for Amaron Energy are more interesting in bio-oil, syngas or biochar?
Response to Question 4 by Mr. Gardner
5 – How to solve the logistic feedstock issues in lignocellulosic-based biofuel production?
Response to Question 5 by Dr. Eddings
Response to Question 5 by Mr. Gardner
6 – Talking about the Amaron Energy firm, how was the process of research and development of the pyrolysers?
Response to Question 6 by Dr. Eddings
7 – Could you give some examples of biofuel and biochar yields using Amaron’s technology?
Response to Question 7 by Dr. Eddings

1 Comment

  1. Karen Ribeiro
    Karen Ribeiro November 30, 12:23

    Great article and photos Danilo!
    Your interviews will be especially helpful in educating people about biochar and supporting the industry growth. Readers may also be interested in the conference presenters’ materials found here: http://scholarworks.umass.edu/biochar/2013

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