Biochar in the 2013 White House Science Fair


Meghana Rao attends Jesuit High School and spoke to President Obama about Biochar in the 2013 White House Science Fair

From Tom Miles:
John Miedema and I have been mentoring her biochar projects for about three years. She did her basic research as a high school freshman at Oregon State University under Dr. Markus Kleber with a graduate student in soil science. She won regional competitions and went to the nationals in the Intel Science competitions as a Freshman. She presented that work in Kyoto in 2011 and at Sonoma 2012. That is also the work she described to the President.

Last summer she did an internship at the Joint Bioenergy Institute at Berkeley.


Northwest BioCarbon Summit June 10, 2013


Monday, June 10, 2013
9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture
3501 NE 41st St., Seattle, 98195

For more information:

The Northwest Biocarbon Initiative is galvanizing the region’s top biocarbon innovators – farmers, foresters, community leaders, and thinkers – to demonstrate the essential role that natural systems can play in reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to ensure long-term climate stability.


Biochar from Brush Piles

Method One

From Kelpie's Web site: Green your Head

Since she wrote the article below, Kelpie discovered another way to make biochar from the brush pile, it's a little easier to do if like me, you get sprinkled on by rain while you're burning your pile.


ican Secondary air ports / Deflectors - no air gaps

Pot in the flue as was done in the Swiss Volcano Stove.
Detail of the deflectors above the secondary air ports.

I revisited an earlier secondary air concept that used 3 triangular ports at 120 degrees around the fuel can. Importantly, the the third side of the triangle was bent down into the fuel can to create a vane to increase turbulence.

What I did today was to add three deflectors above the secondary airports/vanes. The deflectors were positioned midway between the ports and just below the top of the fuel can. Thus when the draft can was added, there was effectively no secondary air gap at all.

While this is only one run to see if the would work, the results were very good. Lots of turbulence. Some good flame noise. At the 15 minute mark I put on a 19 oz can of very cold tap water to boil. It boiled in 15 minutes. After about 30 minutes over the flames and in the flue, there was only a small amount of soot on the "pot". The pot bottom was NOT black. Ambient air temp was about 45f. Little to no wind.

A few pictures:

55 Uses for Biochar

There are some real Jewels in the Ithaka journal's article 55 uses for Biochar

Mr. Schmidt makes a good point that biochar provides more value when it's used for other purposes before it is worked into the soil, and then he does a nice job of laying out the pathways to do so.

One of my favorites

Cascading uses of biochar in farming with animals.


Biochar perched water irrigation


Perchigation is a means of creating a shallow aquifer using biochar for irrigation.
The advantages are:
It is highly suitable for semi-arid and arid areas to prevent evaporation of water.
Prevent water going deeper into the aquifers there by the ultimate water reaching the plants is limited.
Some of the advantages in this system.
Biochar would absorb the water and other soil nutrients from losses.
The harmful pesticides and chemicals from the soil are taken by biochar
The rainwater is harvested in the ‘biochar aquifer’ created.
The water can be recycled through recovery.
The water gets purified due to biochar in the areas where polluted water is used for irrigation.
Carbon sequestration.
Highly suitable for the cultivation of vegetables, tubers, cereals, chillies, cotton, etc.
Suitable for adoption in the fields, green houses, polyhouses, etc.
For details see:
For any suggestions and comments contact: Design by Dr. N. Sai Bhaskar Reddy,


RE:Char Season 2 Char Study

 Biochar + sanitized human urine produced the highest yields of sorghum

The Re:Char team did a nice job synthesizing the results of the second test year on their plots in Bungoma County, Western Kenya.

All test plots are managed by local Kenyan farmers according to local customs and all plots have similar light and rainfall. The study is not scientific or peer reviewed, but it's a good on the ground demonstration of actual farming techniques practiced in that area of Kenya, and can be considered a practical model of biochar inputs.

In this part of Kenya, some farmers use chemical fertilizer, which helps the crops grow, but not as much as manure. However, the cows in this part of the world tend to be open grazed, and it's difficult and time consuming to clean up the manure.

Soil Fertility Projects

The Soil Fertility Project is an interesting project that attempts to use biochar to address soil fertility and climate change both in Wales in weed eradication projects.

In the Indian project ( The participants started by using the Anila stove to product biochar, but found that it was unworkable. Now they are using a digestor to process wet waste, get some energy, and use the slurry for fertilizer. They are also using a small BiG Char unit to process green waste into biochar.

Field Trials: 

Australian Study, Compost and Biochar amendments for increased carbon sequestration and soil resiliance


James Cook University in Australia are working on a research project where biochar is specifically mixed in at an early stage of the composting project, COMBI-mix, to determine the impact on carbon sequestration and model the impacts on the agricultural impacts.

direct link:

TESS project leader: Michael Bird


Hope Mine Biochar Project

Hope Mine was one of the first, and certainly the largest, whole-mine reclamation project using biochar. Hope Mine was formerly a silver mine and it's situated close to Aspen, Colorado.

The USFS took charge of it in 2003, and the grey rock taillings had no vegetation and posed a potential threat to Castle Creek, Aspen's water supply. With this project, there was no evidence of heavy metals leeching, but the the bare rock didn't support vegitation, and could potentially pose a threat to the aquifer.

the results are quoted:

The project proved to be incredibly successful. xx test plots were created to study different levels of biochar,compost, and mycorrhizal fungi mix. The preliminary year-one results showed:


Biochar reduces methane emissions and improves growth in Cattle

In their study in Honduras, the authors carefully mixed rice hull char (made in a TLUD stove) with cassava chips and foliage and fed that to cattle, while doing a careful control, and measuring the health of the cattle as well as their methane emissions. The results are encouraging.

Twelve local “Yellow” cattle with initial live weight ranging from 80 to 100 kg were assigned in a completely randomized block design to a 2*2 factorial arrangement of four treatments with three replications. The factors were: biochar at 0.6% of diet DM or none; and potassium nitrate at 6% of diet DM or urea at 1.83% of diet DM. The basal diet was cassava root chips fed ad libitum and fresh cassava foliage at 1% of LW (DM basis). Sodium sulphate and sodium chloride were added to the diet at the rate of 0.4% and 0.5% in the DM. The trial lasted 98 days following a 21 day adaptation to the diets.

Field Trials: 

South Africa: Create Biochar with a Trans-Portable Kiln Method

Vithusa Biochar Kiln

Vuthisa Technologies in South Africa have been working on improving the Portable Metal Kiln Charcoal Making Method and using a retort design to reduce emissions and improve efficiency making charcoal.

They have a great description with lots of detail on their web site:
as well as a Google Group:!forum/portable-kiln

In short the system is composted of an outer drum, often fabricated of sheet steel enclosing an inner set of 30 gallon drums.


Antioch University, Seattle, Biochar Workshops

Antioch University's Seattle campus is hosting two more weekend workshops in making Biochar:

  • November 17 and 18, 2012
  • April 27 and 28, 2013

In the last workshop in August, AUS students and alumni made 6 biochar stoves out of 55 gallon drums.

They used himalayan blackberry and reed canary grass as feedstocks and made some biochar that they use dot amend the soil around several of the cherry trees on the farm. This would be a fun workshop to learn about making and using biochar.

For more information visit the Antioch University web site:

Practical advice for using Biochar in Poultry Farming

From the Ithaka journal, "Biochar in poultry farming "

This is a practical article that provides simple advice for using biochar to help manage disease in commercial poultry operations. The authors point out that many birds end up spending time in direct contact with their manure and suggest blending 5-10% by volume biochar into the bedding or silage used to in the coops and poultry houses can help the birds resist diseases in addition to helping filter the ammonia and reducing the impacts of the bird wastes.

The primary article also gives specific recommendations for using biochar in feed to help prevent intestinal diseases, and they recommend the following studies:

Field Trials: 

ArboChar - Arboriculture and Biochar

MASS Laboratory has been working with Bartlet Tree Experts on an series of plot tests, and field tests to study the use of biochar in caring for trees, particularly urban street trees.

MASS Laboratory has a great description of the work here:


22% Biochar from Feedstock iCan

Student set up using two 15 oz cans and a larger outer can for safety and to protect the fire from wind gusts.
Outer can removed. The secondary air gap is about 1.2 cm
This shows the three 3 cm washers used to create draft deflection back into the mixing chamber in the top half of the bottom can.

Below are a few photos of a novel, at least to me, use of draft deflectors in
combination with a secondary air gap and a mixing chamber above the feedstock,
but below the secondary air gap.

This design is typically yielding abut 22% of the feedstock's weight as biochar.
Passes all of the usual simple tests. Run times in the larger tuna fish cans are in the
42 minute range with 500 grams of soft wood pellet feedstock. I load the bottom
can, of the feedstock chamber, to only about 50% of capacity. This leaves the top
half of the can as a mixing chamber into which the draft is deflected. This creates
thorough mixing of the combustible gases with the secondary air. The result is very
clean stack gas. I wish the many small diesels out there burned nearly as cleanly.



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