Guest blog: Building Northwest biochar markets
The Building Northwest Biochar Markets workshop brought together producers and consumers for char, as well as researchers, engineers and potential regulators for biochar projects from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
By Erin Rasmussen
TR Miles Technical Consultants Inc.
Washington Department of Natural
Resources was kind enough to host a meeting of Biochar stakeholders at their
headquarters on November 20th. Mark Fuchs with the Washington
Department of Ecology organized the event with Climate Solutions. Sixty people representing biochar researchers, producers, consumers and
representatives from state and local agencies all met to compare
notes, discuss projects and chart a path for local producers and consumers to
use biochar to help address Northwest problems.
In recent research and practical trails, biochar (pyrolyzed biomass) has shown a lot of potential in some key northwest industries. In agriculture, it has been used in field trials to increase drought resistance in plants, keeping applied compost in the root zones of plants, and keeping phosphorus and other nutrients out of nearby streams and waterways. Research and local experience shows that biochar used in the livestock and poultry industries can be used to mitigate some of the problems caused by animal urine and feces, and that composting with biochar can increase the agronomic value of composted animal manure. In forestry, biochar technology can be used to dramatically reduce air emissions from slash and burn piles and also improve the forest ecosystem. In urban areas and on roadways, biochar can be mixed with compost or used with other media to capture metals, and keep them out of local watersheds. Additionally, protocols are being developed to reward biochar users for sequestering carbon when they put biochar in the ground. These are great trends, and current research is helping us understand how biochar works, and how to use this new tool in the toolbox for people in these fields.
The Building Northwest Biochar Markets workshop brought together producers and consumers for char, as well as researchers, engineers and potential regulators for biochar projects from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. They split into working groups for part of the day to evaluate the needs and applications for biochar in the agriculture, forestry, stormwater, and ecosystem services projects. Then, together they discussed the short and long term needs in those areas, the opportunities for biochar, and started work that we hope will lead to good demonstration projects and best practices that will set the standard for effective use of this new technology.
The meeting resulted in the creation of the Pacific Northwest Biochar Working group, and identified a set of priority projects to help make biochar .a useful tool for local economic development, stormwater filteration, ecosystem remediation, agriculture and horticulture. Biochar isn’t a panacea, but it can be used strategically to improve our local quality of life, provide some valuable jobs, and reduce atmospheric carbon.