Biochar Basics

December 23, 2011

Illustration from Cascadia Biochar

“If you could continually turn a lot of organic material into biochar, you could, over time, reverse the history of the last two hundred years…We can, literally, start sucking some of the carbon that our predecessors have poured into the atmosphere down through our weeds and stalks and stick it back in the ground. We can run the movie backward. We can unmine some of the coal, undrill some of the oil. We can take at least pieces of the Earth and – this is something we haven’t done for quite a while – leave them Better Than We Found Them.” Bill McKibben

PHLUSH researcher Jeff Holiman summarizes biochar’s benefits and its contribution to TPS as follows: “Biochar can be a beneficial for a variety of reasons: potential to provide habitat for soil bacteria and fungi, improve water retention, requiring less irrigation, improve cation exchange properties, binds up some heavy metals (Cu, Ca, Zn), sequesters carbon, etc… It really depends on what type of feedstock is being charred and the conditions of pyrolysis. Because of its affinity for nutrients, it is important to “charge” it with compost. Dr. Ralf Otterpohl et al. outline in Terra Preta Sanitation, acid fermented human excreta and bio-waste is perfect for adding nutrients and life to biochar. In this process waste is transformed into substrates that can further build life in the soil. Compared to aerobic decompostion (thermophillic compost), this process avoids immediately losing much of the carbon in the form of carbon dioxide gas.”

Biochar  1-page introductory overview with good illustrations.

Biochar Origins, Markets, Products and Processes.  Interesting slide presentation by T.R. MIles.

Biochar: implications for agricultural productivity.  Jessica Sparkes and Peter Stoutjesdijk Research by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences. Technical Report 11.06 December 2011

IBI Developing Country Biochar Systems Survey: Methodology and Results.  Prepared for the World Bank 11 May 2011 By Kelpie Wilson IBI Project Development Director.

Groups / Websites

International Biochar Initiative

Pacific Northwest Biochar Initiative  “This PNW Biochar group has quickly gathered together an amazing brain trust and the represented skill sets could literally design, engineer and implement a vertically integrated sustainability model that treats excess atmospheric carbon as a resource to be harvested “

SeaChar.Org    The Seattle BioChar Working Group is a grass-roots, 501c3 nonprofit organization. SeaChar.Org’s global mission is to develop, promote and share positive tools for carbon negative living. 603 Stewart Street, Suite 906, Seattle, WA 98101. See also Facebook page.

BioChar in Schools  Makes available How to make the Dome School Biochar Stove , a six-page illustrated instruction manual from a primary school in Cave Junction, Oregon. Click on the link below to download the file.  Air Terra Calgary based not for profit

Canadian Biochar Initiative  has long list of needed research.


Prairie Fires & Earth Mounds: The Ethnoecology of Upper Chehalis Prairies  Linda Storm [Published in the Washington Native Plant Society journal Douglasia 28(3):6-9 – Summer 2004] Evidence that Mima Mounds in Thurston County WA are anthropogenic.

Biochar kiln video.  7-min vid of high school students building and using a biochar kiln

Lists and online groups

Biochar Discussion List Website. Tom Miles is owner and sponsor of and

Discussion lists on Biomass Cooking Stoves, Gasification, & Terra Preta

SeaChar general newsletter sign up.
IBI Twitter @Biochar_IBI

Other articles

A new growth industry?  Biochar could enrich soils and cut greenhouse gases as well.  The Economist. Aug 27, 2009.


According to the YS Biochar Initiative, Biochar is sold as a soil amendment for up to $500 per ton or $12.50/50 lbs plus shipping

Our Mission Through education and advocacy, PHLUSH helps local governments and citizen groups to provide equitable public restroom availability and to prepare for a pipe-breaking seismic event with appropriate ecological toilet systems.

Our Vision Toilet availability is a human right and well-designed sanitation systems restore health to our cities, our waters and our soils.

Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH) was founded in Portland, Oregon and today collaborates with groups across North America.

PHLUSH is a member of the World Toilet Organization and a partner in the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance.

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