2023: My Biochar Whirlwind Year

Biochar interest and activity seems to be increasing at warp speed these days – and none too soon I might add given the climate weirding we witnessed this year! 2023 has been a bit of a farewell tour for me; not from the biochar industry but as the Board Chair of the International Biochar Initiative (IBI), a role that has enabled me to see and do a wide variety of things in this industry over the past 4+ years. Here are some 2023 highlights:

Webinars on biochar are far more common now than they were five years ago when I started doing them for IBI. I’ve enjoyed hosting dozens of these, and this year was no exception. I selected four topics along with some excellent speakers that discussed their work in areas that have the power to transform not just the biochar industry, but others such as wastewater treatment, carbon removal markets, the building trade, and land restoration. These webinar topics were:

  • Forever No More: Biochar and PFAS Mitigation
  • The 1,000 Year Question: Biochar CDR Permanence (and Climate Cooling Services)
  • Concrete Decarbonization: Biochar Leading a Net Zero Pathway
  • Biochar & Mine Reclamation: Cleaning Brownfield & Contaminated Water

All IBI Webinars are recorded and available for free to IBI members, so give the gift of IBI membership for the new year to someone who might benefit from these and so many more! I also helped to host a webinar held by AirMiners called Innovations in New Uses of Biochar and was invited to speak on Sander Reuderink’s CarbleCast about Biochar & Coffee.

Conferences that cover (or should) biochar are also proliferating of late. Some of those that I attended included:

  • Aspen Ideas: Climate – more general climate conference, mostly US focused
  • North American Carbon World – very carbon markets focused,
  • New York State Organics Summit – I was asked to introduce biochar to this community
  • Aim for Climate hosted a global conference in DC focused mostly on sustainable agriculture
  • Bio360 Expo in Nantes, France is one of the best convenings of biochar, bioenergy, biogas companies
  • Irish Bioenergy Association – I was asked to introduce biochar to the IrBEA community then found out that there is already a surprising amount of biochar activity in Ireland!
  • COP28 in Dubai, UAE – I attended as an observer on behalf of IBI and met quite a few folks working in the biochar space, though the biochar topic is still not on the COP Agenda, nor is it included in any NDCs.

Educational opportunities for biochar are also evolving, both in person and on-line learning options. I headed up the development and hosting of IBI’s first Biochar Academy in my hometown of Canandaigua, NY. We welcomed nearly 40 students from 20 countries for two weeks to do a deep dive into all things biochar. Within that 2 weeks, we also hosted a larger gathering of more than 100 attendees for a 2 day Field Day event with the help of NYS Soil Health group. One day was dedicated to in-person presentations about the use of biochar in agriculture and a second day included on-site visits to Spruce Haven Dairy farm using Biomass Control’s BioRefinery to carbonize digestate, a stop at Cornell’s Leland Lab to check out their high-tech research scale pyrolysis unit, another stop at Seneca Farms Biochar to see their flatbed reactor and learn about their success with wood vinegar and finally a visit to Hunt Country Vineyard, a highly sustainable vineyard that has been making & using biochar as well as hosting biochar workshops for years.

The Biochar School, hosted in Torino, Italy, continues to gather an international crowd to discuss mostly non-agricultural uses of biochar. I spoke about the various ways I have used biochar to build my Dwelling on Drawdown home. And I joined as a guest lecturer at Tejas Rajvihar‘s excellent on-line biochar internship program aimed at educating interested students in India about a wide range of topics to enable them to enter the biochar industry. [2024 will bring even more educational opportunities via IBI and Lulea University of Sweden is debuting an on-line Basics of Biochar course for Masters & PhD students.]

Amidst my treks for talks and time-off, I sandwiched in a surprising number of on-site visits to biochar producers and end-users both in the US and abroad. Seeing so many different biochar production scenarios and listening to their challenges and lessons learned has given me some great insight into the variability within this sector. In addition to those mentioned above, here of some of my 2023 biochar visits:

  • Terra Fertilis, Argentan, France. One of the only industrial scale biochar production facilities in France!
  • Biochar made from sawmill cut-offs where excess heat is used to dry lumber at Metzler Forest Products, Reedsville, PA – great demonstration facility!
  • The Clean Burn Company, Calistoga, CA is utilizing 5 Air Burners to reduce fuel loads and clear fire damaged trees. More info here.
  • Visted one of remediation sites being deployed by the Sierra Fund in Nevada City, CA – using biochar to reverse damage from hydraulic gold mining in California
  • Had a great visit with my friend & colleague, John Webster, owner of Go Biochar – Salt Lake City, NV
  • Arti – Prairie City, Iowa – manufacturer of pyrolysis equipment and a fantastic library of biochar made from a wide variety of materials.
  • TigerCat Carbonator 650 at White Feather Farm – Saugerties, NY. More info here.
  • As part of the Swiss Study Tour we visited :
    • Inkoh has a BioMacon pyrolysis kiln and they are using biochar in concrete
  • After the IrBEA conference I visited:
    • Arigna – traditionally a coal company is shifting to biocoal and looking to build a market for biochar in Ireland. They commissioned a large kiln in Q4 2023.
    • Arti Ireland has been road testing the Arti kiln for several years and are focusing on biochar use to replace peat which is being discontinued in Ireland as a growing medium.
    • C-Go (BioenerG) and C-Capsule in Wales, UK where they were doing emission testing for low-tech kilns being piloted in refugee camps in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa.
  • During COP28 I was lucky to meet biochar folks from:
    •  Viqa Investments that had recently started up a CarboForce pyrolysis unit at Camelicious, a dairy farm with 8,500 camels in Dubai, UAE. See my blog here for more details.
    • A Healthier Earth also had a very well-done biochar crop trial display in the Green Zone at COP.

Beyond webinars, conferences, educational programs and visits, I also spoke with countless start-ups, project developers and large global food (and fossil fuel!) companies looking to join the biochar industry. Acting as an advisor to projects looking at using biochar to cap oil wells in Colorado and using it in building materials has also been something that gives me great hope that this industry will continue to thrive in both the short- and long-term future!

It’s been a whirlwind, but I sincerely believe that this is the pace needed to scale in a time period that will make a material difference in rebalancing atmospheric carbon. I look forward to an equally productive 2024!

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