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Biochar for your Garden and the Planet

1 November, 2016

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world biochar headlines 11 2016

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Biochar properties can vary widely depending on feedstock and processing conditions, which can make meaningful comparisons between biochars difficult. Clear trends can be observed in slow pyrolysis biochar properties over a 300–800°C range of highest treatment temperatures (HTT). These trends, however, are much less consistent for biochars made under slightly oxidizing conditions, such as in gasification and internally‐heated kiln carbonization processes. In this study, slow pyrolysis biochars were produced from corn stover under either pure nitrogen or nitrogen + 5% oxygen atmospheres over a 200–800°C HTT range. For the biochars made at 300 and 400°C, the presence of oxygen in the reaction environment resulted in biochars with properties similar to those of biochars produced at higher HTTs in pure nitrogen. Addition of oxygen has only minor effects on biochar bulk oxygen content or abundance of surface oxygenated functionalities. Thermogravimetric analysis with mass spectroscopy (TGA‐MS) indicated that the apparent increase in HTT for chars made in the O2 environment at 300 and 400°C resulted in the removal of methyl and higher alkyl functionalities in the biomass feedstock. Advanced solid state 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) methods to quantify carbon functional group abundance and aromaticity supported this observation. Overall, addition of oxygen to the pyrolysis atmosphere will increase pyrolysis process severity but will not create oxygenated groups on biochar surfaces as biochar aging does. © 2016 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Environ Prog, 2016

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world biochar headlines 11 2016

Biochar Sa

4 November, 2016

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world biochar headlines 11 2016

Putting carbon back in the ground

4 November, 2016

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Tim Camisa of Vermont Organics Reclamation demonstrates how he makes biochar at his St. Albans business.

Staff Writer

‘I’m all about putting carbon back in the ground.’

ST. ALBANS TOWN — Vermont Organics Reclamation (VOR) co-founder Tim Camisa is waging a war against climate change — and utilizing several unusual carbon-reduction techniques along the way.

One of those is the production of biochar, “stable carbon for 500 years,” Camisa said. “When you put biochar in the soil, soil microbes don’t want to eat it. It does not taste good, or they get nothing out of it, apparently.”

Biochar resembles terra preta, a humanmade, pre-Columbian soil from the Amazon Basin. Many European farmers are feeding biochar to their cows. It’s safely edible, and it reduces the amount of methane the cows release.

Camisa produces biochar on-site with a machine that looks like an industrial fuel storage tank. The machine is called a “retort,” a chamber inside a chamber. At the time of the Messenger’s visit, Camisa had stocked the machine with buckthorn and similar invasive plant species.

The retort’s outer chamber burns material with oxygen, creating ashes. The inner chamber burns without oxygen, creating charcoal. “You can do art with this stuff,” Camisa said, picking up a piece of biochar and writing with it on the retort’s chamber seal.

The process starts with fire, raising the retort’s inner chamber temperature to 700 degrees. It starts off-gassing a syngas, which raises the outer chamber’s temperature to 1000 degrees, completing the process in about 12 hours and producing biochar, stable carbon.

Camisa pointed out the retort’s process involves no fossil fuel, which he said is important to him. “Fossil fuels are the carbon coming out of the ground,” he said. “I’m all about putting carbon back in the ground.”

Camisa’s ideas have not been embraced by the mainstream. He attributes that divide to a major national food movement focused on what’s better instead of what’s best. “We haven’t really thought about it,” he said. “They’re doing their sexy thing.”

To read the full story, pick up a copy of the weekend Messenger or subscribe to our digital edition.

Available in both print & digital formats.

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world biochar headlines 11 2016


5 November, 2016

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Big Deals The Biochar Debate: Charcoal s Potential to Reverse Climate Change and Build Soil

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Read online The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change by Albert Bates

5 November, 2016

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Global Biochar Market 2016 Industry Trend and Forecast 2021

9 November, 2016

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10 November, 2016

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Biochar with Hans Erken

12 November, 2016

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Bioenergy Byproduct to Soil Savior

16 November, 2016

Greg Stangl is a power guy. Self-proclaimed and readily apparent to others, that title has been earned by the CEO of Phoenix Energy after a decade-plus of developing and building small-scale biomass electricity projects. While there may be hundreds of companies working in the smaller-scale bioenergy project space, Stangl has something that most of them don’t: biochar. And, he knows how to use it.

Perhaps more accurately, he knows its worth. But that’s not to say he always did. “We used to give our biochar away at two cents per pound, when we built our first facility in Europe,” Stangl says. “Our plans then were all about electricity—we sold that biochar to people using coal furnaces.”

Partnered up with GE Energy for numerous projects in various stages of development, including a 2-MW plant in North Fork, California, that will break ground in early November, it wasn’t until Phoenix Energy began working in the U.S. that a much different market began knocking on the company’s door to purchase biochar. “Farmers started contacting us for it,” Stangl says. “Now, if someone buys a bulk truckload, we charge 79 cents per pound, and people pay it. It’s an expensive product, but if you have high-value specialty crops with a high capex investment and it has to provide to you for 20 years, it’s well worth the investment.”

Based in California, where a once-thriving biomass power industry has plummeted the past few years, Phoenix Energy’s business model would look substantially different if it weren’t for the sale of biochar, Stangl says. And by different, he means unfeasible. “Imagine if you took 40 percent of our revenue away. If prices stay where they are in California, we will likely make more money from biochar than power in the next several years—it’s insane.”

That reality creates an interesting dynamic when it comes to plant financing. “We didn’t get a bank loan because we have a biochar machine—we got a loan because I walked in with a power purchase agreement from a Triple A-rated, publically owned utility,” Stangl says. “The banks don’t know about biochar, they don’t want to hear about it, and there aren’t forward contracts for it. We did sell our first forward contract this year, but that’s just one. It doesn’t suddenly make biochar financeable.”

But how much biochar can a small-scale plant actually produce? For Phoenix Energy’s 2-MW plants, it’s about 10 percent of the fuel intake. “Around 300 pounds per hour, per megawatt, of softwood,” Stangl says, adding that there’s roughly 44 yards of biochar in a standard truckload. Weight varies by the feedstock used—a truckload holds 22 supersacks of biochar; when it’s made from hardwood it weighs in around 900 pounds, and when made from softwood, around 550 pounds. “We’ve built a plant based on peach pits—that stuff is very heavy, a supersack weighs more like 1,300 pounds, it’s much denser,” Stangl says.

While well aware of biochar’s capabilities and potential—evidenced or proven in thousands of research papers, field trials and real-world application by a growing market—Stangl admits he isn’t an expert on biochar best practices or application rates in the soil as a fertilizer, storm water remediate, odor controller, carbon sequestration tool, and the list goes on. But what he does know is that the farmers and others who are repeat-purchasing in bulk continue to benefit from its “amazing properties.” And, the word is spreading. “For example, someone has come back to us and said, ‘My neighbors trees died when there was a zero water allocation, but mine survived, because I put biochar in when I planted them two years ago,” he says. “Words like that get around, and then suddenly it’s hard to keep up with demand, which leads to a challenge. It doesn’t pay to make the stuff if you don’t know it’s leaving in a timely fashion. Pellet guys, for example, might have two years’ worth of pellets in bags out back. But with our small-sized plants, we can’t afford to sit on inventory.”

And biochar may be just the right fit a certain pellet plants, such as Confluence Energy in Kremmling, Colorado, which alongside several different wood pellet lines, manufacturers biochar, kitty litter, animal bedding, absorbents and other products. If conditions are right, offering up a byproduct like biochar could benefit some mills that have struggled to stay afloat during recent soft winters.

Pellet Plant Coproduct

Biochar entrepreneur Jonah Levine, development manager at Confluence Energy and cofounder of Biochar Solutions Inc., has seen the industry rapidly progress over the past eight years, and shift from a heavy emphasis on the concept of using biochar to gain carbon credits toward use as a soil insulator, stabilizer or fertilizer, uses that have quickly gained traction. “From 2009 to ’13, the industry was growing by about three times annually,” Levine says. “It tapered off a bit, but still grows about one and a half times each year, which is still an incredible rate.”

At Confluence Energy, which installed a system several years after its initial startup, wood residue is carbonized through a vertical, pyrolytic tube, after which it is sent through a horizontal tube and augured out of the active or hot zone. “At the very edge of the hot zone, it’s hit with hot steam, then with ambient water,” Levine explains. “The water quenches the material, and then that material is moved pneumatically through another tube, and into a packaging system that includes screens and size-adjustment capabilities, and then it’s sent into bulk totes. Once it’s in bulk totes, it goes into storage for a two-week holding period, and then at the end of the hold, before it goes to the market, we test with either or both a temperature measurement or carbon monoxide test, which is a good combustion test for safety.”

Not only does biochar diversify a pellet plant’s offering, but heat produced as a result of its production can be captured and reused at the mill. A pellet mill like Confluence Energy might use around 1 MW thermal per hour, and process around 200 tons of wood pellets in a 24-hour period. “During the same time, we can coproduce biochar, as well as about 1 MW of heat energy that fuel switches from the other MW thermal going into the plant,”  Levine says. “So that biochar is producing a consistent head load.”

And, existing assets are another benefit to add to the list. “You’re getting char, coproducing, which is good, and you’re getting heat value, which is really good, and at the same time, your administration and staff is the same, your forklift driver is the same, and the trucks loading and unloading are the same,” Levine says, adding that the existing packaging system allows the company to sell its product to Big Box retailers including Home Depot, Lowes, and Tractor Supply. “All of these shared assets change the economics. It fits into the framework—integrated production should be the future of the space. By putting char inside of integrated pellet manufacturing, or a coproduction of electricity and char, you start to look like a legitimate producer in the biomass industry. In my opinion, biochar only isn’t the most cost-effective approach toward an industry.”

And those working in the space since biochar began to gain momentum just under a decade ago have grown productive capabilities and brought down the cost per unit of material, Levine notes. “In 2009, we were producing [biochar] for 10 times the cost shipped in a barrel that was dry and dusty and couldn’t be handled—the cost of a barrel used was $32.50,” he says. “Now, the cost of a bulk tote is $12, and you can get four barrels’ material in it. This is just an example of the simple but critical changes the market has to go through to become an industry.”

What’s the going price of biochar? That varies with each producer, and it also varies by the quality of char and intended end-use. “The market range is between $500 per yard, being the high end, and $100 per yard. But the question is, what is the char doing, where is it going, how is it created in preparation for that use? An example of high end is activated carbon pricing, which can be anywhere from $1 and $5 per pound. The low end is $100 per yard, and there might be a wide range of ash present, of fixed carbon, and it’s sold via bulk truck delivery.”

One example of high-end, or upgraded, engineered biocarbon, is Google Ventures-backed Cool Planet Energy Systems, which currently has a production facility in California, and a Louisiana site it plans to build an additional plant on, potentially in 2017.

Dubbed “Cool Terra,” it is a carbon-sequestering soil amendment that is engineered to enhance soil health by nurturing microbial life in the soil, and enhancing its water and nutrient-holding capacity, according to Jim Loar, Cool Planet president and CEO. The model is set up differently than most biochar producers today—Cool Planet actually buys biochar in its raw state and puts it through an additional, patented process, but Wes Bolsen, head of global business development, says there is a market for this kind of high-quality, upgraded biochar.

And the company has partnered with ag distributor giant JR Simplot to get the product into the market and in front of customers, the kind of agreement that Bolsen says will be key in growing the industry. “The distribution channel has the critical aspect driving this market, and that’s what we’re bringing,” he says. “We put consistency behind it—customers will know what they’re getting when they buy engineered biocarbon. Through distributor channels, we can reach out to thousands of growers. Individual power plants have some growers who buy it [directly], but that’s not an industry.”

So what does the U.S. and global industry look like today? According to Tom Miles, owner of T. R. Miles Technical Consultants Inc. and board member of both the International Biochar Initiative and the U.S. Biochar Initiative, trade groups focused on exploring cost-effective ways of converting biomass into biochar and ways of using it, right now—in most cases—an energy component is needed. Though production in the U.S. is on the rise, on a global level, China dominates in both production and use.

Domestic, Global Markets

“In the U.S., producers are small from an industrial point of view, but there’s a wide spectrum, anything from making it in a coffee can and using it strategically as a carrier for biopesticides and biofertilizers—you don’t need much, a little bit goes a very long way—to 10-ton truckloads of biochar going into horticultural activities,” Miles says. “Much of it is small, commercial producers making less than a dry ton per hour, but they aren’t necessarily small companies—wood pellet producers making a variety of products, companies combining biochar with nutrients and deformulated products, and some small power plants turning wood gas into electricity as byproducts. Biochar has the potential to help make these very small, 3- or 5-MW or less biomass plants feasible.

China uses a reported 500,000 tons of biochar a year, Miles says, and the industry there is growing at such a rate that the IBI is opening an Asian branch. “In the case of China, it’s being used it to remediate soils that have been damaged by pollution from their coal-burning power plants,” Miles says. “They’ve also been making granulated biochar products used in mainstream agriculture, a point that we haven’t gotten to in any significant quantity yet in the U.S.”

In fact, the U.S. only producer and uses a fraction of what China does, says Miles, who estimates production in the country likely being no more than 20,000 tons per year. But, surprisingly, the number of companies involved in making biochar or technologies is upward of 300, he says, and many that are making it are capable of producing much more. “The challenge here is an energy market in which nobody will pay you enough for electricity or heat to use biomass, and we know there is excess biomass in places like California and the Northeast, where [paid biomass power] prices are very low. So the  challenge is how do we do this, how do we integrate this smaller wood products companies and see the benefit of making biochar and using the offgas from its production in their existing boilers as a form of fuel?”

For companies like Terrachar, which is targeting roughly 40,000-ton biomass plants for the installation of biochar technologies of companies such as Karr Group, those high-value electrical markets such as in California and New Hampshire are an area of focus. “Cogeneration does very well with this process,” explains Terrachar’s Phil Blom. “If you’re using propane or natural gas for heating, that’s an expense we can help cut back on.”

But smaller companies are often capital constrained, and need to see the benefit of an installation that won’t cost a few million dollars. And the only thing that will fix that is maturation of the market. “Everyone’s kind of waiting for the market to develop, but somebody’s got to develop the market,” Miles says. “We need more participation from the organics recycling businesses, and more participation from the agronomics side, the soils people, more people need to discover how biochar can be used in particular situations to be able to gain value…people have been really good at developing the technology to make the black stuff, but they have very little experience in the marketplace and direct market applications. We also have to work with dairy and other animal waste folks to find out best use of chars made from animal waste.”

Miles reiterates that’s not to say the market hasn’t made great strides. “What we’ve learned over the past 10 years is that there are a lot of different qualities of chars that we can use in different ways in agriculture, forestry itself, and storm water and soil remediation—we’ve found a lot uses for the material, and the challenge now is sort of balancing that with where the char come from, what its properties and best uses, and what a company can afford to make.”

The other thing the industry has accomplished is an official definition accepted by the American Association of Plant Food Control Officials, which controls labeling and regulation of fertilizers and soil amendments for the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. That took about three years to accomplish. “Now, everybody in every state and province has a reference point,” Miles says. Biochar has gone from ‘What’s biochar?’ to a buzz, and this year it’s, ‘What quality of biochar do you have available and how much?’”

For Stangl and Phoenix Energy, the quality of biochar it produces is likely to remain as it has, but the quantity has potential to septuple over the next two years at its plants in development. “I do worry about demand—we should really be raising our prices because it is all leaving,” he says.  At conferences, others are talking about biochar research and application rates…but farmers are already buying this by the truckload, and they have been for years. People are out there using it now.”

But growing the market at the rate of plant development could be challenging, Stangl says, as the company is working to respond to California’s push toward small-scale, forestry- and ag-based plants. “We’ve got to grow [the market] fast enough to keep up with the expanded capacity out there, and that’s why I see the opportunity to go beyond ag and into other markets like activated carbon—it’s a $2 billion industry and we bring it all over from Asia in the form of coconut shell. The city of Los Angeles buys over 800,000 pounds of activated coconut shell at about 99 cents a pound, so that we can build houses right next to the wastewater treatment plant and nobody smells anything. Why can’t our municipalities buy it from our own citizens who are using California forest and ag residues?”

For Phoenix Energy, it all comes down to being a biomass plant developer with very valuable byproduct, Stangl adds. “We’re not soils guys—we’re an energy plus biochar company, and it doesn’t work one or the other. I’m not ashamed to admit, we wouldn’t be doing what we are doing today if biochar were not valuable.”

Author: Anna Simet

Managing Editor, Biomass Magazine



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Walking through the 9 treatments of the biochar trials at ISRI station in Lampung on Vimeo

21 November, 2016

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Biochar: A Regional Supply Chain Approach in View of Climate Change Mitigat

22 November, 2016

world biochar headlines 11 2016

Biochar, the “bio gold” of agriculture?

25 November, 2016

The government has set a goal for greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture to be reduced by 40 percent within 2030. In order to achieve this, far more effective measures are needed than what has been proposed so far. To bind carbon through the production of biochar is an initiative with great potential. It also has other, equally interesting benefits to that of the potential greenhouse effect.

In the interdisciplinary project Capture plus, led by SINTEF and financed by the Norwegian Research Council, we are studying the opportunities for implementing sustainable biochar systems in Norway. A national survey has revealed that Norwegian farmers have limited knowledge about the effects and benefits of the production and use of biochar. Eight out of ten farmers have little or no knowledge of biochar as a climate mitigation measure or soil improver, but one in three thinks it is a good action when they are offered an explanation. Seven out of ten say they want more knowledge. Additional benefits such as increased effect of chemical fertilizers and potentially increased harvests are highlighted as particularly interesting.

(This chronicle was originally published in Nationen.)


Read the chronicle by Pia Otte and Jostein Brobakk published in Nationen (our translation) world biochar headlines 11 2016

Response of soil carbon dioxide fluxes, soil organic carbon and microbial biomass carbon to …

26 November, 2016


Researchers from Nanjing Agricultural University reviewed 395 individual experiment observations derived from 50 peer-reviewed publications which were synthesized to examine the response of soil carbon dioxide fluxes, soil organic carbon and microbial biomass carbon (MBC) to biochar amendment using meta-analysis procedures. Their work published in journal, Global Change Biology Bioenergy examined the effect of size of biochar amendment on soil carbon dioxide fluxes, SOC and MBC contents and identified the key factors that influence the response of soil carbon dioxide fluxes, soil organic carbon and microbial biomass carbon to biochar amendment.

world biochar headlines 11 2016

Biochar as carbon-rich co-product of pyrolysis biomass subject to high-temperature and oxygen-derived conditions for biofuel production has been advocated as potential management strategy to improve soil quality, crop yield increase and soil carbon sequestration enhancement.

In order to have an understanding on the effects of soil carbon dioxide and microbial biomass carbon, there is need to have deeper understanding on how biochar amendment effects whether negative or positive. However, inconsistent results from various researchers was observed which may be due to variation in soil type or study methods.

Experiments examined by researchers have shown no systematic synthesis as potential biochar amendment to improve soil carbon sink capacity and its effect on soil carbon dioxide are still under debate in which direction and magnitude of effects seem to depend on variety of factors such as soil properties, land-use type, experimental methods, vegetation presence and biochar characteristics.

For implementation of the experiment the authors conducted a detailed review of literature published in peer-reviewed journals through the year 2014 and data was extracted from 50 published research papers with 395 individual observations including both control and biochar-amended treatments.

For measurement, original documentation included mean soil carbon dioxide fluxes, standard deviation and number of replicates from both biochar-amended and control treatments as well as direction and magnitude of effects stated earlier.

Means of soil carbon dioxide fluxes, soil organic carbon and microbial biomass carbon contents from biochar treatment and control groups were used to compute effect sizes in the form of natural log-transformed response ratio (RR). Meta-analysis was conducted using response ratios where mean effect size for each category was calculated using a categorical random effects model. In addition to meta-analysis procedure, fitting of data to linear and Gaussian distribution functions were carried out using SigmaPlot version 12.0 software. Sensitivity analysis also followed suit in order to test the robustness of meta-analysis.

world biochar headlines 11 2016

Results showed a significantly positive linear relationship as observed between soil carbon dioxide fluxes in biochar amended and control likewise soil organic carbon and microbial biomass carbon contents but carbon dioxide flux wasn’t significant. Key factors mediating carbon dioxide fluxes were seen to be soil texture, pH, vegetation presence, feedstock presence and carbon-nitrogen ratio to biochar amendment. Land-use type and biochar carbon to nitrogen ratio were two critical parameters affecting response of soil organic content while microbial biomass carbon response to biochar amendment was sensitive to almost all parameters.

For land-use change, biochar amendment significantly increased soil organic carbon content 40% across all ecosystem but increased significantly with biochar treatments found in rice paddies. In soil carbon, biochar amendment significantly decreased carbon dioxide fluxes on pot experiments but positive effects was seen in laboratory incubations. There was decrease in microbial biomass carbon by biochar amendment in incubation and pot studies but greatly increased soil organic carbon content when using the three pots.

For soil texture and pH, biochar amendment in coarse soils exerted a significant positive effects on soil carbon dioxide fluxes while significant negative effects were observed in fine-textured soils which had similar result with microbial biomass carbon significantly. Biochar was effective at decreasing soil carbon dioxide fluxes but did not benefit soil organic carbon enhancement in neutral or alkaline soils and significant positive responses of soil carbon dioxide fluxes were observed in moderately acid soils. Soil microbial biomass carbon content was significantly increased by biochar amendment in acid soils relative to in neutral or alkaline soil conditions.

Biochar amendment significantly increased soil carbon dioxide fluxes when synthetic nitrogen fertilizer was applied. Soil organic carbon content by biochar amendment did not significantly differ in soils with or without nitrogen fertilizer application but organic nitrogen fertilizer had the largest increment potential for soil organic carbon. Biochar addition had significantly positive effect on microbial biomass carbon when combined with nitrogen fertilizer or synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.

In meta-analysis, removal of outliers did not change the general results. After removing outliers, the mean effect sizes of biochar treatments was 5% (Cl: -2% to 12%) for carbon dioxide, 40% (Cl: 30% to 58%) for soil organic carbon and 19% (Cl: 12% to 24%) for microbial biomass carbon comparable to 5% (Cl: -3% to 12%), 40% (Cl: 32% to 56%) and 18% (Cl: 12% to 23%) for carbon dioxide, soil organic carbon and microbial biomass carbon when all datasets included respectively.

Limited range of study durations did not allow examination of effect of biochar aging on soil carbon dioxide fluxes, soil organic carbon and microbial biomass carbon in meta-analysis, hence field experiment with longer durations across a wider range of spatial and temporal scales are required. world biochar headlines 11 2016

Jianwen Zou, Ph.D., Professor

College of Resources & Environmental Sciences- Jiangsu Key Laboratory of Low Carbon Agriculture & GHGs Mitigation, Nanjing Agricultural University, China

Jianwen Zou, National Outstanding Young Scientist Award, Premium Professor of Jiangsu Province, and he is also the Director of Jiangsu Key Laboratory of Low Carbon Agriculture & GHGs Mitigation, Vice Dean of College of Resources & Environmental Sciences in Nanjing Agricultural University.

He is also the member of Sector of Agriculture and Forest, Science & Technology Commission of Ministry of Education, China. His research focuses on soil carbon and nitrogen cycling and global change, agricultural greenhouse gases accounting and mitigation.


Shuwei Liu1,2,Yaojun Zhang1,2,Yajie Zong1,2,Zhiqiang Hu1,2,Shuang Wu1,2,Jie Zhou1,2,Yaguo Jin1,2,Jianwen Zou1,2. Response of Soil Carbon Dioxide Fluxes, Soil Organic Carbon and Microbial Biomass Carbon to Biochar Amendment: A Meta-Analysis. Global Change Biology Bioenergy, 2016, Volume 8, pp 392-406.


world biochar headlines 11 2016



State aid clearance for biochar facility

29 November, 2016

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world biochar headlines 11 2016




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