Methane & biochar

Interest in methane is bubbling up all over the pace right now…

New research explores how wetlands and agriculture could be causing a global rise in methane

And MPI have just released an RFP for more animal methane studies. NZ$350K allocation as part of the $65M committed by NZ…

Introduction and Background
“The Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (Alliance) was launched in December 2009 and it now has over 40 member countries. The New Zealand Government has allocated a total of $65 million budget to support New Zealand’s participation in the Alliance, particularly in its Livestock Research Group which New Zealand co-chairs.

Research investments for the Government’s Alliance budget are identified through a number of channels including, for example, the Livestock Research Group and other Alliance Research Groups, the New Zealand Fund for Global Partnerships in Livestock Emissions Research (GPLER), and bilateral relationships. This RFP seeks to procure a new project that will contribute significantly to New Zealand’s domestic research programme as well as to the wider efforts of the Alliance’s Livestock Research Group.

New Zealand leads the world in the development of low methane emitting sheep. New Zealand researchers were the first to confirm that differences in methane emissions between sheep fed the same diet are consistent and that they have a genetic basis. Contrasting high and low emitting selection lines are now being maintained and the search is underway to develop genomic markers that will allow the cheap and rapid identification of low and high emitting phenotypes. This latter step is critical for the commercial breeding and adoption of lower emitting animals.

Although considerable progress has been made with sheep, progress with cattle has been slower. A major reason for this has been the unavailability of sufficient measurement capacity. Developing the capacity to directly measure methane emissions from the large numbers of animals needed in genetics work is prohibitively expensive. Using funding from rounds 2 and 3 of the GPLER a rapid system for simultaneously measuring intake and methane has been successfully developed and tested for its practicality and ability to provide realistic estimates of daily methane emissions and emissions per unit of feed. A further stage in its testing, which forms the concept behind this RFP, is to ascertain whether the system can detect differences in methane emissions from animals that have been selected for low feed intake, a trait that has been linked to lower emissions.”

With so much current interest around the world on biochar / carbon animal feed applications and the existing research pointing to animal methane reduction from biochar feed supplements, It irks me that there is no govt interest or support in NZ.

Here is a new report on feeding AC to goats… I don’t think goat productivity or methane were measured but it points at least to a safe pathway for biochar application to soil and carbon sequestration.

And here is a Q I’d like answered: the fecal discharge I see from typical dairy herds in NZ looks like industrial scale diarrhoea. Is this the default due to cow genetics is this industry standard, accepted as part of intensive gazing systems? Maybe I need to ask a vet.

USBI 2016 conference

Conference papers are now available – click the heading below…

BIOCHAR 2016 Symposium: The Synergy of Science and Industry. August 22-25, Corvallis OR.

“From August 22-25, 2016, over 300 biochar producers, researchers, users, and enthusiasts met at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon for the US Biochar Initiative 2016 Symposium: The Synergy of Science and Industry.”


World Soil Day

This was 5th December (aligned with past King of Thailand’s birthday) so we missed celebrating it here at ABE… & in NZ… and the world generally! After watching the video below, I can see that the worlds disconnection with soil is a serious problem. I hope you can find some time to at least watch part of this.

I had hopes for promoting 5th November as ‘biochar pyramid burn’ day – teaching folks how to manage a fire to optimise for biochar production. You can still burn the ‘guy’ (maybe dressed in a Monsanto T-shirt). Maybe next year for both dates…

Biochar and anaerobic digestion

The challenges of anaerobic digestion and the role of biochar in optimizing anaerobic digestion

a b s t r a c t

“Biochar, like most other adsorbents, is a carbonaceous material, which is formed from the combustion of plant materials, in low-zero oxygen conditions and results in a material, which has the capacity to sorb chemicals onto its surfaces. Currently, research is being carried out to investigate the relevance of biochar in improving the soil ecosystem, digestate quality and most recently the anaerobic digestion process. Anaerobic digestion (AD) of organic substrates provides both a sustainable source of energy and a digestate with the potential to enhance plant growth and soil health. In order to ensure that these benefits are realised, the anaerobic digestion system must be optimized for process stability and high nutrient retention capacity in the digestate produced. Substrate-induced inhibition is a major issue, which can disrupt the stable functioning of the AD system reducing microbial breakdown of the organic waste and formation of methane, which in turn reduces energy output. Likewise, the spreading of digestate on land can often result in nutrient loss, surface runoff and leaching. This review will examine substrate inhibition and their impact on anaerobic digestion, nutrient leaching and their environmental implications, the properties and functionality of biochar material in counteracting these challenges.”


The application of biochar has the potential to improve AD process by counteracting SII, improve digestate quality through nutrient retention, contributing to the buffering capacity of the system and create a surface area for the colonization of microbial cell. Comparatively, these functions can be achieved by another adsorbent like activated carbon with higher efficiency. However, the production of biochar is cost effective hence AD operators can afford to use the material without any need for recovery and this will further encourage the spreading of biochar and digestate on land. Biochar was not primarily designed for AD, hence future research in the interaction between biochar and AD microbes, buffering capacity of biochar during AD and sorption effect of biochar material on the AD using a continuous-fed digestion process should be investigated.”

The Biochar Displacement Strategy

Kathleen is mining a rich vein of biochar innovation in this new Biochar Journal article… an update on previous posts on 55 uses

The Biochar Displacement Strategy

by Kathleen Draper

“Since the “55 Uses of Biochar” was presented nearly four years ago, the Ithaka Institute continues to outline and refine this expanded concept of biochar uses. The Biochar Displacement Strategy now articulates a vision for maximizing biochar use by displacing non-renewable materials. Exciting new non-agricultural biochar research from around the world paves the biochar way towards the global bio economy.”


Understanding the Potential of Biochar beyond Soil

Activated Carbon

Filtration to Fertilizer


Microbial Fuel Cells


Carbon Black


Animal Feed


Biochar Markets

Food Storage




World Soil Day: 05Dec.

This posted here recently by Dr Tom Goreau…

“Last year, December 5 2015 was not only World Soil Day, but 2015 was also the Year of the Soil, sponsored by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)!
On that day I went to the FAO Information Centre at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, in the middle of the negotiations.
On December 1 France had proposed that soil carbon be counted in UNFCCC, and that countries commit to increasing it by 0.2% per year.
NONE of FAO’s large collection of glossy color brochures, books, leaflets, posters, CDs, etc. mentioned that it was World Soil Day, nor The Year of the Soil, nor that increasing soil carbon is the only way we know to avert runaway global climate warming and sea level rise. 
There were all sorts of agricultural vulnerability assessments for various climate warming models, with regard to “food security”, but nothing at all on soils as the solution to our climate change problems!
FAO reflects the mandate given to it by governments, and up to now they have not been instructed to make increasing soil carbon storage a priority!
Let’s hope that the Commonwealth Regenerative Development to Reverse Global Warming initiative (one third of the world’s governments and people) makes such a mandate a priority in the international climate change negotiations next year”
Thomas J. F. Goreau, PhD
President, Global Coral Reef Alliance
President, Biorock Technology Inc.
Coordinator, Soil Carbon Alliance
Coordinator, United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development Small Island Developing States Partnership in New Sustainable Technologies
37 Pleasant Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

Don Coyne in Korea

Nice report from Don on the recent Asia-Pacific Biochar Conference in Korea…

“Hi Everyone,

Had a great time at the Biochar Conference in Korea last month. See the trip report on my blog here  Thanks again to all those that made it possible and for enriching our lives. The future of Biochar is firmed up and the Science is in however, every different biochar may well have a different effect in different soil and in other applications for remediation and as a Construction material so growers/builders need to understand the Science and apply it.

If you’d like more information on next year’s ANZBC17 you can also visit and register super early for 25% Discount before the end of year.


IBI October newsletter

I’ve just circulated an ABE Sept/Oct newsletter but failed to attached the October IBI newsletter which has been forwarded to me in advance of a link on the IBI website.

Here’s a link and table of contents…

  • IBI Board commits to ambitious new Vision – 1 Billion tons of biochar per year!
  • IBI Memberships Now Available!
  • IBI Asia Launched in Nanjing, China
  • International Workshop on Biochar and Sustainable Agriculture
  • 3rd Asian Pacific Biomass Conference Re-cap
  • IBI responds to “Current economic obstacles to biochar use in agriculture and climate
    change mitigation”, an article in the magazine Carbon Management in September 2016
  • The IBI Online Biochar Training Course is Ongoing
  • Upcoming Calendar Events
  • Recently Published Biochar Research and Resources (a selection from October list
    • Relative influence of soil- vs. biochar properties on soil phosphorus retention
    • Soil biochar amendment as a climate change mitigation tool: Key parameters and mechanisms involved
    • Biochar effects on methane emissions from soils: A meta-analysis
  • Connect with IBI Members and Supporters


N-retention by biochar – new study

NZ links to this new publication, showing strong international collaboration.

Nitrate retention by biochar: mechanistic insights by 15N tracing

Kammann Claudia (1,3), Haider Ghulam (1), del Campo Bernardo (2), Mengel Jonathan (3), Schmidt Hans-Peter(4), Marhan Sven (5), Steffens Diedrich (1), Clough Tim (6), Müller Christoph (1,7)
(1) Department of Plant Ecology, University Giessen, Germany, (3) Geisenheim University, Germany, (2) Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA, (4) Ithaka Institute for Carbon Intelligence, Arbaz, Switzerland, (5) Hohenheim University,Germany, (6) Lincoln University, New Zealand, (7) Earth Science institute, University College Dublin, Ireland
“Pyrogenic carbon (biochar) offers considerable potential for carbon capture and soil storage (CCSS) compared to other less recalcitrant soil-C additives. Moreover recent meta-analysis demonstrates that it can significantly reduce agricultural N2O emissions. However to “harvest” environmental benefits it is necessary to develop economic incentives for using biochar in soils. Nitrate retention, in particular in poor sandy soils, may provide such an incentive.
We explored the potential of biochar to protect mineral N against leaching or loss as N2O, and to deliver it for plant growth using various approaches, (1) observational: results obtained in two larger-scale agricultural field studies (I + II, with poor sandy soil and loess soil respectively) plus one macrocosm N leaching study with Vitis vinifera in poor sandy soil; and (2) mechanistic laboratory studies with untreated and composting- or field-aged biochars in sandy soil using 15N labelled mineral N species.
The results suggest a strong role of biochar in retaining mineral nitrogen mostly in the form of nitrate rather than ammonium (as could be expected). In the field study I (sandy soil) with biochar application rates of 15 and 30 tha-1 (n=4 per treatment) significant nitrate retention was observed after the second winter in the top soil (0-15 cm) where the biochar had been incorporated, while the subsoil nitrate concentrations (30 – 60 and 60 – 90 cm) were significantly reduced. Biochar particles extracted from the top soil by forceps showed a significant enrichment with nitrate; but only a fraction was extractable with conventional standard methods. In field study II (loess) 30 t ha-1 biochar were combined with the factor mineral N fertilization (0 – 200 kg N ha-1 in 5 steps; n=3 per treatment). Here strong growth improvements were observed with maize or wheat in the first and second year after biochar application only in the no- or low- (50 kg N ha-1)fertilized treatments, but growth improvements were low or absent when the N fertilization was in excess of the plant demand. In the macrocosm study with Vitis vinifera (cf. Riesling) pure biochar, pure compost, or biochar-compost mixtures were applied at 30 and 60 t ha-1 to the first 30 cm layer of a poor sandy soil. Vine containers were constantly drip irrigated over the vegetation period to allow leachate collection. Pure biochar reduced nitrate leaching by roughly 60% compared to pure control soil,but the combination of biochar and compost was most effective, reducing nitrate leaching to virtually zero.The subsequent 15N labelling-tracing studies revealed that the untreated as well as aged (co-composted) biochars strongly sorbed mineral N, particularly nitrate. For example in a soil mixture of 196 g soil with 4 g biochar(2%), up to 60% of the labelled nitrate-15N was be retrieved by washing the biochar particles out from the soil with distilled water roughly 50 hours after 15N application. Moreover, the co-composted biochar which was already nitrate- and organic-C-preloaded was more effective in sorbing mineral N; in addition it still reduced N2O emissions significantly, although it carried dissolved organic carbon and nitrate as prerequisites for denitrification. In parallel to the field experimental results (site II), the lab study results also showed that at least part of the sorbed N must have been plant available. However the plants did only access it (for significantly improved growth with the N-preloaded biochar) when the easily extractable mineral N pool had a-priori been depleted. Our results therefore encourage further investigations into strategies that combine nutrient-rich agricultural waste streams with biochar post-treatment as a way forward to achieve environmental benefits, improve the efficiency of agricultural N use and deliver economic benefits.”