Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Biochar is part of the “third way”

Zoologist/author Tim Flannery from Australia sees a “third way” to manage atmospheric CO2: reduce emissions, geoengineering, and “absorb CO2 in a benign manner from the atmosphere and convert it into a mineralized form of carbon that can be taken out of commission for thousands of years.”

Among these benign technologies, he asserts, is biochar. Others include planting trees, growing seaweed, and stimulating the natural weathering of rocks that absorb CO2.

Flannery outlines his ideas in his new book, Atmosphere of Hope: Solutions to the Climate Crisis.

You may recall his 2005 book The Weather Makers, a contribution that was translated into 23 languages and sold millions.

Here's an interview with Flannery you can read now:

- From Jim Long

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Oregon Kiln in the Woods!

On Dec. 4 we got some kilns out in the woods to burn slash piles that are normally incinerated to ash. Thanks to Grayback Forestry and Sean Hendrix for inviting us to bring the kilns to see what they could do. Each kiln consumed about 6-8 burn piles and made close to a cubic yard of char. It rained steadily all morning, but we were still able to make char. We lit up at 9 am and quenched at 12:30. I was pleased to see it took less than 50 gallons of water to completely quench one kiln. Took a lunch break and dumped the kilns and loaded them back on the trailer. Went pretty smooth, really.

Some of the Forest Service fire people were there and they said that 7 piles corresponds to about 40 feet of roadside thinning. So if you could unload 20 kilns along 800 feet of roadside, you could treat all the slash and make 20 cubic yards of biochar in 6 hours of work. If the feedstock is well-staged and you don't have to pull apart piles and move it long distances, one worker (a young, strong one) could feed 4 kilns continuously. So a crew of 6 could do it. You'd need a flatbed to transport the kilns and 1000 gal water truck to quench.

Click here for web album

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Willow Witt Ranch Char Day

Here's an album of pictures from the first burn of the Oregon Kiln that took place at Willow Witt Ranch on Nov 27, 2015. Thanks to Suzanne and Lanita of Willow Witt Ranch and helper Micah. Thanks also to Vicklund & Son for fabricating the kilns and mounting the jib crane to the trailer. The Oregon Kiln was designed by Kelpie Wilson, Wilson Biochar Associates ( The Oregon Kiln is a Flame Cap Biochar Kiln intended for use with forest slash and other kinds of waste wood commonly found in the forested regions of Oregon and elsewhere.

Web Album:

I was impressed with the efficiency of the kiln. We had some big chunks - 4"x4" and even a little bigger that charred nicely. And it did not take all day. I showed up at 10 am and we lit the rick at about 11 am. Quenched at around 5 pm. So the burn was only 6 hours long. Compare to my 4 foot diameter, 4 foot tall tube kiln that took 11 hours to fill. Total volume is almost the same. The Oregon kiln dimensions are 4' square bottom base, 5' square top base and about 25" elevation (sides are 26" wide).

Here is a simple description of how the kiln works:

You have to think of the Flame Cap Kiln as a retort that is made of steel on the bottom and of a stable gas vortex (actually a collection of vortices) on the top. Both function to exclude air, hold in heat, and char the feedstock.

Next task is to design some better wind screens - I'm thinking of something modular that can be moved around the kiln as needed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Master Gardeners Biochar Website

Douglas County Master Gardeners' Discovery Garden at River Forks Park, Roseburg, Oregon has a website that documents biochar plots at the garden. Check it out here:

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Adding Biochar to Duchess Plots

On November 18 UBET volunteers Mike, Steve, Scott and Don came out to the Duchess Sanctuary to apply additional biochar to the plots.

Weighing the biochar

Applying the biochar

Friday, November 20, 2015

Scot McKain's Wigwam kiln

Scott based this design on the wigwam burners used at timber mills for disposal of wood waste. Here is his report on lessons learned from his first demo:
  • The walls were 450-500 C. The steel was loosing structural strength towards the end. I will try to stiffen with rebar next time. 
  • The sloped walls were effective in reflecting radiation downward.
  • Not much air reaching the bottom so char was preserved. The sand seal on the bottom edge lost effectiveness as it dried. Will try bentonite. 
  • The side vents worked well. Tangental vents would be an improvement. I closed them when the char reached that level. 
  • I will try a top lit, batch burn next time. 
  • A floor is necessary to char from radiant heat. 
  • The char is good quality with little ash. Conversion efficiency seems quite good. 
  • I am going to build a small stainless model to test different style side vents. We can use it for demos later.
Scott McKain's Wigwam Kiln
Sealed bottom of the Wigwam Kiln
Sides of the Wigwam Kiln

Friday, November 13, 2015

Monday, November 9, 2015

Save the Date for 2016 US Biochar Conference in Corvallis, Oregon

Biochar 2016: August 22-25, 2016

Experience the Synergy
Over the last several years, researchers have helped open up many promising avenues for biochar market development in North America. Likewise, many entrepreneurs and small business owners have made investments to develop commercial markets. With so much research being published on biochar (over 5000 publications in 2015 alone!), there is a need to bring together these two groups to share information, lessons learned, and to solicit ideas on the pathway forward for biochar commercial development. The US Biochar Initiative and Sustainable Obtainable Solutions aims to bring together stakeholders in the applied biochar research community and the private sector to further biochar market development.

Who should attend?
This event is designed for farmers, foresters, policy makers, biochar producers, industry professionals and entrepreneurs. Students and interested citizens will also benefit from this event.

Where will it be held?
Join us at the CH2M Hill Alumni Center on the beautiful Oregon State University Campus in Corvallis, OR.

For more information:

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Are We Closer Now?

From:  Naomi Klein, “This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs. the Climate.” Simon & Schuster, NY, 2014:

"Remember Richard Branson, the billionaire, who offered a 25 million dollar Earth Prize? He received about 2500 entries. He picked the eleven most likely winners in 2011 at an energy conference in Calgary, Alberta. Four were machines that sucked carbon from the air; one related to changing livestock grazing to boost the soils’ carbon-sequestering potential. Three were from companies that use the biochar process to make charcoal to then add to soil to sequester carbon.

Branson did not award the prize because the ideas were not close enough to commercialization."

Contributed by Jim Long.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Biochar Expo - a fun and educational day

Thanks to everyone who helped organize the 2015 Biochar Expo - especially Scott, Gani and Barbara. Thanks to Meredith and others who brought yummy refreshments, and thanks to our guest speakers: Claire Phillips, Alison Richards and Matt Delaney. Also, many thanks to Steve Renquist for making the Master Gardeners Pavilion at the Discovery Gardens available for the Expo, and thanks to Scott, Den and Greg for bringing kilns to demonstrate. We jammed in a lot of presentations, discussions and demonstrations into our day. Finally, thanks to Jeff and George for a bit of music. Here are words and chords for the song by Jeff Havener: The Biochar Ballad. Enjoy!

Here is photo album of pictures - thanks to Rita and Don for taking pictures.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Map to Biochar Expo, Oct 17

Here is a map to the Biochar Expo at River Forks County Park, just west of Roseburg:

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Biochar Expo Schedule and Information

Biochar Expo ‘15

Biochar: a Forest-to-Farm Resource 

Saturday, October 17, 2015
Master Gardeners Pavilion, Discovery Garden, River Forks Park, Roseburg, Oregon
9:30 AM to mid-afternoon


9:30  Welcome and overview of the day

9:45  How Biochar Works in Soil – Chemistry and Biology Basics - Kelpie Wilson

10:00  Making Biochar from Forest Slash – Panel
  • Elk Creek Watershed Restoration Project - Stan Petrowski, SURCP 
  • Cut-to-length harvest systems for efficient biochar feedstock production - Don Morrison
  • Forest slash as a biochar feedstock - Alison Richards, Willamette NF 
  • Economics – analysis from Forestry and Biochar Paper - Kelpie Wilson 
  • Discussion 
10:45  Break

11:00 Ongoing Biochar Projects
  • Duchess Sanctuary test plots - Claire Phillips, USDA ARS 
  • Formosa mine reclamation - Claire Phillips, USDA ARS 
  • Experiences Using Biochar - Steve Renquist, Extension horticulturist 
11:30  New Biochar Projects
  • NRCS-funded CIG project – On-Farm Production and Use of Biochar for Composting with Manure - Kelpie Wilson, Wilson Biochar Associates 
  • New Biochar Projects in Oregon - Matt Delaney, Delaney Forestry
12:00 Lunch break  and entertainment – Bring a sack lunch and/or potluck items to share (there are no kitchen facilities on site)

Afternoon - Concurrent exhibits and demonstrations of small biochar kilns, included Ring of Fire Kilns, Brick Kilns, Cone Kilns

Monday, October 5, 2015

South Umpqua Rural Community Partnership and Wilson Biochar Associates Announce New Biochar Grant and White Paper on Biochar and Forests


Tiller, Oregon – October 6, 2015.  South Umpqua Rural Community Partnership (SURCP) has received a grant award from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of $75,000 through the NRCS statewide Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program.

The grant award will support SURCP’s biochar project:  “On-Farm Production and Use of Biochar for Composting with Manure.” The two-year project will work with farmers and ranchers to transform two problem waste sources -- woody debris and animal manure -- into compost that will improve farm soils. SURCP has contracted with Kelpie Wilson of Wilson Biochar Associates to manage and direct the program.

Together with UBET (Umpqua Biochar Education Team), SURCP’s committee of biochar volunteers, Wilson will conduct workshops at participating farms to show farmers how to make biochar from brush piles and use it to help reduce odors in barns and accelerate the conversion of manure to high-quality compost.

Kelpie Wilson said: “I am thrilled to be working with the UBET group. I have come to know them through their annual Biochar Expo event as individuals who are highly dedicated to discovering and implementing sustainable farming practices that can enhance our lives. The idea for this biochar farm project came from UBET.”

The project will work with at least eight small farms and ranches throughout southern Oregon in Douglas, Josephine and Jackson counties. In addition to making biochar and compost, the project will also perform material quality tests on the biochar and the compost and conduct plant growth studies using the biochar-compost.

SURCP President Stanley Petrowski said: “We see biochar as a very important and promising tool to restore the ecological functions of our forests and fields. This on-farm biochar project will demonstrate ways to make and use biochar that are economically viable for the small farmer.”

To make biochar from woody debris, the project will use simple biochar kilns called “Flame Cap Kilns.” The technology is described in a recent white paper that SURCP commissioned from Wilson Biochar Associates titled: “Biochar for Forest Restoration in the Western United States.”

SURCP is also working to bring biochar production into the forest as part of its Elk Creek South Umpqua Restoration Project. SURCP asked Wilson Biochar Associates to write a summary of the research literature on biochar and forests to provide background information for a plan to use biochar in restoration projects. The resulting paper “Biochar for Forest Restoration in the Western United States” is now available to download.

“We are very pleased with the caliber of the paper that Kelpie Wilson wrote for us on biochar and forests,” said Paige Heron, SURCP Executive Director. “She has provided the intellectual underpinnings for our work with biochar, showing that charcoal is a natural part of forest soils that has an important ecological role to play.”

Stanley Petrowski said: “The paper from Wilson Biochar Associates outlines some new methods for making biochar in the woods that may prove to be economically viable. We are now pursuing additional funding to provide in-woods demonstrations of some of these biochar production technologies.“

UBET’s annual Biochar Expo takes place on October 17th at the Master Gardeners Discovery Garden in River Forks Park near Roseburg, OR from 9:30 am till mid-afternoon. Kelpie Wilson will present information about the CIG grant and the Biochar and Forests white paper. UBET volunteers will also demonstrate various biochar kilns. View more information and the complete schedule at

Stanley Petrowski (President, SURCP): 541-825-3070 or (541) 670-6801;
Paige Heron (Exec. Dir, SURCP): 541-699-7270;
Kelpie Wilson (WBA): 541-592-3083 or 541-218-9890;

SURCP is a community-based 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to restoration ecology and sustainable stewardship in the South Umpqua river basin. We are very active in constructive collaborative restoration projects with many partners. These multifaceted projects and initiatives are supported by SURCP Directors and community members through our organizational committees and the collaborative process. The goal of our service is that ecological, environmental, social and economic stability is established in our region.

About WBA
Wilson Biochar Associates is a consultancy owned by Kelpie Wilson. Wilson is a mechanical engineer, project developer and writer who has worked in the biochar field since 2008. Her contracts and clients have included work for the International Biochar Initiative, Washington Department of Ecology and many biochar companies. Wilson also has an extensive background in forestry and biodiversity protection resulting from her twelve years (five as executive director) with the Siskiyou Regional Education Project, an Oregon forest advocacy group.