Community-Scale Gasification and Biochar Retort Hubs for Rural Areas: A “Closed Loop” System for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioenergy

EPA Grant Number: SU835706
Title: Community-Scale Gasification and Biochar Retort Hubs for Rural Areas: A “Closed Loop” System for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioenergy
Investigators: Halden, Rolf U. , Knorr, Brian , Tallman, Dakota , Kavazanjian, Edward , Quinn, Nigel , Epshtein, Olga , Hart, Steven , Gonska, Trevor , Kim, Yeon-Su
Current Investigators: Halden, Rolf U. , Driver, Erin M , Tallman, Dakota , DePinte, Daniel , Kavazanjian, Edward , Epshtein, Olga , Hart, Steven , Kim, Yeon-Su
Institution: Arizona State University , Northern Arizona University , Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Current Institution: Arizona State University , Northern Arizona University
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2014 through August 14, 2015
Project Amount: $15,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2014) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Chemical Safety , P3 Awards , Sustainable and Healthy Communities


Reliance on fossil fuels, chemical agents, and nutrient deposits to draw adequate agricultural yields from marginal soils results in the accumulation of toxins in soils, water, air, and biota. In many developing countries, the resulting wastes are improperly disposed of and/or incinerated, leading to further environmental degradation, and thus magnifying risks to food security and human and ecosystem health. Gasification and biochar retort technologies promise a cost-effective and environmentally-sustainable approach to the management of organic wastes. In response to the need for interdisciplinary studies integrating appropriately-scaled economic, social, and environmental feasibility assessment, we propose to develop screening-level metrics to evaluate the role physical, biological, operational, and economic factors of biochar and power co-generation play in advancing the deployment of rural community-scale gasification hubs.


Using a commercial-grade gasifier to produce biochar, we will carry out water retention, hydrostatic column, and drainage experiments on biochar-amended and non-amended soil samples. Using molecular methods, we will assay total microbial content and community structure to determine whether formulations of biochar may be designed to promote soil microbial community changes linked to crop fitness. We will incorporate biochar into active crop rotation at a local farm to correlate the results of physical and microbial characterization with crop yields. Coupling two existing ecohydrologic models, we will evaluate the extent to which biochar may help mitigate water and soil pollution on a landscape scale while maintaining soil conditions amenable to plant productivity. Finally, we will carry out an economic viability analysis to match economically viable scales of operation to feedstock availability.

Expected Results:

The outcomes of this project will include: (1) analysis of agriculturally-relevant physical soil characteristics as they relate to biochar formulations; (2) microbial analysis of the role biochar amendment plays in native in-situ microbial community function; (3) comparison of agricultural yields produced with various formulations and application rates of biochar; (4) modeling-based estimates of erosion, runoff quantity, and runoff nutrient/sediment loading; and (5) economic analysis of viable scales of operation and monetary tradeoffs between power and biochar production. Screening metrics include measures of changes in (1) crop yield, (2) runoff volume, (3) runoff nutrient loading, (4) erosion, (5) microbial biomass concentrations, (6) soil water retention capacity, and (7) soil bulk density. The independent results of these 5 tasks will be complied into a “Best Practices” manual, which will form the primary deliverable.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 3 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

bio-based feed stocks, environmentally benign substitute, toxic use reduction, waste to energy, agricultural byproducts, bioremediation of agricultural chemicals

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report