Conversion of Agricultural and Forestry Biomass Residues to Biochar for Carbon Sequestration and Soils Improvement Applications

EPA Grant Number: SV839370
Title: Conversion of Agricultural and Forestry Biomass Residues to Biochar for Carbon Sequestration and Soils Improvement Applications
Investigators: Dahlgren, John
Current Investigators: Dahlgren, John , Anguiano, Maria Elena , Vang, Allison , Zarate, Andreas Almanza , Gutierrez, Antonio , Kaho, Aubrey , Cruz, Dana , Vang, Kong , Lopez, Luis , Bradley, Marlynn , Englant, Preston , Hernandez, Rosalia , McNeil, Sage
Institution: Butte College
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: II
Project Period: March 1, 2018 through February 29, 2020 (Extended to February 28, 2022)
Project Amount: $75,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2017) Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Awards , Sustainable and Healthy Communities , P3 Challenge Area - Air Quality


The objectives of research was defined in the Phase I grant proposal as follows: “This proposed EPA-P3 Phase I project addresses a growing challenge of utilizing large quantities of agricultural biomass residues (waste) as a renewable, carbon-negative energy source in California.”

In the problem definition and justification for the proposed research of our the Phase I proposal we identified the primary reason for the decline in the use of the large quantities of available biomass residues (waste) for energy generation in California, as the lack of economic viability of large scale biomass power plants in the state due to inability to compete with natural gas in power generation. The transportation cost and handling cost of biomass residues makes them uneconomical for use as fuel in large power plants.

Our proposed solution to this problem was the following: “A potential solution is a new approach in the use of agricultural biomass residues (waste) for energy generation is gasification (pyrolysis) of the biomass combined with biochar production directly on-thefarm. This approach offers a carbon negative source of energy through carbon sequestration in the soil with added benefits of increased agricultural production.”


The objective of the proposed research in Phase II will continue as the sustainable and environmentally beneficial conversion of biomass residues (waste) into biochar. However, the emphasis will be on maximizing carbon sequestration in the soil for improving water retention and agricultural productivity. Energy generation in the form of usable heating or cooling will be a secondary objective.

We will be focusing our efforts toward working with the local agricultural industry and certain fire-hazard threatened communities in Northern California to convert the large amounts agricultural and forest biomass residues into biochar on-the-farm and on-site in the forest.


The proposed Phase II project will continue and expand the biochar R&D effort being carried out by the current EPA-P3 Phase I project at Butte College as follows:

Task1: Expansion of biochar laboratory at Butte College based on Dr. McLaughlin’s BBM procedures to serve local biochar production and applications. Additional analysis equipment will be acquired to improve the capabilities of the biochar laboratory and to facilitate working space for additional student interns. The Butte College Biochar Lab will offer contract services of biochar analysis at minimum rates sufficient to cover costs to support the growing production and use of biochar in Northern California.

Task 2: Conduct biochar field experiments with local agricultural partners to study soil water retention and improvement in soils heath for enhancing crops productivity. This effort will be the continuation current efforts already in progress working with several local agricultural operations in our region of California, including Berkeley Olive Grove in Oroville, Ca. and Carriere Farms (walnut orchard) in Glenn, Ca.

Task 3: Participate in the installation and start-up operation of a prototype Next/Char Biomass Pyrolysis Unit at Carriere Farms for demonstration of large scale on-the-farm biochar production. Butte College student interns will assist in this project starting this summer and will continue through the full operation phase next fall and beyond toward the scale up of the operation, including development of thermal energy application for absorption cooling.

Task 4: Conduct on-site biochar production experiments using “conservation burn” for conversion of forest residues to biochar in support of local fire prevention and forest restoration projects by certain fire-hazard threatened local communities in the foot hills of the Sierras in Butte County, Ca. This effort is in early stages of planning with the Yankee Hills Fire Safety Council under an existing grant from the State of California for the sustainable conversion of forest residues (waste) to biochar as a means of improving community fire safety and forest restoration.

Expected Results:

We have learned at Butte College during the performance of two EPA-P3 Phase I and one EPA-P3 Phase II project since 2012, that the real value of the EPA-P3 program from the standpoint of the participating students is not technical discoveries or breakthroughs, but the experience of participating in hands-on, applied research projects working with fellow students under the guidance of a highly qualified and motivated faculty advisor and with the technical direction of a well experienced professional mentor with 55 years of worldwide experience. Nowhere is this more significant and important than at a community college level, where a meaningful experience of this type can be so important in the guiding of first generation college students in their career choices and future academic and professional lives.

Supplemental Keywords:

Biochar, biomass conversion to biochar, carbon-negative energy generation, biochar for soils heath, carbon sequestration through biochar

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2018 Progress Report
  • 2019 Progress Report
  • 2020

  • P3 Phase I:

    Energy Generation through Gasification of Optimized Rice Hull Biomass  | Final Report