2019 Progress Report: 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 , 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 Period Covered by this Report: March 1, 2019 through February 29,2020
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 project focuses on conversion of agricultural and forestry biomass residues (waste) to BIOCHAR for carbon sequestration and application in soil to improve water retention and enhancing soils health (biology), leading to improved productivity.

The main objective of this project, as all MESA (Math Science Engineering Achievement) internship projects at Butte College is to introduce students to applied research and development and to train them to conduct hands-on, laboratory and field experimentation as a path toward professional development. Students have been training to become part of the Biochar industry at Butte College since 2011.

Progress Summary:

The first year of this EPA project achieved many of our objectives as highlighted below: 

  • We held a two-day BIOCHAR R&D and Applications Workshop at Butte College on February 27 & 28, 2018, attended by several biochar researches and practitioners as well as local agricultural industry representatives who participated in group discussions and presentations, including a summary of our BIOCHAR R&D project to date by Steve Feher and our MESA interns.
  • Following the Workshop, MESA interns received hands-on training by Hugh McLaughlin, PhD, PE, CTO - Next Char, LLC on the use of his Basic Biochar Metrics, the testing procedures for laboratory analysis of biochars from different sources.
  •  Summer 2018 Project students Andreas Almanza Zarate, Luis Lopez, Marlynn Bradley, Preston Englant, and Sage McNeil, and member of the 2017/18 Fall & Spring team attended CDFA Biochar Field Day and Poster Presentation at UC Davis on June 6, 2018.
  • We conducted field experiments at Berkeley Olive Grove measuring soil moisture retention in test pots with various thickness biochar cover.
  • We conducted laboratory biochar characterization procedures based on the Basic Biochar Metrics (BBM) developed by Hugh McLaughlin, PhD, which were led to the improvement and expansion of our BIOCHAR LAB during the course of this project studying and characterizing many different commercially available biochar samples.
  • We conducted two greenhouse (open roof) seed germination experiments with several biochar sources and applications rates mixed with organic compost and potting soil.

On November 8th, 2018, the Camp Fire struck Butte County destroyed the town of Paradise and surrounding communities on three sides Butte College. Since Butte College serves as the fire fighting and law enforcement command post, classes were suspended for the rest of the year. Many students and faculty lost their homes in the fire, including Steve Feher, the Technical Director of this project.  Link to information about Camp Fire (#campfire) http://butte.edu/campfire/additionalresources.html 

When classes resumed in late January 2019, the focus of this project changed to consider how BIOCHAR R&D at Butte College may play a role in the post fire recovery effort and in prevention of future forest fires.   

Since the Camp Fire the BIOCHAR R&D project initiated and achieved the following major objectives:

  • Organized a demonstration of a large-scale mobile biomass residues (waste) processing equipment which can convert 100 tons/day of waste wood to biochar on-site with minimum air pollution and greatly reducing GHG emissions resulting from the extensive trucking and processing of current wood waste disposal;
  • Conducted the Second Annual BIOCHAR WORKSHOP at Butte College on February 21-22, 2019, focusing on forest residues (waste) conversion to BIOCHAR ON-SITE, highlighted by Kelpie Wilson’s presentations, a leading researcher from Oregon in this field;
  • Toured fire devastated areas with the Executive Director of Butte County Fire Safe Council and discussed potential projects contributing to fire recovery and fire safety to be undertaken by our project this spring and summer.

Future Activities:

  • Continue biochar moisture retention field experiments at Berkeley Olive Grove and conduct on-site biochar production trials using “Oregon Kiln” and other contained burn devices to improve conversion rates of wood waste to biochar
  • Continue agricultural field experiments of biochar to study effects on soil health (biology) and productivity
  • Conduct fire recovery projects in communities impacted by the Camp Fire to demonstrated conversion of forest biomass waste to biochar on-site and use of biochar for soil improvement
  • Organize and conduct the Third Annual Biochar Workshop at Butte College in February 2020, before the conclusion of this grant

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2018 Progress Report
  • 2020

  • P3 Phase I:

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