What do carbon sequestration, ecosystem restoration, soil improvement, and waste reduction all have in common? Biochar.
A fancy word for charcoalized organic material, biochar has been used by indigenous people for millenia to improve soil quality. Now, biochar is getting renewed attention as a low-cost, low-tech method for converting plant matter into stable, carbon-rich residues. Not only does it lock carbon underground, biochar can drastically improve acidic, compacted soils for generations of farmers, producers, and gardeners with only a single application.
Biochar is a product of pyrolysis, the process of decomposing organic matter at extremely high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. Biochar is essentially pure carbon and can be made with any organic material, including wood scraps, yard waste, weeds, paper, and cardboard.
Biochar has a wide variety of applications, but its key properties are that it stores carbon and acts like a sponge and filter for water when used as a soil amendment. This means biochar:
Increases soil water retention (which reduces how frequently plants need to be watered)
Reduces soil acidity (which improves growing conditions for Palouse plants)
Filters out potentially harmful compounds from soil
Keeps carbon out of the atmosphere for centuries
Water conservation is a paramount issue in the region as aquifer levels continue to drop, both for agriculture and direct human consumption. Invasive plant species exacerbate the water issues by crowding out deep-rooted native species that increase aquifer recharge. Invasive species also reduce agricultural production and increase chemical pollution from herbicide applications, which costs the region millions of dollars annually for control measures.
Though biochar has existed for millennia, its recent resurgence has been accompanied with high costs to produce and ship the material. There simply are not enough producers to meet demand, driving up prices and reducing accessibility, especially for large agricultural and restoration operations.
The Phoenix Conservancy aims to resolve this problem in the Palouse. There is no shortage of waste biomass in the region, and as our Biochar Project scales, so does our ability to produce the material en masse. Our status a non-profit allows us to offer biochar at affordable rates, funding our restoration activities and facilitating expansion of the Project itself.
Simply put, the more biochar we make, the more restoration we can do and the more biochar we can produce.
Weed Control. Soil Improvement. Carbon Sequestration.
We collect "feedstock," material used to create biochar, from a variety of sources, including weed removal and yard waste from our Pocket Prairie sites, as well as unrecyclable cardboard (e.g., pizza boxes).
We will apply biochar to our restoration sites and offer it for sale to community members for use in their gardens and on their properties.
We will use pyrolysis, the process of decomposition at extremely high temperatures in the absence of oxygen, to turn the feedstock into biochar using our Ring of Fire biochar kiln (right).
Biochar is stable in soil for centuries and provides soil improvement benefits immediately. Once applied, homeowners and businesses won't need to do any active management.
A Ring of Fire kiln in the process of creating biochar. The lack of smoke indicates pyrolysis is occurring.
Convert waste biomass as feedstock (e.g., yard waste, brush, unrecyclable paper products, weeds) for biochar.
Reduce carbon emissions from feedstock that would otherwise be burned or decomposed.
Increase soil carbon sequestration.
Improve soil water retention.
Increase use of biochar as a soil amendment in agriculture, gardens, and restoration.
Create an economic vehicle for restoration and climate change mitigation.
Promote biochar as an accessible, low-tech, and apolitical climate solution.
How To Help
Donations are vital to our Palouse Prairie project, so please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to support our efforts. You can also visit our Wishlist to provide allocated funding for specific items we need, or you can purchase merchandise from our store.
We also have biochar available for direct purchase in 1 cubic foot bag!
You can subscribe to our newsletter (below) and follow us on social media to keep up to date about our biochar project and all this Phoenix!
Our progress on the Biochar Project is entirely due to the generous financial support from numerous individual donors and partnerships with homeowners and businesses throughout the Palouse, particularly through our Pocket Prairie program. To everyone who has contributed to our efforts, thank you!