Creation and Distribution of Biochar on the Landscape

Nate: Silvicultural treatments for timber harvest,
fuel reduction, and forest restoration produce a lot of woody biomass. Typically this biomass is burned on-site to reduce
fire risk and open space for regeneration, but it can also be used as a feedstock
for biofuel production. A lot of the technologies that are used
to produced biofuel from biomass produce biochar as a byproduct or
a co-product. If the biochar is put in the soil
as a soil amendment, it improves the carbon balance of the
biofuel through carbon sequestration, and it can also improve the
soil properties for plant growth. It’s been very difficult for us to spread
biochar on forested sites efficiently, and the technology we’re looking at today is really a great step forward in our ability to
to use biochar as a soil amendment on forested sites, in difficult terrain, on forest
roads, and other challenging environments. I’m really looking forward to working
with the National Forest Systems and other foresters to apply
biochar to forested sites both to look at the operations of
doing this in an industrial context, but also monitoring and measuring the
response that we get from biochar application. Debbie: One of the reasons that we’re
interested in using biochar on an operational scale is because we can amend log landings and
skid trails by applying biochar. It increases water-holding capacity,
and it also decreases compaction so that the area that had been in
detrimental soil condition becomes over time much more amenable to plant growth. If we can put one percent organic matter
back in the soil, we can hold 27,000 gallons of water per acre
in a six inch surface soil. And so that means that as climate changes,
we can hold more water in the soil and plants will grow longer into the
growing season and reduce the risk of fire. Karl: We looked at how we can actually
pelletize this material. It’s pretty easy to pelletize if you can
add some resins to it and a bunch of other stuff that
are expensive. But one of the things that we were
also looking at is the mobile aspect of this whole operations,
and so we wanted to be able to utilize the resources in the forest to be
able to make these pellets. But they’re also made out of the leaf litter
that’s left over in the slash pile, and we wanted to utilize the really
low-value stuff that nobody wants at all. Most of it was the needles, leaf litter,
and the small stems is what we used, and so we hope that the resins and
extractives that are in the needles act as binder and hold that thing together. And that’s how we made a contiguous
pellet out of it. Keith: Our center was tasked to develop
a means of spreading the biochar out on forests skid trails. What we chose in the end was to use a
highways-type salt / sand spreader and modified it so it could be
adapted to a logging forwarder.

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