Wednesday, December 7, 2011

ECHO Asia Biochar Trial

During the recent ECHO Asia Agriculture and Community Development Conference, Dr. Karl Frogner presented a plenary session that introduced the concept of biochar as well as an afternoon workshop during which the production of biochar was demonstrated.  Biochar is carbonized material, such as wood charcoal, that is ground up and mixed with materials rich in plant nutrients (such as animal manure) for at least of few months.  Such contact with the fertile, organic materials will allow absorption of nutrients as well as agriculturally beneficial microbes into the pores of the char.  Afterward, the char is incorporated into the topsoil of plant beds and fields.  Applied in such fashion, biochar reportedly benefits crop production by serving as a supplemental source of plant nutrients as well as a soil-based residence for beneficial microbes.  Biochar is also promoted as a means of sequestering carbon to help mitigate climate change.
Although the production and use of biochar is an ancient practice in some parts of the world, the science behind the approach is still new.  To better understand the potential of biochar for small farms in the region, ECHO Asia is preparing to work with UBI, Dr. Frogner's organization, to test the effects of biochar related to crop production at the ECHO Asia Seed Bank.

In October, Dr. Frogner worked with ECHO Asia staff and volunteers to develop a prototype biochar oven made from a 200-liter barrel.  Sliced segments of bamboo where charred in the oven during a test run of the equipment.  Despite a downpour during at the end of the burn, the char turned out very well.

ECHO Asia will be reporting on the progress and results of the upcoming trial.

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