United Kingdom

Oxford Biochar, Summer, 2011

Oxford Biochar is sponsoring a giantexperiment to test the effectiveness of Biochar in standard garden plots all across Britain.

The Big Biochar Experiment

The web site does a nice job of explaining what biochar is, and showing the benefits of adding it to your soil. Then it asks home gardeners to set up 2 plots, one a test, and one a control. Add the biochar, and record data about what types of things they added to both plots, the pest control needed and the yields from that plot are. It looks like it will do a nice job of seeing whether regular gardeners are likely to see results from biochar in the first year.

It's too late for spring planting, but it's just the right time for summer planting for fall crops. Information about the plot test, and tips for getting started and recording data are on the web page: http://www.bigbiocharexperiment.co.uk/get-started.html

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Biochar generated as a by-product of combined heat and power gasification is classified as waste, for which the UK does not currently have a safety protocol for use in the open environment. The UEA is working with the Environment Agency to determine environmental tolerance limits, in order to assess potential environmental risks (ex: PAH contamination). My preliminary study aimed to measure any negative plant growth effects by amended soil with high concentrations of biochar under controlled laboratory conditions.

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A charcoal production plant that also generates heat and electricity from the by-product gas
Biofuel Energy Sustems, Sustainable Energy Ltd., UK, 2004
BES Carbonizer

In 2004 Biofuel Energy Systems Ltd. developed a plant for charcoal production, which uses the gases given off during production to drive a gas turbine, generating heat and electricity. The electricity generated can be used on site (especially useful in remote areas with no electrical grid connection) or sold back to the grid for additional profit.

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Establishment and Management of Prairie Grasses
Royal Horticultural Society Research, UK, 2007

Establishment of North American prairie grasses by field sowing was investigated at the Royal Horticultural Society Garden at Wisley. This experiment is part of a larger programme of work to investigate the use of North American prairie wildflowers and grasses as a style of planting in gardens and parks in Britain, which is a modern, informal and low maintenance. It is particularly appropriate for amenity planting.

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Mélanie Élouise Bennet PhD Student University of East Anglia, School of Biological Sciences John Innes Centre, Dept. Molecular Mircobiology Chairman, UEA Gardening Group m.bennet@uea.ac.uk

The current challenge

The world faces a “perfect storm” of food, water and energy shortages. Food stocks are the lowest they’ve been in 50 years. John Beddington, chief scientific advisor to the UK Government, has stated that 50% more food, 50% more energy and 30% more water will be needed by 2030 to supply a growing population. Even in developed nations like Britain and Australia, rising environmental pressure on crops would drive up import prices. Higher temperatures and less water brought about by climate change is expected to make some crop growing area difficult to manage, particularly in areas which are already experiencing drier than normal conditions. However, the precise impacts of climate change are difficult to predict accurately.

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I have a series of scanning electron micrographs of biochar particles. This one happens to be charcoal rather than biochar. I wanted to compare commercial (traditional) lump charcoal to "proper" biochar. Structurally, they are both very similar. My view is that traditional lump charcoal produced here in Britain may be similar in chemical properties as well as physical properties as the traditional methods of productions were slow-burning, high pressure and low-oxygen.

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