Biochar and the Viability of Local Production and Distribution

Grace Pernecky
University of Michigan
Grace is an undergraduate student in the Program in the Environment (PitE), planning to specialize in soil ecology and minor in anthropology. In summer 2015 she interned at Sachamama Center for Biocultural Regeneration (SCBR) in Lamas, Peru and worked with indigenous communities to implement biochar in a variety of gardens and crop fields. In summer 2016, she interned at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum (MBGNA) in Ann Arbor, and is currently collaborating with Sustainability Without Borders (SWB) to write a grant proposal for a biochar kiln at MBGNA. She is also working with other interested parties on marketing biochar for Soil Reef. In addition to this, she is aiding in educational awareness efforts, and hopes to gradually implement a local production and distribution network for biochar in Ann Arbor.

Biochar is a highly sustainable soil amendment that has three major benefits: It sequesters carbon dioxide, increases crop yield and soil fertility, and the process by which it is produced can be used to heat and provide electricity as a renewable alternative to fossil fuels. Based on other biochar projects and proposals around the world, and the lack thereof in the midwestern region of the U.S., I propose the implementation of a community-based network wherein biochar can be produced and distributed at a local level, minimizing economical and environmental costs. Unused piles of woodchips can be used as biomass to fuel biochar production, and that biochar can then be distributed to local farmers, CSAs, garden centers, etc. I have adapted this proposal to fit the needs and local conditions of Ann Arbor, Michigan, choosing specific entities that could participate in such a network, as well as a cost-benefit analysis.

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