In the ever-expanding ocean of sustainability technologies, you have undoubtedly heard the term biochar. Once relegated to fringe-conversations, biochar has now gained a strong foothold in mainstream academic and applied research, and its use is being studied for everything from climate change mitigation to restoration of soil carbon stores, recovery of soil structure, nutrient cycles and function, soil remediation and detoxification applications, bioenergy production, and more.
Biochar is a specific form of charcoal produced through pyrolysis, which is the conversion of organic materials (biomass) under very high temperatures (greater than 500*C) to black carbon in the absence of oxygen. This form of Carbon is incredibly durable and resistant to decomposition that it can be a long-term storage form of Carbon in soils. The production techniques used in making biochar are commensurate with its potential benefits, and anyone considering biochar should become fluent in the best practices for its production. However, given the almost unfathomable sources of feedstocks, from animal manures to thinning of forest biomes for fire mitigation, to crop residues, biochar is a very exciting topic and its potential benefits in the climate crisis are myriad.
For farmers and land managers, biochar is exciting for a number of reasons, which we will get into deeply today. Its alkalinity can naturally lower acidic soil pH, can help hold soluble positively charged cations like Calcium and Potassium, it can decrease soil bulk density in compacted soils, increase aggregation, aeration, reduce leaching, bind and sequester toxins, and perhaps most importantly (at least to me), biochar has an unparalleled potential in the campaign to rehydrate soils most at risk for desertification. I’ve seen this benefit myself, and I am really looking forward to exploring all of these topics with our panel of experts.
MIMI CASTEEL / USA
OWNER AND WINEMAKER AT HOPEWELL WINE
Mimi grew up on her family’s vineyard, Bethel Heights. Growing up working in the vineyard and winery, Mimi gained such an appreciation for the industry that she promptly left home after high school. Armed with a BA in History and Classics from Tulane University, Mimi spent the next year working in various National Forests across the west. Her adventures fueled her passion for studying botany, forestry, and ecology. Mimi earned her MS from Oregon State University in Forest Science, and spent the next several years working as a botanist and ecologist for the Forest Service, living in the backcountry. Her work in the forests led her to realize that the greatest threats to the future of the planet and all species had to be addressed at its root – in the agricultural and working land base. Mimi returned to Bethel Heights in 2005, where she implemented new farming systems and began a journey of experimentation and discovery. In 2016 Mimi left Bethel Heights to grow and make wine at her home vineyard and living laboratory, Hope Well. Hope Well is the living model for a habitat-based regenerative model for agriculture. Mimi’s experiments are all with the goal of producing the most nutrient-dense, healthy food and wine, while recovering the natural systems of nutrient cycling, improving biodiversity and species retention, and maximizing the function and output of a diverse ecosystem.
ANTOINE LESPÈS . FRANCE
PROTJECT MANEGER IN RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AT DOMAINE LAFAGE
After a Master of Science in Viticulture and Enology I joined the Domaine Lafage as Project manager in Research & Development in 2021. The Domaine Lafage is located in the Roussillon region and cultivate 350 hectares of vines, from the shores of Mediterranean sea to the foothills of the Pyrenees.
In 2021 we launched a research project to find adaptation techniques to climate change and its impact on Mediterranean viticulture. Our strategy is based on two different axes: agronomical practices and vegetative materials. Biochar is part of agronomical practices among cover crops, precision irrigation techniques, biostimulant products, organic matter inputs…
We are currently involved in a project of biochar production plant in Perpignan in order to sequester carbon to offset our gas emissions, regenerate our soil and create renewable energy production site with a scheme of circular and local economy
HANS-PETER SCHMIDT / SWITZERLAND
Hans-Peter Schmidt has been a pioneer in the field of biochar since 2008. He has worked on all aspects of biochar including the creation of a wide variety of biochar production equipment, biochar production in high and low technology scenarios, application techniques, field trial design, biochar characterization, and biochar education (creator of the Ithaka Journal). In addition, Hans-Peter has designed and used biochar plaster as a building material and developed nano-biochar for the skiing industry. He has extensive experience working across Europe and has worked on developing world projects as well including Nepal, Bangladesh and Cuba. He is the lead developer of the Global C-Sink certification methods.
CLAUDIA KAMMANN / GERMANY