Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Biochar as a sand-based rootzone amendment

The main objectives of my research focused on the use of biochar as an amendment for sand-based turfgrass rootzones. Currently, peat moss is the most common organic amendment mixed with sand when sand systems are constructed. Peat moss increases water retention and nutrient holding capacity of the sand; however, peat moss is prone to decomposition over a relatively short period of time. Biochar, on the other hand, is very stable in the soil profile, and may prove to be a viable organic amendment for sand-based turfgrass systems. In this study, I used fast pyrolysis switchgrass biochar.

My research objectives were to:
• quantify soil water retention capabilities,
• determine infiltration rates,
• and measure creeping bentgrass rooting depth in sand and biochar rootzones


Soil Water Retention - Biochar significantly increased soil water retention (table below). Plant available water increased as percentage biochar increased.

Infiltration Rates - Biochar significantly reduces infiltration rates (table below).

The table to the right converts the numbers to inches per hour. Six incher per hour is the minimum for USGA guidlines when constructing sand based turfgrass rootzones. Above 10% may be pushing the infiltration rate limit with biochar.

Rooting Depth - The rooting depth of creeping bentgrass was measured by growing ‘T1’ in growth tubes with 30 cm sand and biochar rootzones on top of pea gravel. The tubes were sliced open after 110 days of growth, and the depth of rooting was measured (picture below). This pattern of rooting depth was consistent throughout replications. The far left treatment in the picture is 100% sand, and the far right treatment is 25% biochar; increasing in 5% biochar increments at each treatment level from left to right. Biochar amounts above 10% show inhibitive effects on rooting depth of creeping bentgrass. (Biochar percentages are on volume-to-volume basis).

Conclusions - Biochar increased soil water retention capacity and plant available water, but decreased infiltration rates. Rooting depth of 'T-1' creeping bentgrass is inhibited by biochar above 10% (v/v) levels in the rootzone.
Iowa State Turfgrass is attempting to lead the way in the biochar discussion for the turfgrass industry. We would love to hear any feedback you may have on this topic.
Shane Brockhoff
Iowa State University


Erich J. Knight said...

Hi Shane,
Great work.

Did you see any increases in biomass production weight commensurate with root growth?

Here are some research sites you may be interested in , if your have not seen them already;

Nikolaus has been at it 4 years. His current work with aspirin is Amazing in Maize;

The Japanese have been at it dacades:
Japan Biochar Association ;

The Ozzie's for 5 years now in field studies

Virginia Tech is in their 4 th year with the Carbon Char Group's "CharGrow" formulated bagged product. An idea whose time has come | Carbon Char Group
He said the 2008 trials at Virginia Tech showed a 46% increase in yield of tomato transplants grown with just 2 - 5 cups (2 - 5%) "Biochar+" per cubic foot of growing medium. http://www.carbonchar.com/plant-performance( first year with Poultry litter char)

All political persuasions agree, building soil carbon is GOOD.
To Hard bitten Farmers, wary of carbon regulations that only increase their costs, Building soil carbon is a savory bone, to do well while doing good.

Biochar provides the tool powerful enough to cover Farming's carbon foot print while lowering cost simultaneously.

Another significant aspect of bichar is removal of BC aerosols by low cost ($3) Biomass cook stoves that produce char but no respiratory disease emissions. At Scale, replacing "Three Stone" stoves the health benefits would equal eradication of Malaria.
http://terrapretapot.org/ and village level systems http://biocharfund.org/
The Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF).recently funded The Biochar Fund $300K for these systems citing these priorities;
(1) Hunger amongst the world's poorest people, the subsistence farmers of Sub-Saharan Africa,
(2) Deforestation resulting from a reliance on slash-and-burn farming,
(3) Energy poverty and a lack of access to clean, renewable energy, and
(4) Climate change.

The Biochar Fund :
Exceptional results from biochar experiment in Cameroon
The broad smiles of 1500 subsistence farmers say it all ( that , and the size of the Biochar corn root balls )

There are dozens soil researchers on the subject now at USDA-ARS.
and many studies at The up coming ASA-CSSA-SSSA joint meeting;

Senator Baucus is co-sponsoring a bill along with Senator Tester (D-MT) called WE CHAR. Water Efficiency via Carbon Harvesting and Restoration Act! It focuses on promoting biochar technology to address invasive species and forest biomass. It includes grants and loans for biochar market research and development, biochar characterization and environmental analyses. It directs USDI and USDA to provide loan guarantees for biochar technologies and on-the-ground production with an emphasis on biomass from public lands. And the USGS is to do biomas availability assessments.
WashingtonWatch.com - S. 1713, The Water Efficiency via Carbon Harvesting and Restoration (WECHAR) Act of 2009

Individual and groups can show support for WECHAR by signing online at:

Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.
540 289 9750

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Erich J. Knight said...

The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change
Albert Bates
Civilization as we know it is at a crossroads. For the past 10,000 years, we have turned a growing understanding of physics, chemistry and biology to our advantage in producing more energy and more food and as a consequence have produced exponential population surges, resource depletion, ocean acidification, desertification and climate change.

The path we are following began with long-ago discoveries in agriculture, but it divided into two branches, about 8,000 years ago. The branch we have been following for the most part is conventional farming - irrigation, tilling the soil, and removing weeds and pests. That branch has degraded soil carbon levels by as much as 80 percent in most of the world's breadbaskets, sending all that carbon skyward with each pass of the plow.

The other branch disappeared from our view some 500 years ago, although archaeologists are starting to pick up its trail now. At one time it achieved success as great as the agriculture that we know, producing exponential population surges and great cities, but all that was lost in a fluke historical event borne of a single genetic quirk.

It vanished when European and Asian diseases arrived in the Americas.