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Illinois Biochar Group (United States)

research plotThe Illinois Biochar Group coordinator is currently Steve Peterson who is a research chemist with the USDA's Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois. The news for the group can be found at http://www.biochar.illinois.edu/.

The Illinois Biochar Group encourages research in the production and use of biochar. For example, research and development is needed to establish standardized biochar production methods and to understand how to produce biochar suitable for agricultural use so that it is beneficial and does not have any adverse affects on crops or the environment. Further research is needed to assess the impact of biochar on soil ecology and processes.  We also hope to inform and educate others about biochar and it potential for applications in agriculture and site remediation and in carbon sequestration as well as about bio-oils which are produced in the pyrolysis process of making biochar.

Our group was initially established by Paul Wever and Paul Anderson of Chip Energy, Inc., in Goodfield, Illinois, who were interested in biochar production. Researchers at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, became involved with the group in 2010.  ISTC hosted a Biochar Symposium on September 1, 2010, which was attended by a mix of approximately 60 scientists, engineers, businessmen, and agricultural specialists from throughout the Midwest. The presentations from that symposium can be viewed at www.istc.illinois.edu/research/biocharsymposium2010.cfm. From that start, the Illinois Biochar Group has grown to over 35 regularly participating members and usually holds 2 - 3 meetings a year as well as a workshop or conference. It co-organized the first Midwest Biochar Conference in June 2013. For IBG meeting and conference information and archived presentations, please see the IBG website. Anyone interested in any aspect of biochar is welcome to attend our meetings.

Recent research and other projects of our members include examining: (1) production of biochar from a variety of waste biomass and testing its characteristics; (2) use of biochar as a soil amendment for sustainable agriculture;  (3) potential environmental implications associated with biochar use such as on PAH bioavailability or changes to soils, etc.; (4) application of biochar in site remediation projects or for landfill covers or in riparian buffer zones; (5) modifications of biochars for improved carbon sequestration; (6) use for reduction of GHG emissions from soils; (7) use of biochar as a replacement for activated carbon or other compounds in products; and (8) new design of various pyrolysis furnaces and testing of production methods.

If you would like to join the Illinois Biochar Group or have more information about the group, please contact Steve Peterson by email at steve.peterson@ars.usda.gov.

December 2013 Update

The Illinois Biochar Group fall meeting was held on November 15, 2013, at the USDA’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, IL. Over 35 people were in attendance. The group was given a tour of the USDA labs, and there were a number of new projects and updates on current biochar projects presented. Power points of most of those presentations can be found at  www.biochar.illinos.edu.

Also Nancy Holm, current IBG coordinator, is stepping down as of December 31 and Steve Peterson, who is a research chemist with the USDA's Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, will take over as coordinator. Steve is conducting studies on biochar characteristics and use as a replacement material in products and also developing other bio-based products.

September 2013 Update

The Illinois Biochar Group fall meeting will be held on Nov. 15, 2013, at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR), 1815 University Ave., Peoria, IL. The meeting will begin at 1:15 p.m. Prior to that at 11:15 a.m. until noon there will be lunch available and networking opportunities. At noon – 1 pm there will be tours of the Center. There will be additional tours at 3:45 p.m., after the meeting. Please contact Steve Peterson, Research Chemist at NCAUR, with any questions - Steve.Peterson@ars.usda.gov or 309-681-6325. The agenda for the meeting will be posted shortly on the IBG website www.biochar.illinois.edu. The meetings are open to anyone interested in biochar production and applications.

June 2013 Update

The Illinois Biochar Group (IBG), in conjunction with the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois) and the USDA, organized the first Midwest Biochar Conference on June 14, 2013. The event was held on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign. There were 75 attendees from throughout the US. Abstracts for the oral presentations and posters are available on the IBG website  http://www.biochar.illinois.edu/past_events.shtml. The powerpoints and videos of the oral presentations will be posted for viewing on the website by July 1, 2013.

Researchers Nancy Holm and Dr. BK Sharma from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, along with Dr. Kurt Spokas USDA-ARS in St. Paul, MN, are collaborating on a greenhouse study using ten different soils in Illinois combined with different biochar treatments. The study will investigate the chemical, biological, and physical properties across a range of soils found in Illinois when mixed with biochar at three different concentrations and made from three different feedstocks using two production methods. The data collected in this study will enable researchers to better predict the behavior of the biochar in Illinois soils, understand the effects of application of various biochars on the soil quality, and help farmers decide what biochar will be best for their soil types. The data will also serve as a guide for understanding potential effects of the biochar additions on plant growth, microbial activity, and greenhouse gas emissions in these different soils. The research project will be completed by Dec. 2013.

May 2012 Updates

The summer meeting of the Illinois Biochar Group will be held on Thurs., June 14 from 1 pm – 3:30 pm at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There will be presentations on current biochar research projects and other biochar/stove activities by our members, including Paul Wever of Chip Energy discussing their new grant to start construction of the Biomass Conversion Facility in Goodfield, Illinois; Paul Anderson talking about his work with stoves in Haiti and also Uganda / Kenya; and several UI researchers presenting their research on PAHs in biochars, field trial plans, etc. Any person doing work on biochar in the Midwest who would wish to talk for 5-10 min about their project can contact Nancy Holm, IBG coordinator, before May 31.

There will also be discussion about the new International Biochar Initiative guidelines “Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines for Biochar That Is Used in Soil”.  A list of presenters and the agenda will be posted on the IBG website www.biochar.illinois.edu by June 1.  There will be tours of ISTC laboratory facilities at 12:30 pm and 3:30 pm that day.  Please email Nancy Holm at naholm@illinois.edu if you plan to attend the meeting.