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The Secrets of Biochar


Two thousand years ago the Amazonians discovered the secrets of “Biochar” – a carbon-based substance that is created with same physical properties as charcoal. These secrets include increasing crop yields, soil moisture, reducing harmful runoff, sequestering carbon, and improving storm water control.

The Amazonians have a lot to teach us about maintaining earth’s health.

They figured out that adding biochar to their soils increased its fertility tremendously, thus increasing crop yields. Biochar is a carbon-based soil amendment created through pyrolysis, which is the decomposition of organic matter at high temperatures. Any organic mass can be used to create biochar in an oven without oxygen, although wood and poultry litter have shown the best results.

Biochar is created with same physical properties as  familiar charcoal. Photo credit: Ischaramoochie, via Wikimedia Commons

Biochar is created with same physical properties as familiar charcoal. Photo credit: Ischaramoochie, via Wikimedia Commons


Treating stormwater runoff plays a substantial role in protecting the Inland Bays.
Stormwater leads to flooding, erosion, pollution, and many other health and environmental concerns. Recent research completed at the University of Delaware studied biochar’s effect on water retention, nitrogen removal, and runoff reduction. This project compared the effects of a control group, wood biochar, and poultry litter biochar.

They found that biochar removed 36% of nitrogen in runoff while the control managed to generate 6% more nitrogen. University of Delaware studies concluded that soil with added biochar reduced the average flow rate of storm water by an impressive 54% and average runoff volume by 75%. Biochar has astonishing results with only room to grow!

This is why the Center for the Inland Bays is taking action by including biochar in stormwater retrofit projects. These projects, like those at the Anchorage Canal Drainage Area and the Stockley Center, focus on managing impervious areas around the Inland Bays subject to flooding.

Storm water retrofits prevent water from washing into storm drains, allowing it to soak and filter into the ground.

Storm water retrofits prevent water from washing into storm drains, allowing it to soak and filter into the ground.


This year, I have started my own independent study of biochar created in my backyard. My hypothesis is: if 5% biochar (wood or wood/manure) is added to soil, growing yields will be increased.

Currently, I do not have a definitive answer but my research will be concluded by the beginning of summer. As of now, the biochar/manure mix has a much better water retention time than both the control group and wood biochar.  This also creates a much better growth yield but my final conclusion will accurately reveal my studies.

 

About the Author

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Originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico, Nivette completed her Bachelor's in Coastal Marine Biology at the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao. She then went on to complete her Masters of Science in Natural Resources through Delaware State University as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Living Marine Resources Cooperative Science Center in Dover, Delaware.

Before her work at the Center, she held a field technician position with Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and worked as an independent consultant for the Caribbean Fishery Management Council.  Through these experiences, she interacted with numerous recreational and commercial anglers learning first-hand about fisheries and aquatic ecosystems. These interactions motivated her passion for science communications.

In her spare time, she can be found training Krav-Maga, helping organize events to promote outdoor recreation like Delaware’s Becoming an Outdoors Woman program, working to increase Diversity and Inclusion in the fisheries sciences with the Equal Opportunity Section of the American Fisheries Society, hiking Delaware’s trails or fishing Delaware’s waterways with friends and family.


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