Location

Logan, UT

Event Website

http://restoringthewest.org/

Streaming Media

Abstract

Charcoal is a common component temperate forest soils. It results from wildfire events that frequently disturb the structure and function of vegetation and soils. Recent interest in applying biochar (artificially produced charcoal) to forest ecosystems raises both opportunities and concerns. The greatest opportunity for biochar application to forest soils is through the utilization of continuously produced and overabundant forest biomass for the production of bioenergy. Biochar is a co-product of the mobile fast-pyrolysis biofuel production approach. This approach will result in abundant biochar for amendment to forest soils. Biochar amendment has important potential to improve forest soil quality by altering physical, chemical and biological properties. The highly porous and absorbent nature of biochar improves bulk density which allows greater root growth, enhanced water holding capacity and soil porosity. Biochar also enhances retention of nutrients and can neutralize soil acidity. The combination of these physical and chemical alterations results in altered microbial communities and function. Considering that biochar is mostly carbon that is resistant to microbial decay, it can also serve to sequester carbon in the soil; carbon that was recently fixed from the atmosphere.

Thus, forests can act as a natural carbon capture and storage system if excess biomass is utilized for biofuel production using the mobile fast pyrolysis process. However, before large-scale application of biochar is initiated there are numerous concerns that must be addressed. Biochar may initially deplete nutrient availability in forest systems. Forest soils are typically nutrient limited and the absorbant nature may have negative consequences on soil nutrients and tree growth. Biochar may also add organic chemicals to forest soils. Some of the pyrogenic oils are trapped in bochar and the effects of these compounds have not been investigated. Biochar amendments to forests are also known to enhance microbial activity which may accelerate decomposition of native soil organic matter and thus offset the carbon sequestration potential. While the opportunities for biochar appear to far outweigh any negative impacts, it is important to evaluate the effects of biochar amendments on forest ecosystems prior to wholesale applications.

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Oct 19th, 12:00 AM

Biochar and Forest Ecology

Logan, UT

Charcoal is a common component temperate forest soils. It results from wildfire events that frequently disturb the structure and function of vegetation and soils. Recent interest in applying biochar (artificially produced charcoal) to forest ecosystems raises both opportunities and concerns. The greatest opportunity for biochar application to forest soils is through the utilization of continuously produced and overabundant forest biomass for the production of bioenergy. Biochar is a co-product of the mobile fast-pyrolysis biofuel production approach. This approach will result in abundant biochar for amendment to forest soils. Biochar amendment has important potential to improve forest soil quality by altering physical, chemical and biological properties. The highly porous and absorbent nature of biochar improves bulk density which allows greater root growth, enhanced water holding capacity and soil porosity. Biochar also enhances retention of nutrients and can neutralize soil acidity. The combination of these physical and chemical alterations results in altered microbial communities and function. Considering that biochar is mostly carbon that is resistant to microbial decay, it can also serve to sequester carbon in the soil; carbon that was recently fixed from the atmosphere.

Thus, forests can act as a natural carbon capture and storage system if excess biomass is utilized for biofuel production using the mobile fast pyrolysis process. However, before large-scale application of biochar is initiated there are numerous concerns that must be addressed. Biochar may initially deplete nutrient availability in forest systems. Forest soils are typically nutrient limited and the absorbant nature may have negative consequences on soil nutrients and tree growth. Biochar may also add organic chemicals to forest soils. Some of the pyrogenic oils are trapped in bochar and the effects of these compounds have not been investigated. Biochar amendments to forests are also known to enhance microbial activity which may accelerate decomposition of native soil organic matter and thus offset the carbon sequestration potential. While the opportunities for biochar appear to far outweigh any negative impacts, it is important to evaluate the effects of biochar amendments on forest ecosystems prior to wholesale applications.

http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/rtw/2011/Breakout5/3