Dynamotive, BlueLeaf complete two-year biochar trial

By Anna Austin
Posted February 22, 2010, at 2:18 p.m. CST

Biochar technology company Dynamotive Energy Systems Corp. and environmental research company BlueLeaf Inc. have completed the second round of field trials testing various effects of commercial-scale plantings of wood waste-derived biochar.

For the past two years, the companies have investigated the effects of Dyanamotive's CQuest Biochar on certain basic physicochemical and biological soil and plant parameters, as well as the ability of biochar to retain moisture in the soil, the influence of biochar on crop and biomass yields, the influence of biochar on soil respiration, and the effects of a handling and application method of biochar on the soil at commercial farming test plots in Québec, Canada.

The material used in the trials was produced in 2007 and kept in storage by Dynamotive until shipment to the trial site on May 16, 2008. The biochar was packaged at the production facility in 200-liter (55 gallon) steel drums, each containing approximately 55 kilograms (121 pounds) of biochar and shipped by truck to the farm trial site.

The biochar was distributed on the plots using a commercial lime spreader at a rate of 1.75 tons per acre, accounting for wind losses of fine material of about 30 percent. Last year's results showed a plant density increase of up to 41 percent using certain planting methods, with an overall average of a 24 percent plant density increase with biochar use, compared with the control plots. Among 2009 results was a 100 percent increase in biomass for a forage mixture, as well as increases in earthworm, nematode and mycorrhizal root colonization, which may suggest biochar could serve as a refuge for soil microbes.

Other conclusions of the study included:

•Best management techniques such as wetting the material prior to handling must be developed because of large wind losses of the fine material.

•Soybean and forage yields were improved, although forage quality was slightly lower when biochar was applied. In the case of soybeans, the yield increase was brought about by greater plant population density, and not greater seed production per plant.

•Biochar reduced total soil phosphorus content, which requires further investigation given the soil is considered phosphorus-saturated and management is critical in the ecosystem.

•The application of 1.75 tons per acre did not produce measurable increases in total soil carbon or soil respiration, but statistical analyses could not performed because of the lack of randomization and replication, therefore data must be considered preliminary and further field studies are required to fully understand the effects of biochar application on soils of this temperate region. The application rate used was low and greater rates along with different biochar materials must be tested.

A copy of the full report may be accessed at http://www.dynamotive.com/assets/resources/BlueLeaf-Biochar-FT0809.pdf.