Karl's note: I invited Lopa Brunjes, one of the top proponents of biochar, to document her trip to the biochar convention this month. Biochar is a technology which could provide clean energy, sequester carbon, and enrich soil all at the same time.

Last week, Boulder hosted 300 scientists, policymakers, businesspeople, engineers, enthusiasts and one very prominent Secretary of Agriculture, all with one thing in common: biochar. Here are the top six most exciting biochar innovations for an industry that is blasting off:

1. Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (and by extension, the USDA): OK, Tom, you get first billing for a speech that re-injected a mid-year breath of governmental hope into most of the audience. Following explicit instructions from President Obama, Secretary Vilsack is on a mission to help free the U.S. of its fossil fuel dependency -- and he’s on the biochar train. Obama gave him four imperatives: climate change, national security, energy security and rural economy. Biochar supports all of these. Vilsack said there may be an opportunity for more government funding for biochar in 2011, and also hinted at an exciting USDA program to be released soon called “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.” 

2. WorldStove: With an almost impossibly likeable personality and a humanitarian perseverance that smacks of the heroic Greg Mortenson, Italian Nathaniel Mulcahy (Mul-kay-hee) of WorldStove is on a mission: One Million Stoves to Save the World. His impeccable Italian-designed cookstoves produce small amounts of biochar while reducing indoor pollution from developing-world cooking fires. Such cooking fires produce massive black carbon emissions. BC, or soot, plays a major role as a short-lived climate forcer. WorldStove sells small stoves, from backpacker-sized to home furnaces, and has pilot projects in Burkina Faso, Congo, Niger, Uganda and more. Stay tuned for the announcement of its U.S. distribution partner if you want to get your hands on one.

3. Carbon Negative Food: Human luminary David Yarrow gave an inspiring speech about the potential for biochar PR by labeling food not only organic, but “carbon negative” via L.I.F.E. (Locally Integrated Food and Energy) systems that feature biochar use in fertilizer and energy production. Closed-loop agriculture, here we come!

4. Biochar Systems: Full disclosure: I co-founded this company, so I’m a bit biased, but its business model has me singing with excitement.  Biochar Systems is a new company that prefers collaboration over competition, creating partnerships to advance the biochar market, research, and policy -- with a goal of facilitating the sequestration of one gigaton of carbon via biochar. It’s technologically agnostic, selling all sizes of the best available biochar technology and soil products, while offering educational tools, biochar business support services, and an integrated Web portal (under construction now) that will act as a hub for all things biochar. Think Wikipedia meets Amazon meets Google Scholar for biochar, with a dash of Craigslist thrown in for local economy empowerment.

5. Designer Biochar:  One of the themes throughout the scientific presentations at the conference was not all biochars are created equal.  Different production conditions and different soil types have a significant effect on its potential benefits. Jeff Novak of the USDA-ARS brought this into an optimistic light by showcasing the potential to create designer biochars to remediate specific chemical and physical aspects of degraded soils. More research is still needed to know which biochars from which feedstocks have which effects on which soils.

6. World’s First Biochar Methodology:  The UK’s Carbon Gold has just released the first voluntary carbon standard biochar methodology, which is available for public comment until Aug. 29. According to some experts at the conference, the methodology is not perfect, but it is a massive step in the direction of getting due credit for biochar’s carbon sequestration ability.

Lopa Brunjes is executive VP of Biochar Engineering Corp, a cofounder of Biochar Systems, and an avid biochar evangelista working to unite the business, science and policy of biochar within an obsessively sustainable framework.  


'Char-apalooza' presents top biochar breakthroughs
First North American Biochar Convention pulls in top Obama brass and puts this fledgling industry on the map.