Working Community Forests
Table of Contents
The Biochar Demonstration Project emerged from the community through a series of community outreach events organized by the Mendocino County Woody Biomass Working Group (WBWG).
The Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. (RRFI) agreed to take the lead responsibility for implementing the project because it is synergistic with RFFI's values and objectives.
Working with the Mendocino WBWG, Humboldt State University and a network of partners, RFFI has been able to secure the funding to get the program started. Some operational funding support is still needed to bridge the gap until the project will become self-supporting.
RFFI chose to support this project because it is a congruent of its commitment to the "Three Es:"
From an ecological perspective, removing excess woody biomass from overcrowded forest stands is a form of forest restoration - reducing risk of catastrophic forest fire events, improving forest habitat and biodiversity and increasing water discharge into local streams and tributaries. In addition, biochar itself has an array of ecological benefits including carbon sequestration, the prevention of fertilizer run-off and overall improvement of soil health.
Economically, biochar has a higher value than other end products such as biomass converted into electricity. This higher value allows for a smaller scale project that can produce enough revenue to pay for itself. The economic sustainability of the project will be a key factor in the eventual replication of the project throughout the region.
From the perspective of social equity, this project will provide well-paying jobs thinning, transporting, operating the conversion unit and managing the project. Additionally, this project is part of the localization movement, which has gained widespread support throughout the region. RFFI will be producing an input into local agriculture from local forests.
Finally, RFFI hopes to help other landowners replicate this project, improving large tracts of forestland / ecosystem services, developing a local biochar industry and creating additional sources of revenue for forest landowners, biochar producers, soil retailers / wholesalers and farmers in the region.
"What is Happening to Our Forests?", a short video linked below that is produced by the Aspen Center for Environemental Studies, explains why biomass utilization is an important issue and points to biochar production as part of the solution.
Step 1: RFFI will remove excess woody biomass from overcrowded forest stands in the Usal Redwood Forest.
Biomass is one of the few renewable resources that can create problems when not used. In many Mendocino County forests the growth of small diameter trees and underbrush are negatively impacting forest health:
Currently, landowners use time and resources to clear brush and thin over crowded stands. Brush piles are often burned on-site, releasing carbon and particulate matter into the atmosphere.
In 2013, RFFI began thinning a heavily overcrowded tan oak dominated forest stand in the South Fork of the Eel River Watershed in the Usal Redwood Forest. Approximately 75 tons of biomass were thinned in a very selective way -- trying to create canopy openings to replant with Redwood, but leaving shade to prevent tan oak re-sprouting. Biomass removal was guided by Ecological Assessment of Biomass Thinning in Coastal Forests ( 0.9 MB pdf), by Greg Giusti - U.C. Cooperative Extension.
The guidelines provided by this literature review focus on maximizing biodiversity by being extremely particular about leaving diverse habitat elements when harvesting. Giusti completed a post harvest assessment, Ecological Assessment of Biomass Thinning in Coastal Forests - Phase II: Pre and post-harvest stand assessment of woody biomass harvesting ( 0.9 MB pdf), which found that "woody biomass utilization can be approached with a scientific basis to retain key ecological attributes and components important in addressing coast redwood forest sustainability."
The stands are part of existing timber harvest plans (THPs), providing the legal basis required to allow for the sale of value-added products that come from the land. RFFI estimates that thinning about 35 acres will provide enough biomass feedstock to operate the biochar conversion unit 200 days for two years. The number of tons per acre of biomass removed will depend on the condition of each individual forest stand.
Videos: Biochar Demonstration Plot
Step 2: Transport and chip waste biomass at the biochar conversion unit site located near the Usal Redwood Forest.
Biomass that is removed from the Usal Redwood Forest will be decked on a landing for several months in order to allow the woody material to dry before it is chipped and hauled to the biochar conversion unit.
RFFI will be hiring Eager Beaver chipping company from Ft. Bragg, CA to chip and haul the woody material. Eager Beaver has the capacity to chip logs up to 14 inches in diameter and 20 feet long. The equipment landing is purposely located only a couple of miles from the timber harvest site. This reduces transportation costs, which are generally the most expensive part of biomass utilization projects.
Step 3: Convert biomass chips into biochar using the Semi-Mobile T-1000 Thermal Conversion Unit manufactured by BioChar Solutions Inc.
Biochar is created through a process called pyrolysis, where heat is added to wood in a chamber deprived of oxygen. The result is that the wood is pyrolyzed rather than burned, creating a charcoal-like product similar to charcoal used for BBQ purposes.
RFFI is acquiring the T-1000 Thermal Conversion Unit from Biochar Solutions Inc., Boulder Colorado. This machine can process 500 pounds of biomass per hour, producing 100-120 pounds of biochar. RFFI intends to operate the equipment 200 days per year for 10 hours per day, producing a total of 100 tons of biochar per year.
Step 4: Sell the biochar as locally as possible as a soil amendment and / or carbon filtration medium.
Marketing and sales will be guided by the following principles:
RFFI is selling bulk North Coast Biochar through Willits Soil Co. Inc., a locally owned and operated soil company located in Willits, CA. For sales inquiries call 707-744-8626 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, see:
Step 5: Produce revenue to pay for the cost of the project, creating an economically sustainable method of forest restoration.
Biochar production at the Branscomb Mill Site successfully provides a baseline for future decision-making around commercial biochar operations on the North Coast.
The Biochar Demonstration Project Economic Analysis lays out scenarios that, if implemented, would create an economically sustainable method for biomass removal. Biochar production not only has the potential to put economics into forest restoration, but also through agricultural water savings, more efficient use of fertilizers and carbon sequestration, it can help address the major environmental issues of our time.
Biochar can be used in agriculture as a soil amendment. Buried biochar enhances the ability of plants to utilize nutrients that already exist in soil, reduces nutrient run-off (i.e. fertilizer run-off) into local streams, increases water infiltration in clay soils and water holding capacity in sandy soils and increases microbial activity by providing a habitat for microbes to flourish. These combined benefits can increase crop yields and reduce fertilizer and water use.
Biochar can also be used as a water filtration tool for ground water, storm water and industrial wastewater. A study from Old Dominion University showed that biochar removed copper, cadmium and lead from contaminated water (Regmi, Pusker, Jose Luis Garcia Moscoso, Doris Hamill, Sandeep Kumar, and Gary Schafran. Biochar: A Renewable Material for Removing Contaminants from Water. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Old Dominion University, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013).
Studies out of Portland, Oregon, have shown that green roofs amended with 7% biochar had decreased discharge of total nitrogen, total phosphorus, nitrate, phosphate and organic carbon after rainfall events (Johnson, Gwynn R., and Graig A. Spolek. "Amending Greenroof Soil with Biochar to Affect Runoff Water Quantity and Quality." Environmental Pollution. By Deborah A. Beck. Vol. 159. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 2111-118. 8-9. Portland State University. Web. 29 Apr. 2013). Biochar's filtration capacity makes it ideal for land reclamation purposes.
Finally, unlike burning woody biomass to make energy, biochar retains 50% of the carbon initially contained in the wood before it was converted into biochar. This carbon can be sequestered for hundreds to thousands of years, effectively creating a carbon sink in croplands and home gardens.
Step 6: Document and help landowners replicate this 3-E method for excess biomass utilization in the region.
An important goal of this project is to develop and demonstrate a replicable project of biomass recycling that pays for the cost of in-forest conservation practices through the production and sale of biochar.
A cornerstone of transferring information to the regional community will be our continuing community outreach activities in conjunction with our partners at Humboldt State University and the Mendocino Woody Biomass Group.
RFFI will work with this emerging technology and create a fact sheet based on information derived from project components one through three, including recommendations for future project replication. We will distribute the fact sheet and ongoing project developments through periodic email messages, postings on this website and presentations in regional workshops. In addition, we will offer tours and meet with interested parties. All reports that are developed during this project will be posted on this website.
Please sign up (below) for periodic email communication from RFFI and visit this website periodically to track project progress.
Technical Transfer Workshop Presentations
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