Biochar Production in Small Farm Settings
- Dr. Rob Prins (Department of Engineering)
- Dr. Wayne Teel (ISAT)
- Matt Feltz (ISAT student)
- Brandon Dick (ISAT student)
The Shenandoah Valley has a rich agricultural heritage and is home to a strong “sustainable food” movement that encourages Valley residents to purchase fresh produce and meat from local growers. Since growers in the Shenandoah Valley tend to be smaller scale farms this often equates to the purchase of local foods that are also organically grown. Dr. Wayne Teel of the ISAT program is involved with a number of efforts to support local agriculture through his soil research. Dr. Prins is working with Dr. Teel on one of these projects; namely biochar production. Biochar is basically charcoal, but instead of being compressed to form a briquette for a barbeque grill, it is crushed into pebble or sand sized particles and used as a soil amendment (commercial soil amendments are often referred to as “fertilizer”). Work in a variety of countries, first the Amazon Basin, then Japan, tropical Africa, and now the United States, has shown that biochar improves moisture retention and also acts as a host to “good” bacteria. The problem is how to produce it in different contexts. Drs. Teel and Prins are working with students on a design project to construct a farm-scale biochar production oven, called a retort, on a hydroponic lettuce farm near Harrisonburg. The intent is to use the excess energy from the production process to heat hydroponic ponds in the greenhouse.
Matt Feltz and Brandon Dick familiarize themselves with a hydroponic lettuce operation.
- Have a wonderful summer!
- 2013 Summer Session