Waste Biomass Charcoal is Solution to Toxic Fertilizers, Says Kickstarter Project (Interview)

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Jason Aramburu’s call to join him in expanding the “Black Revolution” isn’t as radical as it sounds, and yet it is.

Let me explain. Black Revolution is a brand name for biochar, a charcoal produced at high temperatures (over 400C) from waste biomass. Biochar is made from a variety of waste products including waste from, lumber mills, corn, and sugarcane.

According to Jason, you can use biochar as a soil amendment in your garden, raised beds, and container gardens. You can even start seeds and grow plants directly in a bag of Black Revolution biochar in a small space like a balcony or fire escape. Each bag of Black Revolution contains enough carbon-negative biochar to offset significant CO2 emissions. Using the smallest bag is equivalent to rolling back the emissions from 5-6 miles of driving.

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For the past few years Jason has been working with Kenyan farmers to educate them on how biochar is a great alternative to trees used as cooking fuel, as well as informing them on its agricultural applications. He’s ready to bring biochar production to the Unites States in the form of biochar production facilities housed inside of 20' shipping containers that would be deployed across the country where there is demand for food production.

Watch Jason Explain Biochar and its Benefits in Food Production

A Kickstarter funding of $5,000 means a production run of Black Revolution biochar that will allow gardeners to participate in testing the product here, and contribute their results to the study. However, if the project raises $22,000, or more, that will mean more production facilities being created where there is demand.

Q&A: Black Revolution in Kenya, biochar's applications in the garden

I asked Jason if he would answer a couple of questions about biochar's garden applications for those of us who aren't very familiar with it. Below are the questions and the answers as Jason provided them.

TreeHugger: How is biochar created?

Jason Aramburu: Biochar is made through a process called pyrolysis, which means to 'decompose with fire.' In pyrolysis, the waste biomass, or feedstock, is heated to over 400 degrees C with minimal oxygen. Instead of combusting (burning) and turning to CO2 and ash, the biomass becomes biochar.

TreeHugger: What are the benefits of biochar for home gardeners?

Jason Aramburu: The benefits for home gardeners of biochar are quite tangible and far-reaching. Gardeners can reduce or even eliminate their use of chemical fertilizers, while growing up to 200% larger and healthier plants. They can also take an actionable and measurable step towards fighting climate change by using biochar.

That said, in our 4 years of experience, we've found raw biochar isn't easy for the novice or busy gardner to work with-- it's dusty and turns everything that touches it black. That's why launched our Black Revolution product. Black Revolution is a premade mix of biochar, compost and coconut coir. It's the world's first carbon-negative replacement for potting soil. Gardeners can even grow seeds directly in the bag. As I'm sure you know, most potting soil contains peat moss and vermiculite-- two non-renewable resources that are mined in sensitive habitats around the world.

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We've documented increases in yield of food crop of up to 200% in domestic soils by using biochar. In Kenya, biochar actually outperforms chemical fertilizer and we've seen yield increases up to 800% [that photo of the really tall maize was grown in biochar. You simply don't see maize like that in Kenya normally].

For a saavy gardener, using biochar will increase the soil's water holding capacity, meaning less runoff and less frequent watering. Biochar also increases aeration and slows the loss of nutrients (NPK). This means you can reduce or even eliminate your use of chemical fertilizers. Biochar also acts to increase the cation exchange capacity of the soil. This means that it makes it easier for plants to actually take up the nutrients present in the soil. This is probably the biggest contributor to the increases in yield we've seen.

Perhaps most important, by using biochar or Black Revolution in their gardens, consumers can actually work to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change. Every kilo of biochar represents up to 3kg of CO2 that is being taken out of the atmosphere. To put it in concrete terms, gardeners can offset up to 6 miles of driving a car by using one small bag of Black Revolution. With a bigger bag, that offset could be up to 60 miles.

TreeHugger: How has re:char's work in Kenya affected local economies?

Jason Aramburu: Biochar has transformed the local agricultural economies. It can generate up to $200 of additional income each year for a Kenyan farmer, allowing them to eat more nutritious food, send their kids to school and pay their medical bills. When the average income in Kenya is ~$600/year, this is a huge boost.

re:char's work has also generated skilled jobs for local metalworkers, laborers and business staff in Kenya. Unemployment is quite high in rural Africa, so any new jobs we can create go a long way. One of the engineers in our factory there -- his name is Paul Manda -- he's been with re:char for nearly a year. When we hired him, he lived in a mud hut with 3 kids and no electricity or running water. Now he lives in a middle class home with electricity and water, and he can pay for his children's school fees.

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We know we're having a strong impact in Kenya, but as a social enterprise, it's challenging to raise the growth capital we need to expand the business over there. That's part of why we're launching Black Revolution. The revenue generated from Black Revolution helps re:char to expand its developing world operations. This means that by buying a bag of Black Revolution, gardeners can improve their soil, their climate and the lives of farmers in East Africa.

Thanks for answering the questions, Jason. Don't forget to donate a few dollars to the Black Revolution Kickstarter campaign.

Tags: Biofuels | Farming | Gardening | Kenya | Kickstarter

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