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Biochar Citizen Science Project
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Biochar Citizen Science Project

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A citizen science effort is being coordinated to examine biochar aging on a global scale.

Biochar, a newly defined category of charcoal materials, has been proposed to address numerous environmental issues when added to soil. Briefly, biochar is created by heating biomass (e.g., wood, grass, manure) in a low-oxygen environment through a process known as pyrolysis. The resulting product is like charcoal [in fact, if it was used for energy it would be called charcoal]; however, biochar is special due to its intended application to soils for carbon sequestration and improving soil health. Theoretically, biochar will mitigate climate change by providing long-term carbon storage, and enhance soil health by improving nutrient and water availability. Additionally, biochar also been cited to offer a litany of other environmental benefits

Given the extensive list of potential applications, it is not surprising that this special “charcoal” has captured the attention of the public, farmers, and scientists alike.

There are numerous on-going research efforts in biochar. This proposed citizen science research will fill the gaps in the knowledge of the underlying mechanisms involved in both sorption and environmental persistence of biochar; which to date have not been examined in detail.

This dataset will be unique, since it will be the first synthesized attempt at understanding the factors determining the fate and disintegration of the same biochar located at different locations. These data will provide the basis for predicting biochar fate across a wide range of soils and climates all with the same sourced biochar, which has not been accomplished to date.


However, this can not be completed without your help !!


Volunteers are being solicited to bury triplicate litter bags of a randomly selected type of the same biochar (or multiple types if they are willing) in their respective locations for a known period of time (e.g., 3, 6, or 12 months) at a specific depth (10 cm or 5 inches). Following this period of time, the volunteer will return the biochar litterbags to St. Paul, MN for analysis, along with a corresponding soil sample (Shipping labels will be included with the materials).

After receipt in the laboratory, the biochar from the mesh bags will be analyzed for total gravimetric mass loss; overall surface chemistry alterations (FTIR); alterations in greenhouse gas production potential (laboratory Incubations); soil microbial activity (by selective inhibitor incubation); scanning electron microscopy (SEM) characterization through the University of Minnesota Surface Characterization Laboratory; wet chemistry titrations; and alterations in the solids, non-filterable suspended particles (EPA Method 8158; 8164) and dissolved and fixed volatile solids (USEPA method 8277).

There also will be a temperature data logger (Onset Computing) enclosed in the litter bag to record soil temperature during each burial event (minimum of one logger for each location). The corresponding soil will be analyzed for typical soil nutrient and soil texture analyses by an external laboratory.

All of the data from the soil and the biochar aging will be made available to the participant.


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Figure Caption: A) Fresh biochar (500 C oak hardwood) and B) same biochar after 6 months in a Waukegan silt loam soil (Rosemount, MN) (1,500x magnification) [Parts of this work were carried out in the Characterization Facility, University of Minnesota, which receives partial support from the NSF through the MRSEC (Award Number DMR-2011401) and the NNCI (Award Number ECCS-2025124) programs.]


 Current Participants:

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Current Status: Ongoing (Sample Analysis)