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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Corvallis, Oregon » Forage Seed and Cereal Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #350548

Research Project: Multi-Objective Optimization of a Profitable and Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture to Produce Food and Fiber in a Changing Climate

Location: Forage Seed and Cereal Research

Title: Can biochar link forest restoration with commercial agriculture?

item SESSIONS, JOHN - Oregon State University
item SMITH, DAVID - Oregon State University
item Trippe, Kristin
item CAMPBELL, JOHN - Oregon State University
item BAILEY, JOHN - Oregon State University
item FRIED, JEREMY - Us Forest Service (FS)
item HOLLAMON, WILLIAM - Oregon State University
item PETITMERMET, JOSHUA - Oregon State University
item Phillips, Claire

Submitted to: Biomass and Bioenergy
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/26/2019
Publication Date: 3/15/2019
Citation: Sessions, J., Smith, D., Trippe, K.M., Campbell, J., Bailey, J., Fried, J., Hollamon, W., Petitmermet, J., Phillips, C.L. 2019. Can biochar link forest restoration with commercial agriculture? Biomass and Bioenergy. 123:175-185.

Interpretive Summary: The ability of biochar, or charcoal produced as an soil amendment, to improve soil health and increase plant productivity has received much attention over the past decade. However, very few studies have assessed the economic potential of large biochar facilities or their potential to couple forest restoration with improving agricultural productivity. The current study evaluates the cost of building and operating a commercial biochar operation, including the cost of harvesting and transporting low-value timber from adjacent public lands. The study also evaluates the price point that farmers in the region could invest, given current crop values.

Technical Abstract: The commercial use of biomass generated by forest restoration operations has long been considered for its potential to offset the often high cost of reducing fire hazard across forested landscapes. Newly emerging bioenergy and biochar production technology consumes forest biomass and produces stable charcoal that, when applied to dryland agricultural soils, can increase water holding capacity and food crop production while retaining the forest-origin carbon in comparatively stable soil pools. In this way, we can extend economic, social and ecological benefits from forest restoration to renewable energy production and increased food crop production. Biochar offers the greatest opportunity where dryland food crops, limited water availability, existing energy transmission infrastructure, and high-fire hazard forests share the landscape. We describe a multidisciplinary, landscape-level study nearing completion in Oregon that explores optimization of wildfire hazard reduction treatments, biochar facility locations, and agricultural field applications to promote forest restoration, forest-related employment, increased agricultural competitiveness and carbon sequestration. In this paper we frame the discussion of biomass supply from forest restoration, focus on biochar production facility and production costs, and briefly evaluate the potential benefits needed to carry the costs of biochar production.