Introduction to the Great Lakes Biochar Network and Biochar Basics
October 28, 2021
In this webinar you will learn more about the Great Lakes Biochar Network and how you can be involved in strengthening the network. You will also learn more about the basics of biochar, and how it can be used to help create a sustainable bio-economy.
Biochar can be made from a wide variety of different feedstocks, including low-value woody biomass, manures, agricultural wastes, etc. Its primary use is as a soil amendment, where it has been shown in many trials to increase crop productivity, particularly in sandy and low pH soils. There are many other applications as well, including as a soilless media substitute for peat, a compost feedstock, feed for livestock, or industrial purposes such as packing or building materials.
The Great Lakes Biochar Network is an initiative based out of Michigan State University. There are many stakeholders involved with biochar in the Great Lakes region, and the aim of the GLBN is to strengthen the connections between stakeholders, including between researchers and practitioners, to ensure that the most pertinent and verified information on biochar in our region is getting in the hands of the practitioners that need it, and that researchers know what information is needed as we continue to advance the use of biochar in the Great Lakes region.
Watch this webinar to know how you can get involved!
Hi everyone and welcome to the first webinar of the Great Lakes Biochar Network. We are excited to have you all here we're going to wait a few minutes, as people start trickling in, I see the participants number going up there. In the meanwhile while we're waiting to officially start if you want to check out the chat function that should probably be at the bottom of your screen. If you click on that you'll be able to enter into the chat information. We will try to keep this as, you know, informal and imagining we're in person as much as possible so your ability to introduce yourself to the other participants in the webinar. If you want to just put in your name, where you're from and briefly how you're involved in biochar so putting some of our information, us as panelist into the chat now as just an example so if you want to go ahead and do that, go ahead and introduce yourselves and we'll just wait a few more minutes to really get started, while other people are coming on.
Alright. Welcome, everybody. I see some people entering in their information is great to have everyone we have 37 participants right now, we had over 100 people sign up, so we're excited to be getting the word out to people, engagements with the information about the webinars were over 1000 so we're hoping that this is just going to continue to grow so again if you're just coming on if you want to introduce yourself in the chat, but just information of your name where you're from and how you're involved in biochar right now.
A little bit of housekeeping. For one thing, I'm Dr Brooke Comer, my information there in the chat, the new program coordinator of the Great Lakes Biochar Network. And so the chat is here primarily for participants to be able to communicate with one another so you can post anything into the chat. And we're especially going to actually invite the opportunity for you to communicate and post into the chat for specific things like types of materials that might be helpful to you to come out of the Great Lakes Biochar Network throughout the presentation, but feel free to communicate with other participants on there as well. And we'll also have a question and answer forum, so that's where you can post questions that are directly to us as panelists, that you would like to have us answer, and have them be discussed so the types of questions that we're anticipating are ones that are primarily focused on the network, and what the network can be as opposed to kind of really specifics of, I have this garden plot and I want to grow tomatoes how much biotech Should I put in, anything can be put into the Q and A forum. I just want to say that not everything might get addressed. If it's not, kind of, specifically related to the content of this webinar, but feel free to post anything into that because it can go on to inform, for instance, when we have a frequently asked questions part of our website so just mostly try to direct those towards us as a panelist and what the Great Lakes Biochar Network is and how it can best work for you. As we are going through and you can post those questions as we're presenting, and we're going to be getting to those questions at the end of the the main part of the presentation. So please keep those coming and again if you're joining you want to introduce yourselves in the chat, and we're going to get going here and just a second. I'm Dr Comer or Brooke, the program coordinator of the Great Lakes Biochar Network, the one that's probably been sending you emails recently so glad to have you here, and co-presenting this first webinar with Dr. Jessica Miesel who can introduce herself that's going to be kicking off the start of the webinar here.
Dr. Miesel: Hi great welcome everybody I see the participant number climbing and we're so excited to have you join us today for our first webinar in our of our new Great Lakes patch our network. And there's a couple more coming up this fall. I'm an associate professor at Michigan State University, housed primarily in the Department of plant, soil and microbial science with a joint appointment in forestry. So my research really is focused understanding how pyrogenic carbon, from wildfires or forest fires and how by biochar as a soil amendment influences soil carbon and soil nutrients. And we want to acknowledge here, our supporters. First of all, and so this inaugural network has been supported by MSU Project GREEEN, as well as by funding from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources through a landscape scale restoration grant in 2019. We're also supported by Michigan State University Extension, however, I'll say now and throughout the webinar that this is the start of a network so we as a team at Michigan State University have launched the network but the network will really be powered by and made up by people and organizations across our region so I want to emphasize that we are here to help connect participants and stakeholders from across the region, and that that's really what will embody the network. It's not, it's currently housed at Michigan State University, but it's not an MSU you exclusive program. Our goal is to serve our entire region, and all interests regarding biochar.
So before I get started, I'm also going to ask one more person to introduce himself. This is Charles Gould, and many of you may be familiar with him through his work with MSU extension, and he has been a strong supporter of our biochar work, so far so Charles would you like to introduce yourself.
Charles Gould: Thank you, Jessica. This is a red letter day, I became interested in bio char several years ago, and ended up because of that interest and partly because I thought biochar was Foo Foo dust, I ended up going to a conference in Oregon and had a epiphany while I was there and have really tried to throw my support behind the education of biochar and dispelling some of the myths that I found that I believed in that are not true. So I'm excited to be part of this endeavor. My responsibility is to work with Michigan farmers across the state to help them with make good renewable energy decisions and this effort is a is a way that I can you know help farmers, improve soil health and vitality and increase crop production where biochar fits in those cropping systems.
Dr. Miesel: Great, thank you, Charles. I'm going to move on to our next slide here. Maybe. There we go. I just want to acknowledge that our notice of non discrimination, again, part of this funding for the network in starting the network was provided by the USDA and Department of. Sorry, USDA Forest Service 2019 landscapes scale restoration grant to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources who has been a supporter of our project. MSU, Michigan DNR and USDA, we are all equal opportunity providers, and we are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex or disability. And our goal is to record this webinar post it on our website which we will provide that link later on in the webinar, and also provide an ADA compliant PDF side. If there's any other potential or suggestions you have for how to make our materials more inclusive, more accessible, please contact Brooke to communicate those, those requests, and suggestions.
Okay, so we're going to start off with a little bit of biochar basics, and I'm going to start with the, the traditional perspective of biochar which is, it's a carbon rich solid material you can think about it in terms of charcoal like substances. It's thermally decomposed and that means that it's biomass of many different types or of any type that is heated without oxygen present. If oxygen is present you tend to get flames and combustion, but this is pyrolysis, which is the breaking of chemical bonds by heat or charring the material. The technical definition of biochar is that it is a material, a pyrolyzed material that is produced with the intent to be applied to soil as a management practice as a management, excuse me, as a management practice for the purpose of improving improving soil productivity, improving so carbon storage. It can also help filter soil water. There are many different benefits that have been shown from biochar. We will touch a little bit on some of the cautions to keep in mind. The one of the unique aspects of biochar, is that it is a scalable production technology, meaning there, there is biochar that can be produced, and for the purpose of applying to soil, whether it is from a small scale single burner stove, up to an industrial scale process. So this is one of the advantages that is it scalable, which means it's accessible across a variety of interest areas. Our understanding of how biochar influences school properties really began with research in the Amazon. And so our understanding of biochar is relatively recent but it's important to keep in mind that this is not really a recent technology, this is actually a very ancient technology. And, and research on on biochar really began in these Amazon dark Earth or Terra Preta soils. These are anthrosols, which means they are soils, they're characterized by strong human influence. In the Amazon, the age estimates for these soils ranges from 1000 to 9000 years ago. And, in addition to having very high charcoal content, the these soils are also very productive. You've probably seen this photo in many different presentations, this is very widely used, to show what a typical low productivity tropical soil looks like on the left and the crops that are produced in this area, versus a nearby area that is an anthrosol or a Terra Preta soil. You can see this very dark color, which indicates high charcoal high carbon content, high nutrient content. And that's really reflected in very strong above ground plant growth. So, in fact up to 35% of carbon in these soils has been attributed to charcoal carbon and most topical soils lose productivity, very quickly after they begin being cultivated, and that's not the case with these Terra Preta soils, they have sustained productivity. But, and this is a relatively new area that I have learned about is that there's evidence that cultures in North America also use a similar process. And I want to highlight here, I'll put in the chat later on a link to a virtual conference of the College of the Menominee Nation posted, recently, which shows evidence of charcoal amendments being used in ancient gardens in northern Wisconsin. So this is a potentially widespread ancient use that can actually be used to help inform our efforts today to move towards a more sustainable future. And the technology we have available today, really expands opportunities for biochar, and it's co-products. So, this technology includes pyrolysis, which I mentioned earlier, as well as gasification. And our next webinars' presenter Chris Saffron will be talking about the production processes involved with biochar in next month's webinar.
So, this figure here is showing a pyrolysis plant but just keep in mind there's a couple different variations of thermal decomposition that can lead to biochar and it's and it's co-products. Essentially, we can take almost any type of biochar thermally decompose it, heat it without oxygen or without much oxygen and produce liquid, gas, and solid product. The, the conditions of the production facility can be optimized to either prioritize the, the liquid, the gas or the solid product. So, in general about half of the biomass carbon from this source material or feedstock material is converted into gas and liquid products, and this can be used for heat for energy for industrial, for industry for transportation. The other half of carbon in the biomass is stabilized as charcoal carbon. And this is important because carbon participates in a cycle, which means that carbon and biomass is sequestered into biomass through photosynthesis. And as that biomass dies and decomposes that carbon is fully released back to the atmosphere. So this process is shown in the carbon cycle diagram here, but by introducing pyrolysis into this process, we can actually stabilize some component of that carbon. So, by, instead of allowing all the, the biomass carbon to cycle back to the atmosphere. Approximately 50% can be stabilized or taken out of the cycle as biochar, meaning only half of the original biomass carbon is released to go back to the atmosphere, and much of that can pass through this gaseous or liquid products, also. So this is why you may hear biochar being described as a climate change mitigation strategy. And this is because it helps keep some carbon out of the atmosphere instead of cycling back to the atmosphere. And then the other connection I want to make here with Charles. Charles's expertise is that this connection between bio energy systems and biochar as a byproduct or co-product is one of the reasons there's been so much interest in biochar, because there's potential to fine tune these bio energy systems to help decrease our reliance on fossil fuels, while also producing a product that has potential agricultural and other value.
And so this brings us to this overarching question of how can biochar contribute to a sustainable bioeconomy, and there's been more and more initiatives and interests, growing across a region about the bioeconomy. And this figure illustrates the many potential types of industries that can benefit from biochar technologies. So biochar technologies, meaning those that produced biochar, as well as its co-products the syngas and the bio-oils. So these, this suite of products, can lead to benefits for the environment for bio energy, and for the economy and this is where a bio-based economy becomes more important.
And so these applications can range from agriculture, which is what is tends to be talked about most with biochar treating it as a soil amendment. But it's also used in livestock feed as a feed supplement. It can be used for environmental remediation, or as a component of packaging and building materials. So with all of these diverse interest areas, there are still many unanswered questions around each of them because we don't have much information about what's the best biochar to use, how to produce it most effectively. What are its short and long term effects, what are its potential negative effects. So, to help answer these questions there been a number of different regional, national, and international initiatives to help connect different partners involved with biochar and to help inform our understanding of the, the different types of considerations, we need to keep in mind, if we are going to be using, producing and using biochar. So some of the major players here are the International Biochar Initiative, and the US Biochar Initiative. And these organizations list a directory of regional groups, such as the Illinois Biochar group. Great Plains, Biochar Ontario, Eastern Biochar. And this number has been growing over the past several years, and so today we as the Great Lakes bioenergy network, sorry, Great Lakes Biochar Network are joining this list. And our goal is to really focus on the unique opportunities and address the unique challenges that exist within the Great Lakes region.
So there are many things that make our region unique in terms of its potential to expand opportunities for biochar. I'm going to talk about a few that I see, but I'm also going to invite you in the chat to post in the opportunities or challenges that you see as being unique to our region, the Great Lakes region. First I want to identify 52.7 million acres of forest land, only telling that total across the three Great Lakes states Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, I should say three primary Great Lakes states because of course Ohio and Pennsylvania, New York, they're also part of our region as well as Ontario. So this is a lot of forest acreage even just showing from a portion of our region. We also have a wide range of agricultural industries both plant and animal based industries and sandy soils, and that's important because we know from research that sandy nutrient-poor, acidic soils tend to be the soils that benefit the most from biochar. Of course we have many other soil types, very, very productive soils, but sandy soils we know, are those that benefit or tend to benefit the most. And we also have 20% of the world's surface freshwater in our region. This is important from an environmental perspective because we know the biochar can help decrease point and non-point source pollution. And that's part of the appreciation that many of us have for outdoor recreation and environment in this region, and that appreciation has really become more clear during this covid era, as getting out to enjoy the outdoors is one of the few things that was accessible to people during various levels of lockdown so there's been a discovery, or rediscovery of the value of our natural environment. And then finally, I want to emphasize this great interest in urban agriculture and urban forestry, again, presenting unique opportunities to combine waste biomass from urban areas to biochar production to help address environmental and agricultural concerns.
So over the past few years, several of us at Michigan State University have been working to understand biochar and its effects on the environment from a variety of different disciplines, soil ecology and soil health, to plant pathology, biofuels engineering, environmental contamination, forest economics and human dimensions. And over the past, and fungal ecology here with Greg Bonito. And then our new coordinator to hear, Brooke Comer who you just met and will be presenting for the second half of today's webinar. But one of the things our team has noticed is a steady increase in the number and the variety of inquiries that we're getting about biochar, and that to us shows an increase in awareness about biochar and an increase in the variety of types of industries that are interested in biochar. And that includes agriculture, manufacturing, wastewater treatment facilities, bio-energy providers, the forest biomass industry. And people interested interested in economic vitality around our region. But I also want to emphasize, we are very aware that there are researchers and practitioners, working across our region. So, again, our team has started this Network but it's really to host this increase in connection and partnership from a variety of stakeholders, and practitioners, producers, and end users across our region. So this Stage One with today's webinar is really launching the Great Lakes Biochar Network. And I'm going to turn this over to Brooke Comer, who will talk about our Stage Two, which is really how our current plans will grow the Network and include your involvement and participation and input to help guide longer term Network activities. And I'm going to stop sharing here. All right.
Dr. Comer: Thanks so much, Jessica hopefully everyone sees my screen now. So going from stage one of establishing the network as Jessica said though, you know, it's just the launch now so we're culminating at the official launch, and we're excited to have everyone here because it's all about growing the Network so informing and connecting everyone, and being able to look across all of these different sectors. Success in establishing and growing a network depends on creating and strengthening the partnership across the region. So this includes public and private organizations, industries and individuals, colleges and universities, other institutions, all of them working across all of these dimensions, shown in the slide and more. So we invite your participation as we begin to work on growing the network through our stage two work here. And notice that I said begin, just emphasizing that, you know, we can plan, we planned initial steps, but our longer term activities are going to be directed by the needs and the request of the network. So, your participation will be important for shaping the network, and our future directions. If I can advance my slides.
So, one of our first goals and activities is the establishment of the biochar Information Resource Center. So the first step there is we've launched the website, here's a screenshot from the GLBN website so this is what it will look like if you log on. You can see the web address there at the bottom of the screen. This is currently a work in progress so there will be more tabs with additional information coming that you'll be able to access from across the top. And this is one of the main areas where we will be posting information and and really connecting with people. Right now there's just the events but be checking back, there's going to be a Frequently Asked Questions tab, largely populated based on what folks are saying that they, they do want to know and the questions that we are seeing come up, particularly frequently. So, this is the top of the site here and see, this would be kind of if you're scrolling down a screenshot of the bottom of the section of the homepage of the website. So you know there's information, articles, publications and people that are involved. And at the moment, just people that are involved at MSU but as we grow the network, there will be more information on others and other institutions in the area as well. And if you know people that weren't able to join us today that you know are interested please encourage them to join the other webinars. This webinar is being recorded and it is going to be posted online for people to view later and and you can access that through the website once we get that up. And you see there's also there is a quick survey and trying to start by knowing who all is out there and who is interested and in what ways you're involved in biochar. So if you haven't already, if you do want to go onto the website, I think Jessica is going to post the, the web address there in the chat if you haven't been on our website yet. So maybe after the webinar if you want to go on there and do that so that will help gauge, who's involved. And, and help us as we move forward in growing the network. And also, in the era that we are also you can find us on social media. So, you know, like us or follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. It'll be other ways that we'll be able to get information out to people, letting you know that there's updates on the website, or also sharing other things that have been being put out there in regards to biochar. And it's also a means of other people being able to connect in the region. So our presence in these platforms is likely to evolve over time. So for now expect more the promotion of the events like these webinars, also maybe relevant articles and news stories that relate to biochar and it might be a means of being able to spotlight what other biochar practitioners in the region are doing with biochar and for stakeholders to communicate with one another. So, as new extension publications and articles come out, then summaries that can let people know of the current status of the science. And eventually, the means of people being able to communicate will be via these social media and the website both as our first goal of this information resource hub.
And you know why is all this important, why are we all here, and the growing interest that we have seen and why the network was created. So the idea that biochar can help support a sustainable bioeconomy. Bio-economy maybe being a newer term to some, it's the idea of a production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of the resources into and waste streams what would be a waste stream into the value added products so such as food, feed and bio-based products and bio-energy. And biochar is really at the culmination of all of these. So, all of all those circles there in our Venn diagram of things that are hot topics in the news that are affecting everyone's everyday life. Climate and environmental benefits as we talk about climate change more and more, the potential for carbon to be stored in the soil with biochar is a major aspect that can also improve water quality linking this back to the importance of the Great Lakes region that Jessica mentioned with 20% of the world's freshwater and the love of recreational areas in the area. So, and remediation of degraded land within urban agriculture. With biochar you can increase soil moisture content, improved drainage, as well, they seem almost counterintuitive that it can do both, but it can. Potentially increasing soil fertility and crop productivity, all of these different aspects that, you know, make it a really robust part of the bio economy, and why we see this, this growth in biochar.
So there's many people that might be involved in the different aspects of the biochar bio-economy. And even if you are in the same category such as a producer of biochar, it might be that you're very different scales. So, part of the allure to biochar is that it's scalable and it can be simple or high tech. And I know some farmers that, some people they might just have biomass on their own land that they want to turn into biochar themselves and use on their own land, versus other people that might want to scale up and have it at much larger volumes and for distribution and marketing and looking to collect the biomass from other stakeholders, for example. So biochar is many things and it can be simple to high tech, and we welcome anyone who wants to be involved, no matter your size and scale, as we figure out who is in this network, ultimately, and what your needs are.
So, this idea here in terms of, kind of a circular economy of inputs become outputs. So on the left here you see about the agricultural residues and also biomass crops and agro forestry, all of these types of biomass, that can be pyrolyzed into making biochar, and other outputs, also. So, at those different scales. It might also be that you're a farmer so you have agronomic, you know, what would be waste products or within agro forestry or you're growing biomass crops. All of these things that are removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via photosynthesis and the parts that are not going to be used otherwise can be pyrolyzed. And the outputs, and this was captured in one of the slides that Jessica showed as well, that you have bio-oil and syngas, and also the process heat and all of these can go towards the energy production. And it really depends on what you're trying to maximize. Sometimes in the past, as we're looking more at biofuels, biochar has been more of the byproduct. And we're looking at making it more of the, what you actually want of that value-added product. And you can try to maximize the pyrolysis process in order to get more of the solid biochar as a soil amendment, or you can try to maximize some of the other outputs. But altogether it's creating this circular economy of capturing carbon dioxide and, as much as we can, trying to store the solid fraction of biochar in the soil.
So thinking about the other side there, talks about biochar as a soil amendments and Jessica mentioned it really depends largely on what types of soil that you might have. And this is part of some of the confusion that I think has been echoed by people as they have reached out to folks at MSU and other researchers of "how is this going to work on my soil, I've heard great things and I've maybe heard negative things." But largely it depends on, on what you're starting with, and that we really do need more research, and need to have more regionally-specific relevant information. And here's the graphs, the graphs here talking about on the left, how pH, the initial starting pH of the soil, might affect things and the lower the pH, the more benefits you're going to be seeing. So along that axis it's that change and crop productivity in terms of percent change. So there, anything to the right of that red line is increasing crop productivity, with addition of biochar. And you see, that's especially true for those lower pH soils. And on the right that graph there, talking about soil textures, and although it has had positive effects in all types of soil textures, in particular, sandy soils which are so prevalent in our Great Lakes region have observed a lot of benefit in different trials that have been run in the past. So making it particularly good for our region.
But there's other end users of biochar mentioned already. It can be used as a livestock feed and seems kind of an interesting aspect there. In terms of global warming, it's been shown to even reduce methane emissions from livestock and can increase the gain of biomass in livestock. Use as a soil-less media, that was actually part of my research, that and using biochar as a compost feedstock. So, there is peat moss that's harvested- it's another non-renewable or basically non-renewable resource that has been being depleted and has some negative effects in regards to climate change and others and there is a large industry around, of horticulture, especially that that uses containerized growing and soil-less media and this could be a substitute. As well for green roofs, as another example where biochar could have a lot of positive impacts on horticulture in that industry. And within compost feedstocks, that ability of biochar to retain nutrients and retain moisture, it would be able to, to help that industry and create an even higher value product that has really been gaining a lot of traction in the market. And with anaerobic digesters both you have often a solid material, the anaerobic digesters solid effluent coming out, that's possible as a biochar feedstock. It's a large amount of biomass and if it is charred, then it can be able to be stored more long term and with all those nutrients as well. Or put back into an anaerobic digestion system in order to help stabilize that process within the digester, so there's there's a lot of research associated with all of these different end uses, and trying to boil it all down and disseminate the information out to people that that are interested that want to be the end users or the producers of biochar.
So thinking within that, what are all the stages and who are all the stakeholders? So, you have the biomass procuring. So harvest of your biomass, the transport and stockpiling, for example. Then you go into more the manufacturing so the pyrolysis effects and the products that you get. Into the distribution and logistics, packaging, transport and storage. And eventually onto the application outlook- so some of the aspects I just mentioned for for soil, for remediation possibly, other, other aspects that aren't even necessarily based in agriculture. Feed for livestock, other aspects.
So this is talking about the life cycle analysis, and again that idea of circular economy that you produce biomass that can produce the char, which then can go back into the soil and increase productivity to produce more biomass. And ultimately, pulling some of that carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and being able to store it in soil where it can help, help be productive.
So that is kind of the idea of thinking about the stakeholders and coming into that thinking about all of you and who is here with us today and, and why you are here with us today.
Jessica, could you launch that poll for me. We have a quick little poll just to see who is involved with biochar and how. So, if you are- you can read all of those choices there. If you're able to just go through and select which ways you're involved in biochar we'll give this a minute or two. You can select more than one if you, for instance, make your own biochar and you use it, you can select both of those options. And this can be for people that are both currently involved with biochar, you can answer that first question. If it's just what you imagine your role being in this biochar bio-economy in the future so please everyone try to answer that first question. And then that second question there is are you currently involved with biochar so if you're already doing these things, select yes for that. If you're not you just have hopes for the future that you will end up being involved, then, then answered no for that second question but let us know how you see yourself being involved in the biochar network. Alright we're up to 82% of the participants have have entered in there. Anyone else, try to get in your answers. And I'm going to go ahead in just a minute here and end the poll and see, let's see... I don't see everyone else's screen so hopefully you are seeing the results there, of the, of the poll. If you are not, I'll put up onto my other screen here, and then hopefully you will be. So here we go, adding value to waste biomass so people that have woody or non-woody biomass- 41%. So, and all of these ideas well if you have it but maybe you're not interested in the making of biochar then how is this network going to work for everyone and connecting people and creating this this flow of not only information but also potentially of materials and and making a more robust bioeconomy using biochar and all of you, the stakeholders or the actors that are in the network. And then you know a lot of people just interested in biochar generally or the policy behind it. And the potential, you know, we're so happy to have everybody on here that that's involved at all, and scroll down there as well. If you're currently involved with biochar there we have about half and half. So that shows the potential for the market to to be growing and, and with our expanding market, how much we can continue to involve more people that are interested. Get that out of there. Which comes into, if my slides will advance, my next slide here about the biochar market. So just a little snapshot here of where it's expected to go. That CAGR there, which is for compound annual growth rate, depends on who has done the market research. It has ranged from about 9% to 19%, is that estimation of the growth rate but certainly it is increasing is already a lot of market value with North America being the leading market at the moment. Largest application is farming and key trends there as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration gardening and farming, is transforming biochar sales. And if you just do a Google search for biochar and shopping, you'll see so many more materials, then you would have ever seen in the past so there's all this growth in different stakeholders so opportunity for jobs and growth. And we'll, we'll see how it goes over the next few years, but hopefully this network in our region will help be able to expand that.
And moving into other activities of the Network, then, is another main part of our goal which is going to be intertwined with other goals as well and other activities is doing a social network analysis. And so this will help to identify the strong and weak links among existing participants in the Great Lakes region. This is just a diagram of an example from from bioeconomy standpoint of different actors that that might be involved. So, the larger the circle that you see would be a, an actor that has more linkages that is maybe disseminating information to more people that can help be the connector between folks, versus some of the smaller dots that you might see in there. You know, they might be just connected to one other person, and this will give us an idea, the Great Lakes Biochar Network, a snapshot of what is happening within the region. And, and how we can strengthen it and what are those actors, maybe they can help to get more information out, and knowing who is doing what. Somebody also asked in the Q and A at first about the South East and if there was another group for example there. So we're focusing in the Great Lakes region, but it doesn't mean that we won't find other information out about who else is involved and how we can still pull information and resources from other people of strengthening the greater aspect of biochar in the United States or globally. But with our focus here and people should be anticipating maybe getting contacted if you are in our region because your participation will be essential and being able to really get this snapshot and we'll obviously let people know the results of this analysis, and it can be a means of people being able to communicate more. OF course, no one will have to know who you are, and it won't mean that your information will be shared with anyone else unless you explicitly, you know consent to that in order to strengthen those those connections. That will be coming up soon and kind of a goal through here that is embedded within this is the idea of development of Extension and Outreach products and events. So first we need to determine the stakeholder needs and interest, and a lot of that is also going to be coming out of those surveys for the social network analysis. So again the participation so we know as the network how we can best serve all of the practitioners in biochar. So going into that goal for of what types of outreach products and events, we will be having. So your needs and interest will guide the topics for, fact sheets. Article summaries, virtual and in person events such as field days. So thinking about what do you want to see and a great opportunity to use the chat function here. If you want to put in some things that you are already thinking about you can certainly reach out to us later, as you are thinking about this and what you think would be most helpful to you, as, as you grow in this biochar network. But if you want to put it in the chat now that would be great also. So, articles and fact sheets, some examples here, this is an existing article that's up through MSU Extension that you can access through our website, and a scientific publication and the idea that not everyone has access to these types of publications necessarily so we can help boil down some of that research and information that's getting out there and get it in the hands of of the practitioners in the public that that need to know these things in order to inform what they are doing actually out in the field in the real world. And field days: a picture from a field day that we held, you know, this could be in person or virtual, again it will depend on on people's desires and interest or in person field days that are also held virtually simultaneously. It's amazing what we've learned to do in these times. So all these types of events that we might have.
And then the last goal is always evaluating the effectiveness of our network activities. So your feedback will help guide the network's products and programs. Part of this is going to be surveys. And it's important to know as we continue to evolve. We will always be assessing the programming, there will actually be an optional survey after this webinar for example and the next two, and all events so that we can continually improve the effectiveness of our events. It's supposed to be a back and forth, a sharing of information and perspectives to make sure that the network is working for everyone.
So how can you get involved in Great Lakes Biochar Network: first sign up for information on our website and check back as more information comes out there. You can contact me the Great Lakes Biochar Network program coordinator, you see the email there and you should have already gotten an email from me about the link to today's webinar, if you are here. You can suggest topics for the Frequently Asked Questions page that will be coming up on the website. Suggest topics for research briefs and or extension type articles that you want to know more about. Suggest you preferred types of initial events, and if you interested in those in person field days or do webinars work better for you. And where do you want those to be. They could be a different locations throughout the Great Lakes region in order to reach more people or trying to pull people into one area. Participate in more upcoming events such as upcoming webinars and other things. Just let us know how you want to be involved. So the future webinars, one of the first ways you can continue to be involved. The production of biochar, November 18 with Dr. Chris saffron and economics of biochar production and use with Dr. Raju Pokharel on December 9. So both of these Thursdays at 2pm. Eastern Standard Time on zoom, hopefully maybe you've already registered for them, you can go back and register for them at the Great Lakes Biochar Network website if you haven't already. If you did find this interesting and know other people that would, encourage other people to sign up for these as well.
And with that, thank you for joining today's webinar, right now as we said, you know, these are who we were supported by. We thank our sponsors for your support, which has been critical for our ability to create this network. Again, we welcome participants though from across the region, any organization or institution that's interested in biochar, please partner with us to help grow the network.
So with that, let's see what has come up on our Q and A and I see some things have been coming up on the chat as well.
Dr. Miesel: I've been posting some links in the chat so they, most of them should be live, and click on there and go directly to the webpage, or to our social media accounts at Brooke has set up. There's a few questions here in the, in the question and answer. Some of these are broader questions that we won't have time to go into today but they will be used to inform what goes on to our Frequently Asked Questions page. I see a few from I see a few from from Dave Neumann with the Michigan DNR who is our partner in providing some of these funds from the DNR to support the network.
And so, first question, are certain types of biomass feedstock better than others for producing biochar? I get this question a lot and my favorite answer is, it depends. Most biochars now that are used or sold, distributed most widely tend to be wood based biochars, specifically from softwood species. However, the effects of biochar when it's used as a soil amendment really depend on what biomass it is produced from, how it was produced, what type of soil it was added to and what your target crop is. So this is why it's so important to have regionally specific research information to help inform both providers and end users of biochar because it's not just one product. it can be many things that we all talk about as part of this just one broad term which is biochar, but it's biochar, and it's really biochars, which is very diverse.
Dr. Comer: And as we mentioned we have a lot of sandy soils, but there are various soil types and it's so agriculturally diverse in the Great Lakes region that more information about the specifics of what seems to be working with what, and there is so many different types of biomass that are potentially out there, and knowing what type of biochar you do have if you're trying to purchase it for example or if you're going to make it. And what's the likely properties are going to be from that will help give a little bit more certainty to people that might be trying to apply biochar.
Dr. Miesel: I think this next question, Charles I'm wondering if you'd be willing to talk about this one. And then the other part of this is... So the question I'll start with: what types of products can be produced from the bio-oil byproduct from making biochar. A detailed answer for that, expect will be provided by Dr. Chris Safran in next month's webinar. I'm not sure Charles if you're still with us if you want to talk a little bit more about the bio-oil products.
Charles Gould: Yeah, Jessica I think I'm going to defer to Dr. Saffron on that one, he'll have a more thorough answer than I'm able to give.
Dr. Miesel: Okay. Great. Thank you.
Dr. Comer: So that just means you have to come to the next webinar. Alright, the next question there: are there any current commercial biochar producers in Michigan? So that's part of knowing how many more there might be, we're aware of a few. National Carbon Technologies in particular is based out of Minnesota, but they have one of the largest biochar production facilities in North America I believe, that is located in the Upper Peninsula in Gwinn, Michigan. And finding out who else are producers, you know we're not endorsing any one biochar over another but trying to get that information out to people because I think that has been a lacking of: If I want to use biochar, where can I be accessing that? So there are some producers and that type of information will be coming out on the website as well.
Dr. Miesel: So if you are a biochar producer or a you work with somebody who is a biochar producer, feel free to go ahead and put that in the chat, and we'll get a better idea of who all the different producers are and their skills through the social network analysis and again our, our goal is, if, for those who consent to be listed, we would provide more like a regional directory of biochar producers or biomass suppliers, things like that. What we want to be careful about is our network endorsing a specific product without research that really, really backs up specific applications for that material. But as far as connecting partners who can explore its potential uses that's really what our, our network is eager to do.
Next question says, Can saw mill bark byproducts and timber harvest residues such as ground up tree limbs and bark, be used to produce useful biochar and are there types of biomass that are unsuitable? Again that will be a great question for Dr. Saffron to address at the next webinar. In general, the type of biomass, that you use to produce biochar does influence the biochar characteristics. If your biomass is dirty, such as has a lot of soil contaminating with it, that can affect the mineral content of your of your biochar, and may affect your industrial process also. But as far as the variety of types of biomass that have been explored to produce what will be called biochar or what the producers will call biochar has ranged from everything from poultry litter to waste wood biomass, including you know, discarded pallets that are no longer used, to forestry residue to crop residue. And all of these things are potential uses, again, we need more information about what the characteristics of the biochars are that are produced from each of these materials, and how they influence soil or environmental processes, or the industrial processes that they're used in if they're used as components of packaging or industrial materials.
Dr. Comer: And last question that we have there in the Q and A is: In a prior webinar, it was stated that the tonnage of biochar needed to improve productivity was so high that the cost of the biochar would exceed the cost of buying top cash crop land. Has anything changed? I would say that is in part going to be explored in the last webinar of this series about some of the economics, but the economics have been shifting as biochar has become more popular and there are more producers. There's certainly a supply and demand aspect. It is not my area of expertise to exactly speak on, but in general the prices have come down and the more that we do create these connections of people that have biomass that they want converted and avenues for them to get it to the manufacturers, the producers of biochar and greater distribution channels, I would expect that you know the prices can come down. And there's such a variety that you see in the research in terms of how much tonnage and small amounts can still have a big positive effect, especially when you consider that biochar stays around in the soil, that it's not something that you would necessarily have to keep applying in such large amounts, year after year. Or small amounts, year after year can accumulate to a large amount, eventually. So you know that the economics are certainly a big aspect for a lot of people and I think that has been continuing to shift and, and we will see how that does continue to shift in the coming years.
Dr. Miesel: In the chat we have a response from Chris Saffron, who's our next next month's webinar speaker. He's addressing the question about bio-oil products. So I'll read his response. He says a number of products can be made from bio-oil. First, it can be upgraded into liquid fuels. Second bio-oil can be used as a flavoring agent such as smoky flavor, and a number of other molecules can also be isolated as bio-oil is a complex mixture. I'll provide more information during the next webinar.
Dr. Comer: So do stay tuned. Alright, with that, we are pretty much come to the end of the hour if you do have other questions still go ahead and get those to us, you can email me as it has been said @ GLBN@msu.edu. That can be with some of these questions that can end up being addressed either in the upcoming webinars if they fit under those topics, or also on the website under the Frequently Asked Questions. We appreciate everyone's participation in coming to the webinar today. I hope you are able to make it to the next one, and if you enjoyed this please tell others that are interested. They can watch the recording and come to the following ones and other future events that we will be holding. So stay tuned. Follow along on the website and on social media, and we look forward to growing this Network with you. And with that, unless anyone has anything else, Jessica, any closing words or we will end the webinar here and look forward to seeing everyone the next time.
Dr. Miesel: I thin this is a great place to wrap it up. We appreciate everyone joining us today and we'll see you at the next webinar.
Dr. Comer: Alright, we'll see you November 18th, take care.