PSC 392: The Biochar Group!
People from around the world, including and especially San Luis Obispo county, are being burdened with extreme quantities of pathogenic biomass of many types. This is particularly evident in terms of woody debris resulting from the pine pitch canker and sudden oak death in the Western United States. Cambria especially is overwhelmed with excess of fire-hazardous and pathogenic pine problems, which has ignited several local efforts like Cambria Focus Group of the SLO County Fire Safe Council and the Pine Pitch Canker Taskforce at Cal Poly. We would like to offer an appropriate technological solution to this costly problem by turning it into a top-notch ‘Cal Poly approved’ biochar and ‘terra preta‘ soil for the immediate community. We plan on maturing this biochar, and testing it in local com
munities spaces like the Student Experimental Farm (Main, F.B. , ORIG.) the San Luis Obispo City Farm (Main, CCG), and hopefully elsewhere, to understand its effects as a soil amendment in local conditions. By truly working with and understanding the production steps of biochar we can be far more appropriate when adapting these steps for other important places like Ecuador, Haiti, and the entirety of the global community in need.
- Construct a reactor capable of producing biochar and eliminating pathogenic waste biomass.
- Develop and experiment with various forms and uses of biochar, particular in relation to other projects in UNIV-392 (water filter, insulation/cob/natural building, aquaponics, gardening, in tandem with solar panels)
- Create sustainable legacy demo-technologies and applicable models for the Student Experimental Farm and elsewhere.
- Learn to use and understand the best power tools, welding techniques, and other technologies and techniques for the production of biochar.
- Understand the mechanisms and theory of clean stoves, kilns, and pyrolysis reactors
- Engage the design elements that make for ideal combustion and fluid conditions for simultaneous biochar creation and clean cooking.
CLASS PROJECT MEMBERS:
- Cameron Montalvo – 4th year soil science student, very interested in developing novel models for biochar in small-scale organic farming systems as well as developing the pyrolysis process around these systems. I enjoy gardening, reading, and learning.
- Gabriela Belen Gomez
- Tyler Varian-Gonzalez – Third year Landscape Architecture major interested in the applicability of biochar to homeowners and modern agriculture. How can we successful create a product that can be used in any economic environment.
- Dominic Chequer – 2nd year communications major. I get really excited when somebody shows me a great idea and is passionate about it. Well, that is exactly what Cameron did with biochar. Now I am invested in the project and want to make the greatest low-tech biochar and apply it to plants.
- Michael Twardochleb
TARGET COMMUNITIES: Cambria & Equador
Our current target community is our immediate and diverse community of SLO County. We are starting by making biochar reactors and nestling ourselves between the Student Experimental Farm at Cal Poly and the Cambrian community.
With symbiotic catalysts present and synergistic exchanges taking place between the various clubs and gardens at the SEF (listed below) we hope to garner interest, manpower, and transfer our energies from the class to the Polychar club in order to continue our efforts whenever the class ends. Hopefully, enough biochar can be made effectively in the scope of this class so that we can take up invitations from various community gardens (also listen below).
Aside from biochar production and scale, we are confident that our progress will make us much more informed to approach a biomass-rich Ecuador.
Our group has several connections to both of these places through family, friends, and several organizations and see these target communities to be in line with our ultimate intentions.
ON- AND OFF-CAMPUS AFFILIATES:
– The other student projects in UNIV-392
– The Cal Poly Student Experimental Farm
- The Polychar Club (biochar club)
- The PolyPonics Club (aquaponics club)The PolyPermaculture (permaculture club)
- The PolyPlant Nursery (‘companion planting’-, ‘biodiversity’-, and ‘biological’ plant starting)
- The Myco-Polyculture Gardens (mushroom-plant polyculture gardens and fungi culturing facility)
- The Establishment’s Gardens (local alumni and grad students with a drive to garden at the SEF!!)
- The Solar Club (solar panel and energy installment gurus)
Groups in the Community
– The City of Cambria and the Cambria Focus Group of the County Fire Safe Council (overseers of excess biomass and chippers)
– The International Biochar Initiative
– Cuesta Grassroots Garden
– Paso Robles Demonstration Garden
SOME GOOD INFO LINKS:
– BIOCHAR USE IN SOIL GUIDELINES & INSTRUCTIONS for Growers
SOME POPULAR COMBUSTION DESIGNS AND SCALES FROM THE International Biochar Initiative (IBI):
After much work in the metal shops and many burns done, we are headed in an excellent direction. There is still much research and design ahead of us in the search for a good sustainable biochar cooker for impoverished communities around the globe, but we are much closer now.
At the end of this project we have a cooker that can convert about 60% of its biomass input into biochar. All of the biochar created has been added to Cameron’s compost pile so that we can see the reaction. As expected, the compost pile in Cam’s backyard has seen positive effects from the biochar created including an increase in temperature of up to 10 degrees and a spurt in fungi growth.
In the coming quarter we hope to build a more efficient “chimney” for our cooker and attempt to implement a successful biochar cooker in our immediate community, either the SEF or Cambria.
Biochar has an extremely bright future in the field of design technology for the developing world. The implementation of this technology is not an “if” question, but a “how” question. Takachar is proof of the reality of our project, but we are the future. Stay tuned because this project is far from over and will be coming to a community near to you, Cambria!