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Enhancing both soil carbon sequestration and fertility while reducing soil greenhouse gas emissions through designer biochar application

Jeff Novak (coordinator)


For the Designchar4food (D4F) proposal:
In the near future, agricultural production will need to be intensified to provide the world’s
burgeoning population with sustainable food and fiber supplies utilizing the same or smaller land base. Intensification of agricultural production is known to increase soil erosion, loss of soil organic carbon (SOC), and heightened uses of fertilizer resulting in a strong potential of soil and atmospheric degradation. As a countermeasure to these agronomic and environmental issues, the application of biochar to soils is widely discussed as a potential mitigation tool. Biochar is hypothesized to be capable of rebuilding soil quality, binding with organic amendments, and reducing greenhouse gas (e.g., CO2, CH4, N2O) emissions, however, universal guidelines for its use as a soil amendment and climate mitigation tool are lacking. Biochars’ performance as a soil amendment has so far been evaluated under
regional-specific land uses, crop management, and soils possessing heterogeneous characteristics. This approach has lead to the development of fragmented biochar policy and management platforms relevant to these regions, but lacking a holistic vision. Due to the immense complexity in soils and biochar types, our ability to predict these beneficial effects in different soils and land uses across the globe is currently limited. A preferred pathway is to design biochars that have properties tailored to improve specific soil conditions. The designer biochar concept has been often discussed among researchers, but guidelines for its creation and use are still in its infancy. The approach of designing biochars for specific soil purposes requires the scientific exchange of biochar performance results and information between scientists, stakeholders, and collaborators. Creating a worldwide scientific biochar exchange network through this designchar4food (D4F) proposal, will allow the development of suitable biochar management strategies at regional levels to be evaluated and integrated into a coherent global policy platform that sustains agricultural productivity and food security.
The aim of this DF4 proposal is to create a biochar guidance plan for the production of well defined biochars with suitable properties. In this plan, forums will be proposed whereby scientists, stakeholders, and potential users from across the globe can share their scientific results, discuss new approaches, and develop plans to commercially produce, and
evaluate designer biochars. These forums will be facilitated by annual biochar workshops, monthly teleconferences (webinars), specialized web-based databases, email list servers, brochures, and newsletters to insure that results are shared among scientists, biochar users, commercial manufacturers, and policy makers. Integral to this effort is the development of a computer based model capable of predicting environmental and agricultural responses of biochar use in soils across the globe. Synthesis of this global biochar data will provide numerous synergistic relationships to be developed, such as with the Global Research Alliance (GRA) to include designer biochar as one possible mitigation management tool as we strive for sustainable environmental stewardship.