I am writing this with deep gratitude and immense appreciation for the incredible opportunity that I had to attend the International Biochar Initiative's inaugural Biochar Academy. This event allowed me to further my own education around the importance and application of biochar while also networking with biochar producers, scientists, students, farmers and enthusiasts from all over the world. I'm incredibly excited to apply these learnings to my research and experimentation at Rosy Soil, as we work to replace to peat moss with biochar in soils.
The Academy was a two-week program where we engaged in classes with various professionals and researchers around biochar, and were given the opportunity to visit local farms that were practicing both pyrolysis and the application of biochar. There were 40+ attendees and the majority of them were from outside the United States. It was a blessing to work alongside people who could speak to the biochar industry, from Nigeria to Uruguay to India to Croatia and everywhere in between.
The academy gave me access to quality, cutting-edge education and prepared me with the knowledge that will undoubtedly shape my future and the future of the entire biochar industry. Attending the academy allowed our group to learn from industry-defining scientists in the field of biochar, such as Cornell professor and leading biochar researcher, Johannes Lehmann, who spoke directly to his use of biochar in soil applications. What's more, members of the US Biochar Initiative and International Biochar Initiative like John Webster, Kathleen Draper and Albert Bates provided engaging and informative presentations about the history, research, production and hands-on application of biochar. I was honored to be a speaker on the farmer panel to discuss my use of biochar in urban farming settings but also in potting soil applications. There was a wealth of knowledge and we all took the opportunity to learn from each other.
Something else that I appreciated was that the academy was very intentional about building deep relationships among the attendees – I left the academy with many new friends across the world who are all affecting the industry in their own way. I can't stress enough that building this community was every bit as important as the education we received. I feel renewed and excited to continue to do this work.
Beyond the brilliant presentations about the soil application of biochar, my mind was opened to the many uses of biochar in water treatment, construction and plastics that I previously had very little knowledge about. One PhD student at the Rochester Institute of Technology was experimenting with using a biochar-based plastic to replace typical plastic sheet mulching – there are truly so many possibilities with biochar. I was also very pleased by the fact that both low-tech and high-tech methods of biochar production were presented because it showed that everyday home gardeners and small-scale farmers across the globe can access and utilize this vital soil amendment. Each of us has a role whether that be as a farmer utilizing agricultural waste and turning it into biochar or as a producer who is diverting sanitation waste and using it to produce biochar and even energy for local neighborhoods.
The field days were also very intriguing because it allowed us to see hands-on production and understand how pyrolysing a waste product can lead to soil benefits while also producing energy and storing carbon. We had the opportunity to visit a dairy farm that diverts their cow manure into an anaerobic digester to produce energy and they pyrolyze the solid waste and apply back onto their farm. Additionally, we saw a vineyard that had been applying biochar to their grape fields and let me tell you their wine was fantastic.
From here, I plan to process and aggregate all the information that I learned and apply it to my soil research work with Rosy Soil as we work to educate the general public about the significance of biochar while also working to replace peat moss with biochar in potting mediums. I now have university research and worldwide connections at my fingertips that can help me navigate the unraveling world of biochar. I'm also in the process of making educational short-form and long-form content about the importance, production, and application of biochar from a low-tech perspective. In Georgia, I'm also connected with many organic urban farmers and I know that leading workshops on building low tech kilns and making biochar could be of immense importance. All this being said, I'm deeply committed to furthering the education and research of biochar. The IBI academy was an unforgettable experience and I'm so thankful for my time spent there.
Justin "Jules" Giuliano
Lead Soil Researcher @ Rosy Soil