The State of Colorado convened an interesting meeting to discuss biochar. For those of you unfamiliar with it, here’s the Wikipedia article and here is another general and historic description of its use.
The group included a variety of scientists, from the Forest Service, ARS, and CSU; and a variety of people with interests in development of biochar products and markets. There’s a natural connection in Colorado between the ever-present bug killed trees, and restoring the soils of abandoned mines. Not only that, biochar may be valuable for agricultural soils in Colorado. What was interesting to me was how much this meeting was not the usual suspects talking about our usual stuff. The connection to agriculture was strong- definitely an “all lands” approach. We had people talk about international aspects of food security, and US soil loss; we had people who were starting businesses to use different kinds of waste; we had people interested in renewable energy. The Front Range of Colorado is a hotbed of interest in renewable energy- we have DOE’s National Renewable Energy Lab, the Colorado School of Mines, the University of Colorado and Colorado State.
Someone even asked “what kind of competition is there for feedstock from dead pine trees?”. That’s how novel our issues are to these folks. The great thing about this dialogue is that the technology is at such an early stage that its development can be guided by environmental concerns. You don’t like big plants because you are afraid that the FS will be pressured to cut extra trees? Well, we can have small mobile equipment that can cluster when large amounts of dead trees are available, and then migrate somewhere else.
There appear to be extra dead trees sitting around from fuel and hazard tree treatments. No one is arguing (at least that I have heard) that they all must be burnt in place for environmental reasons. Abandoned mines and agricultural soils are previously impacted and currently managed by humans, so they are not subject to the same kinds of concerns that people might have for previously unimpacted soils of native forests.
It’s pretty obvious to Coloradans that using some of our dead lodgepole would be a good idea; renewable energy is a good idea; and sequestering carbon and helping soil is a good idea. The State level is a handy scale to organize, as there is social and political coherence- and groups of people who are used to working with each other on a variety of issues. It was invigorating to see a group of people excited about the opportunities to do good and make a living, and for us all to talk about what we can contribute to this goal.