Biofuel and Black Earth: Dynamotive Pioneers Updated Pre-Columbian Technology


Terra_Preta Improving on an age-old method used in Pre-Columbian societies, Canada’s Dynamotive Energy Systems has developed a means of turning waste biomass into fuel and fertilizer. Significantly, “fast pyrolysis” of the waste feedstock Dynamotive is using also provides a long-term means of capturing and storing carbon.

Small groups of biochar proponents have been gathering together and discussing biochar’s potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve agriculture and benefit agricultural communities for years. They’ve been garnering a larger audience of late.

Language recognizing biochar as a qualified climate change mitigation and adaptation technology has been included in the working draft of a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Similar proposals are being considered in US and Australian climate change pacts. Here in the US for the first time, the North American Biochar Conference was held at the University of Colorado’s Center for Energy and the Environmental Security in Boulder August 9-12, drawing 325 participants and 80 speakers.

Rediscovering Terra Preta

Speaking at the conference last month, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said

“Biochar has the potential to create opportunities for the agriculture and forestry sectors to mitigate the effects of a changing climate while creating jobs in rural communities and offering new income sources to landowners”.

“Landowners may eventually use biochar as a soil amendment to improve agricultural production and enhance carbon storage, with income potential from sale of carbon offsets. In states like Colorado where forests have been ravaged by bark beetles, dead timber might be used as a feedstock for biochar. The creation of new markets for forest products like biochar and bioenergy could significantly bolster sustainable forest management, forest restoration and rural jobs”.

Dynamotive has been working to realize this belief. In partnership with Blueleaf, Inc., the Vancouver-based company has been conducting a field test of its CQuest Biochar at a commercial farm in the US. On September 3, management published a mid-season report covering developments and results for the second year of the program.

What’s considered a “relatively low application rate” of 3,500 lbs/acre (3,924 kgs/hectare) of CQuest Biochar was applied to a trial plot of soya at the beginning of the 2008 growing season. A rotation crop made up of oats, timothy, ryegrass and clover has been planted for the 2009 season. An untreated plot of the same size with the same crop rotation is serving as a control.

Results to date show a 16% increase in overall plant biomass, significantly higher germination rates, greater root mycorrhizal colonization and increasing levels of soil phosphorous on a month-to-month basis as opposed to decreasing phosphorous levels in the control plot.

Producing BioOil

Biochar is one product produced via Dynamotive’s “fast pyrolysis” method. The second is a cleaner burning biofuel, the proprietary brand of which management has dubbed BioOil. On September 1, the company announced that it had made its first shipment of BioOil to an unnamed customer in the US as part of a contract valued at more than $260,000.

Produced from waste biomass at its production facility in West Lorne, Ontario, a minimum of 18 BioOil shipments are due to be made over a six-month period. With the capacity to process as much as 130 metric tons of biomass per day, the West Lorne plant’s biomass feedstock comes from a wood floor manufacturing facility in the province.

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email:

One response

  1. Ancient Technology Re-discovered

    Douglas County Pyrolysis demo shows opportunity
    The News-Review – Thursday, August 20, 2009

    “…a small entrepreneur or agricultural cooperatives might take on such businesses.”

    Sustainable Land Development Project To Go Carbon Negative

    August 2009 SLDT Magazine –

    “Key factors in developing the social, environmental and economic potential for biochar lie not only in its carbon-sequestration abilities, but in those other valuable properties that the process brings to sustainable land development best practices.”

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