Wednesday, 15 November 2017

2nd Finnish Biochar Workshop and Autumn meeting of Finnish Biochar Association

The 2nd Finnish Biochar Workshop was successfully held in Tampere on 4 December 2017, we had participants representing the whole Finnish biochar sector: companies, researchers and local municipalities. The event was organized by Finnish Biochar Association and Forest Biochar research group of University of Helsinki and hosted by Carbofex Oy. Our other host, the Hiedanranta project of the City of Tampere (read more about this piloting platform for creating smart and sustainable City district for circular economy where biochar is an important part of the story, here) offered us a nice conference room in the Kuivaamo, a venue that can host up to 1000 participants. This time we were not yet that many, but might well be in few years:

Happy participants of the 2nd Finnish Biochar Workshop. Photos by Jure Zrim and Priit Tammeorg.

During two sessions and 10 presentations we got the overview of the current developments in the area of biochar sector in Finland. After the presentations we visited the brand new biochar factory of Carbofex Oy. Read more and see the the presentations from the FBA website.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Towards the best practice for reusing lake sediments in agriculture and landscape engineering

The phosphorus may well be one of the most critical raw materials in the world as it is non-renewable and required for food production. Further, rock phosphates are also not evenly distributed across the Earth (85% in Morocco and Western Sahara!). Meanwhile the world phosphate fertilizer demand is constantly increasing. So, obviously there is a need for nutrients recycling in agriculture sector. Further, excessive fertilizer applications go beyond the crop demand leading to the P transfer into water bodies, causing their eutrophication. European countries produce about 200 million m3y−1 of sediment removed from waterbodies which provides the potential of recycling nutrients from sediments in crop production. 

Doctoral student Mina Kiani in AgriChar research group is working on developing the best practice for reusing lake sediments in agriculture and landscape engineering in terms of agronomic performance as well as ecological sustainability. We have been comparing six different ways of applying sediments to soil, some of which include biochar treatments. We quantify nutrient availability in agricultural land as well as ryegrass biomass in a lysimeter experiment since Jan. 2017. Moreover, since June 2017, we are conducting a multi-year field experiment on the shore of the lake from where the sediments excavated. In the field experiment, we are testing the effect of treatments which had the best response in lysimeter experiment on ecological properties (heavy metal and organic contaminant uptake by plants, leaching of N and P, aggregate stability, soil biota and GHG emissions) in the real field condition.In October 2017, the lysimeter study was finished and all the soil and root samples collected for detailed analysis.
Field & lysimeter pics from Mina's project

We have obtained some really interesting results and soon we will share with you!


Friday, 22 September 2017

Harvest season 2017

We at AgriChar research group have been extremely busy past few weeks to get all the experimental fields harvested, plant and soils samples taken. The harvest season 2017 has been rather rainy in Northern Europe, which has posed us some challenges, but the yields itself are relatively OK this year. Outdoor tasks still left are the greenhouse gas measurements and tillage, other than that, we'll start the indoors lab season with quality analyses of yields, nutrient uptake of crops, water retention characteristics and soil fertility analyses, microbial analyses etc.

Plenty of work to keep us busy, stay tuned to hear the results!

Harvest and soil sampling @AgriChar research group in 2017

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

How to teach students and farmers the skills required in the professional world (including know-how on biochar use)?

Feedback from alumni, employers and the general community about the skills actually needed from university graduates is putting increasing pressure on educational institutions to change their teaching practices from lecturing towards learning activities that better promote competences relevant to tomorrow’s work life. These practices usually include employing joint efforts to target open-ended problems using internet-based tools and social media, and being able to publicly present the outcomes. Trialogical learning is one approach emphasizing collaborative knowledge-creation practices aiming to produce new knowledge via developing novel reusable solutions or improvements on real-life artefacts (e.g. operation models, plans, products) in collaboration with other parties. It familiarizes students with working life environments and aims to teach skills required in the professional world.

In our recent paper, we proposed a course design combining effective group working practices with trialogical learning principles in life sciences. We strove to make the model as concrete as possible so that it is easy to apply in practical course design, but also to be in line with and follow the abstract trialogical design principles. We assessed the usability of our design in (a) a case study on crop science education and (b) a questionnaire for university teachers in life science fields.

The case study course was an eight-week graduate degree (MSc) course entitled ‘Current issues in crop science: nutrient cycling’. The course consisted of a pre-task, facilitating lectures and nine topic lectures on novel methods on how to close nutrient cycles in agriculture (e.g. ‘biochar’ or ‘catch crops’). The students’ learning was partly assessed based on the group work task (the artefact) of a 15-year crop rotation plan for a real-life farmer (stakeholder) on a problematic field: the written task and an oral presentation and their feedback was collected.

Our approach was considered useful and supportive of the learning process by all the participants in the case study: the students, the stakeholders and the facilitator. Correspondingly, a group of university teachers expressed that the trialogical approach and the involvement of stakeholders could promote efficient learning. In our case in life sciences, we identified the key issues in facilitating effective group work to be the design of meaningful tasks and the allowance of sufficient time to take action based on formative feedback. Even though trialogical courses can be time consuming, the experience of applying knowledge in real-life cases justifies using the approach, particularly for students just about to enter their professional careers.

Read the full paper here!

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Final publication of EU COST Action TD1107 ("Biochar") published!

Eventually the final publication of the EU COST Action "Biochar as option for sustainable resource management" (2012-2017) is published in the journal Journal of Environmental Engineering and Landscape Management, please see the open access papers from the journal website.

The nine articles cover the main results of the COST Action, some arer highlighted here. The first one published,  Tammeorg et al. 2017 explored the research priorities for the future biochar research. The highest future research priorities regarding biochar’s effects in soils were: functional redundancy within soil microbial communities, bioavailability of biochar’s contaminants to soil biota, soil organic matter stability, GHG emissions, soil formation, soil hydrology, nutrient cycling due to microbial priming as well as altered rhizosphere ecology, and soil pH buffering capacity.

The Kern et al. (2017) paper focused on the question to what extent peat may be replaced in growing media by biochar. First positive results from laboratory and greenhouse experiments have been reported with biochar content in growing media ranging up to 50%. Various companies have already started to use biochar as an additive in their growing media formulations. Biochar might play a more important role in replacing peat in growing media, when biochar is available, meets the quality requirements, and their use is economically feasible.

 Frenkel et al. (2017), on the other hand, concluded that even low rates of biochar addition (less than 1%) can have positive effects on plant health. Kammann et al. (2017) reviewed the current state of knowledge on the potential of biochar to reduce N2O and CH4 emissions from agriculture. The found that the largest future research needs lay in conducting life-cycle GHG assessments when using biochar as an on-farm management tool for nutrient-rich biomass waste streams.

The representetativeness of European biochar research was analyzed by Verheijen et al. (2017) for field experiments and Sakrabani et al. (2017) for pot and lab experiments. They concluded that the potential of different biochars for remediation of contaminants need more research attention and that it is crucial to contextualize the effects of biochar on soil properties.

The Biochar COST Action was an efficient initiative to make the network of biochar researchers in Europe more coherent and I am sure several new projects and synergistic future steps will follow! 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Long-term effects of biochar as a soil amendment material on soil biota

We are investigating the long-term effects of spruce and pine- based biochars (BC) on earthworm and microbial community structures in fertile Stagnosol and nutrient deficient Umbrisol soils in Helsinki. BC was applied at rate of 0 and 10 or 30 t ha-1.

The field sampling campaign in 2015: from morning haze to late night!
Earthworm sampling conducted in autumn 2015, four and five years after BC application, showed no significant differences between the biochar and control treatments. The species composition of earthworms was in both sites typical for Finnish arable soils, dominated by endogeic Aporrectodea caliginosa Sav. Total earthworm density in Stagnosol was double the amount than in Umbrisol, but interestingly, we saw evidence of biochar particles being ingested by earthworms. This may suggest its enhancement of the microbial processes in earthworm digestive system.

Soil microbial samples were collected, and soil DNA was already extracted from 2015 samples, and is currently in a process of sequences analysis. In addition we measured soil CO2, CH4 and N2O fluxes in autumn 2015, using a closed dynamic chamber method. Preliminary analyses shows no significant effect of biochars on above mentioned gas fluxes.

In addition to above study, Mr. Jure Zrim has recently started working on effect of recycled organic fertilizers (including BC) on soil properties, crop growth and microbial community structures in (Tila)Hykerrys project, where four new experimental sites have been established since June 2016.

Read more from: Zrim, J., Nuutinen, V., Simojoki, A. & Tammeorg, P. 2017. Effects of biochar on earthworms in two long-term field experiments in Finland. IX Maaperätieteiden päiviät (Conference poster), Pro Terra, 71: 99-100.