Biochar presents a unique opportunity within forest-based industries, having the potential to consume underutilized woody biomass, serve as an amendment to improve soils, and a strategy to sequester carbon. Biochar is not a new technology, as it was used by ancient civilizations in the Amazon basin to boost soil fertility. Soils containing this black carbon, or Terra preta, allowed those cultures to successfully cultivate the land and remnants of this practice can still be found today. Biochar is now used as a soil amendment, filtration medium or remediation material, and even as animal bedding and a feed additive. However, the biomass industry and related markets are still relatively immature in the U.S. as refinements are being made to optimize processes, biochar characterization, and identify potential and value. The U.S. Biochar Initiative maintains a directory of biochar associated businesses, but consistent supplies are not readily available in all regions for all applications.
The potential benefits and challenges related to biochar are worth exploring within the context of Minnesota’s forest and provided the motivation for this project. The goal of the project was to identify and outline the logistical challenges and opportunities of biochar integration in Minnesota’s forests, along with presenting the feasibility of various integration strategies, to inform the development of a potential biochar industry in the state. This work is informed by an extensive literature review, in-depth interviews with content experts from across the country, and diverse focus groups with stakeholders throughout the state. Discussions from those focus groups, hosted throughout winter 2020-21, are intertwined throughout this report. Thirty individuals were involved representing land managers, consultants, contractors, and the forest products industry. Despite each session being quite diverse, common themes arose that can inform the development of a biochar industry in Minnesota.