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EcoWorks' Sustainability Intern - Biochar Project Update Part 2



Hello and Happy Spring, Howard EcoWorks Community! My name is Jazlyn Benitez, I am the Environmental Sustainability Intern at Howard EcoWorks! I am a Maryland native and am currently in graduate school to earn my M.S. in Sustainability Management. 


I am excited to share an update on a project concerning the forest-edge restoration efforts that will improve soil quality and eliminate harmful invasive species. This project is in partnership with Howard EcoWork’s Executive Director, Lori Lilly, as well with Kip Mumaw at Ecosystem Services and Dr. Paul Imhoff at the University of Delaware. Through the support of a Howard County Innovation Grant, we are bringing together a holistic approach to forest, stream, and soil management that maximizes ecosystem service benefits. In one of our projects, we are collaborating with Howard Community College to restore a forest-edge land. To learn more about the beginning steps of this project that took place, please read my first blog post January 2024


On February 28th, the entire Howard EcoWorks crew collaborated to begin the burning process of dried invasive species. The collected invasives, mainly consisting of vines and Autumn Olive, had been drying all winter and were finally ready to become biochar. 


Biochar is an organic waste that has been burned under conditions of very limited oxygen. The final product is very rich in carbon, which increases water retention and has been shown to improve the productivity of plants - hence its historical use in agriculture


The quality and amount of biochar produced is largely dependent on the type of feedstock (organic waste being burned) and the temperature at which the material is burned. Utilizing a soil amendment such as biochar is not only great for plant growth, but it also sequesters carbon and prevents additional CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere through decomposition, for many years to come. Learn more about biochar here


In order to safely burn the invasives, we used a Ring of Fire, a circular metal kiln that is capable of burning waste wood into biochar. The Ring of Fire biochar kiln was created and developed by Kelpie Wilson, an engineer and analyst who studies renewable energy and sustainable forestry efforts for the past 35 years. To learn more about Kelpie Wilson and the Ring of Fire biochar kiln, please visit her website


Once the Howard EcoWorks crew assembled the kiln, the process of burning was ready to begin. Despite a few hardships with the dreary and windy weather that day, the team as well Lori Lilly and myself were able to burn the majority of the dried up invasives that had been collected. Much of the small twigs, to medium-large portions of the invasives were thrown into the kiln. While the fire started off small, it soon got bigger as more and more dry woody material was added to the fire. 


About two hours before the end of the day, the crew stopped adding material in order to allow enough time for the remaining pieces in the kiln to fully burn. In order to begin the cooling process, buckets of water were thrown into the Ring of Fire. After cooling, Lori Lilly and the crew began to disassemble the kiln, so that the biochar could be released into the open air and begin to further cool down, as seen in the below picture:


Steam from biochar cooldown

Overall, the team was very impressed with the amount of biochar created from the day of burning! Moving forward, we will utilize this mix with native trees that will be planted along the designated forest edge in Howard Community College — where the invasive vines and Autumn Olive once resided. The final stage of this project will take place in early April 2024. 


  




Concluding the day of wood burning, the team had a chance to take a group photo!

Please stay tuned to updates on this project on our social media pages and blogs!


Howard EcoWorks hopes to utilize this project as a learning opportunity to demonstrate a more integrated approach to forest and woodland management through invasive species conversion to biochar in order to improve forest productivity and overall ecosystem function. Going forward, Howard EcoWorks hopes to add this to their service delivery model as well as generally educate the public about the benefits of biochar. 


About the Author:

Jazlyn Benitez is from Silver Spring, MD and just recently graduated from St. Mary’s College of MD with a BA in Economics and Environmental Studies. Jazlyn is currently studying at American University’s Kogod School of Business for a MS in Sustainability Management while embarking on her Environmental Sustainability Internship here at Howard EcoWorks. Jazlyn enjoys swimming, going out to enjoy the Bay, and trying new places to eat!




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