A new research on biochar funded by the National Research Council of the Philippines (DOST-NRCP) has gained the interest of farmers, households, and rural developers through the direct application of its results, which is a feat for a basic research. NRCP Division VI (Agriculture and Forestry)’s Dr. Gina V. Pangga, its proponent, studied the potential of common agricultural wastes like corn cobs, water hyacinth, mahogany receptacles, and rice hull and straw, to produce quality biochars as soil conditioner.
Not just charcoal
Biochar in soil enhances crop yield, resistance, and health. Like charcoal, it is also made through pyrolysis—a.k.a., the process of burning materials with lesser oxygen—but where charcoal is for barbecues, biochar is for the fixing the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soil.
While technically no fertilizer either, biochar benefits plants by its material structure: its tiny microscopic pores serve as excellent sites for nutrients and water storage (especially during dry times), and also provide home for essential microbes. Biochar can also separate soil contaminants in damaged soils as well as lessen carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—properties scientists deem useful for environment sustainability and climate change adaptation.
the material used, cooking length, and temperature. For instance, cooking beyond ideal range of 400 to 600 degrees Celsius yields charcoal instead of biochar.
“You want to maintain its desired qualities like porosity, absorption, and surface area,” explained Dr. Pangga, who is also a soil specialist.
Per 10 kilos of regular soil, 50 grams of biochar is required—a simple conversion of which allocates10 tons of biochar for every soil hectare.
Most regular soils would benefit from biochar, but degraded soils (like saline soil) will need an appropriate type of biochar, she added.
From basic research to invention
Dr. Pangga collaborated with the Bataan Peninsula State University in designing a prototype stove for regular households to make their own biochars using agricultural and plant waste materials. Her invention, together with her research, was unveiled by NRCP through a forum during the National Science and Technology Week celebrations organized by the Department of Science and Technology last month.
Her dual-purpose stove burns from 20 up to 75 minutes per load depending on the feedstock or input material. Some drawbacks may be due to its “pyrolytic design”: generating a yellow flame (due to low oxygen requirement to achieve pyrolysis) versus the usual LPGs that give off relatively “cleaner” flames and some questions on user safety; but overall, provides a neat alternative for medium-to-large-size backyard or outdoor cooking.
Keeping up with the demand
The increasing local demand for biochar meanwhile encouraged Dr. Pangga to seriously consider upgrading her prototype stove into a larger reactor able to supply biochar by the tons. She hopes to get funding from DOST’s applied tech agencies.
NRCP Executive Director, Dr. Marieta Bañez Sumagaysay, commended Dr. Pangga’s basic research for its possibilities for agriculture and waste management, providing barangays and rural households inexpensive means to turn trash into something beneficial, and serving another practical use on the side.
Written by George Robert E. Valencia III , NRCP S&T Media Service
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