Heather Kingery stands holding a microphone in front of a slideshow about biochar
Heather Kingery, forest products marketing coordinator for Nebraska Forest Service, leads a presentation about biochar at The Happy Raven, explaining how to make biochar, a black carbon produced from biomass sources that is used to trap carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, at home and why it is beneficial for the Earth. Photo by: Samantha Hargens/NNS.

America is still in the experimental phase of controlling and improving the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. One potential solution to help limit the amount of released carbon dioxide is making biochar.

The Happy Raven, a dine-in bar located on 122nd North 11th St. in Lincoln, hosted a presentation “The Burning Need for Biochar” by Heather Kingery, forest products marketing coordinator for Nebraska Forest Service, Oct. 26. Morrill Hall organized the event as part of a series called the Science Cafe.

Biochar is a black carbon produced from biomass sources. It is made in an oxygen-limited and confined space. Kingery makes hers in a large metal can. Wood chips, plant residues, manure and other agricultural waste products are ignited and then extinguished before burning to ash. A flaky black substance then remains.

“What we want is incomplete combustion. Complete combustion is burning a substance to ash, incomplete combustion is limiting the oxygen which doesn’t allow the fuel to react completely with the oxygen to produce carbon dioxide,” Kingery said.

Kingery said by making biochar in an oxygen-limited space, about 50% less carbon dioxide is released.

The substance, now biochar, can be mixed with substances like soil, mixed in with bedding for animals and even added to livestock food. Biochar is used to limit carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released into the air, and once mixed with other substances, helps soak up existing carbon and puts it back into our earth. This helps control the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 

The topic of biochar is one that Kingery has been interested in for almost a decade. Kingery has worked for the Nebraska Forest Service researching biochar since 2015. 

Kingery first became interested in biochar when she was going to graduate school at West Virginia University where she was studying revegetation and first learned about biochar. After that, Kingery moved to Peru where she studied sustainable agriculture and made biochar and studied its uses.

Kingery makes biochar at home and mixes it with soil for her plants. 

“I’m kind of a lazy composter, I’ll admit it,” Kingery said.

She said she puts her food waste into a pile and lets it sit with existing biochar that she made from burning wood chips. After a few weeks, the waste begins to decompose and is charged with nutrients that can be used for gardening. Others have mixed biochar with animal bedding, which helps reduce odor. 

Kingery said she has friends that plant potatoes and did an at-home experiment where they planted potatoes in a section that did have biochar and a section that did not. A total of about 100 pounds of potatoes were harvested. The section where potatoes were growing with biochar produced five more pounds of potatoes than the section that did not.

David Loope of Lincoln, a professor emeritus of Earth and atmospheric sciences, attended the event with his wife, Cindy Loope. Loope said he has been concerned about climate change and has done research involving climate change in the Midwest.

“For a long time I’ve been interested and concerned about climate change, so I thought this was a really interesting subject,” Loope said. 

Loope said through his own research he found that there is a lot of excess wood and fuel that America has not found a good solution for. He said he hopes that by using wood to make biochar, this may help control the carbon released into the atmosphere and slow the rate of climate change. 

DCLoope 1024x682 - How to make biochar and why it is important
David and Cindy Loope of Lincoln watch the presentation on biochar on Tuesday, Oct. 26 at The Happy Raven, a dine-in bar located on 122 N 11th Street. Cindy Loope, state museum educator and David, professor of geology, both said they are interested in climate change and ways to improve the Earth. Photo by: Samantha Hargens/NNS.

Molly Bloom, scheduling coordinator for Morrill Hall, said the series is offered to scientists to be able to present their research to an audience in a setting different from classrooms or conferences. She said it is also offered to the public as a way of helping people learn about various topics.

“We try to have a variety of sciences represented and give the community the opportunity to learn more about relevant topics,” Bloom said.

This is their second presentation that has been held in person. During COVID-19 it was hosted virtually for people to watch. Six people attended the presentation, and Bloom said she hopes to see more people attend the series.

“Pre-pandemic we have had 60-100 people attend,” Bloom said.

Future presentations are scheduled through May 2022 every fourth Tuesday at The Happy Raven. The schedule for presentations can be found on Morrill Hall’s website.

Senior student majoring in Journalism with a minor in Communications at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln.