How to save Earth by making wine

How this climate project increases crop yields and sequesters carbon at the same time.

How to save Earth by making wine

Just the gist

Short on time? Here's what you need to know this month:

  • 🌱 Our project with Pacific biochar just conducted their second successful field trial. Conducted at a vineyard, it showed augmenting soil with biochar leads to significantly larger crop yields.
  • 🏭 The project is in the process of booking contracts with 2 biomass energy plants that will increase biochar production to 10,000 tons in 2022– storing about 27,500 tons of CO2 per year.

This is a project update from Wren's project Biochar in California. For more updates like this one, follow Wren on Twitter and Instagram.

Biochar in California is an ambitious project: It clears flammable wood from high-fire risk areas, then pyrolizes it, turning the wood into biochar, a natural form of pure, stable carbon. Then, they mix the biochar with compost and sell it to farmers. In this update we'll see how winemakers have increased their crop yields, while permanently storing carbon in their vineyards' soil.

Successful field trial proves biochar leads to increased crop yields of over 1 ton per acre

The project have just wrapped up a promising field trial in partnership with Monterrey Pacific, a vineyard management company that operates throughout the Central California Coast. Adding biochar to soil on the Oasis vineyard increased grape yields by about 1 ton per acre, when compared with unfertilized native soil.

Healthy soil should contain over 1.2% organic material, according to Doug Beck, Monterrey Pacific's science advisor. Most Californian soil contains less than 0.5% organic matter, so it's no surprise that applying biochar to soil has the potential to vastly increase soil health and crop yields.

According to Dr. Beck, "it has become clear in recent literature that composting the biochar together with the compost substrates gives it a mix that's much like super-charged compost." This was proven in the field trial, with the biochar and compost mixture increasing crop yields by 2 tons per acre compared to native soil.

When produced from woody biomass, above 500C, biochar is stable for 1,000 years or more in the soil, so using biochar as an agricultural amendment improves soil health for generations– while keeping carbon out of the atmosphere too.

With the success of this field trial, Dr. Beck said he has "definitely been converted into a biochar proponent".

Here are some pictures of the grape harvest from the trial, which you can read more about here.

The biochar-only treatment increased fruit yield on the fourth leaf in 2020 by a little over 1 ton per acre, while the compost-only treatment increased yields by 1.8 tons per acre. The compost-plus-biochar treatment increased yields even more, by 2 tons per acre.
The Oasis trial was conducted using Pinot Noir grapes.

The project expects to increase production to 10,000 tons of biochar per year

Biochar dust is poured into a container at Pacific Biochar's pilot plant in Santa Rosa, CA.

The project is in the middle of some promising negotiations. Here's a quote from Andy Mercy, Chief Strategy Officer for our project partner, Pacific Biochar:

“We're in the process of finalizing contracts with two biomass energy plants that will increase our production to 10,000 tons of biochar in 2022, storing approximately 27.500 tons CO2e per year. In addition, we are in due diligence with major corporate credit purchasers that, once signed, will catalyze additional production of between 10,000 tons and 75,000 tons of biochar in 2023, rapidly scaling up our production and sequestration. Demand for our high-value carbon removal credits is extremely high and we are aiming to get to 1M tons of CO2 stored annually by 2026.”

– Andy Mercy, Pacific Biochar CSO

This project is a great, cost effective way to remove carbon from the atmosphere long-term. And it's the first verified biochar offset program in North America. We hope we'll be purchasing a lot more offsets from Pacific Biochar soon.

That's it for this update! Thanks again for your support, and we look forward to sending you the next one. 🧡

– Thomas and the Wren team