Building a Commercial Market for Biochar

Oregon BEST Funds Help Advance Commercial Market for Biochar in Ag and Forestry
New process enables biochar-coated seeds, co-application with lime, carbon sequestration

PORTLAND, Ore. – Funding from Oregon BEST is enabling Walking Point Farms, LLC to collaborate with Oregon State University researchers to test the efficacy of coating seeds and soil amendments with biochar, a soil additive derived from the pyrolysis of woody biomass. The move could lead to larger-scale carbon sequestration, boost yields of winter wheat while increasing the pH of depleted soils and improve survival rates of native seeds planted following wildfires.

By combining a water-soluble polymer with powdery biochar, the Tigard, Oregon, company can agglomerate biochar into prills, or BB-sized pellets, that eliminate dust and improve handling and application of biochar. The project also proved that biochar can be coated onto seeds and soil amendments, helping retain moisture, increase soil pH and improve soil structure.

Next spring, Walking Point Farms, in collaboration with Marion Ag Service, Inc., an Oregon fertilizer distributor, will introduce its first commercially-available product, Pro-Pell-It!™ biochar coated lime prills. The veteran-owned Walking Point Farms sees carbon sequestration as a key value-add for its proprietary process.

Wood chips used for biochar"Going forward, this is about the carbon market, which is a huge issue," said Howard Boyte, CEO of Walking Point Farms. "We now have an efficient tool to put this carbon into the ground where it can stay for thousands of years. Instead of burning slash at logging sites, we can capture the carbon and put it into soils."

The $91,000 funding from Oregon BEST supported research and testing by OSU professor and dryland cropping agronomist Stephen Machado, who’s preliminary findings show a 26-34 percent yield increase in red winter wheat amended with a bulk biochar application. Machado is also conducting ongoing field studies on the impact of adding biochar to depleted agricultural fields.

"In wheat fields that have been farmed continually since the 1800s, biochar offers a surface area that increases water- and nutrient-holding capacity, raises the pH and protects soils from erosion and leaching," Machado said. "It's the fastest way to put organic matter back into the soil."

The Portland Development Commission also supported the project via a federal Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge Grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. That funding connected Walking Point Farms with OSU associate professor and seed scientist Sabry Elias, whose research is helping determine if coating native seeds with biochar and other amendments will boost germination and survival rates when planting after wildfires or during environmental remediation, where survival rates are historically low.

Summit Seed Coatings in Caldwell, Idaho, also contributed to the project by verifying that the process developed by Walking Point Farms would work at a commercial production scale. The U.S. Forest Service also helped with the native seed survival studies.

"We're pleased to be helping connect small companies like Walking Point Farms with key researchers and other companies to collectively advance new technologies that will not only help farmers and foresters and potentially create new jobs, but will also open new options for carbon sequestration," said Ken Vaughn, Director of Commercialization Programs at Oregon BEST.

Media Contact: Gregg Kleiner, 541-740-9654
Sources: Ken Vaughn, Oregon BEST, 503-725-9801; Howard Boyte, CEO, Walking Point Farms, 866-888-5932; Stephen Machado, OSU, 541-278-4416

About Oregon BEST
Oregon BEST is the nexus for clean technology innovation, building capability, convening collaborations, and accelerating solutions to environmental challenges that deliver prosperity in all corners of Oregon. Oregon BEST brings together Oregon’s significant R&D strengths in clean technology to support the commercialization of new products and services. Since establishment in 2007, Oregon BEST’s 250-plus Member Faculty have generated more than $134 million in research revenue from federal, industry and foundation sources to Oregon. At its four partner universities (Oregon Institute of Technology, Oregon State University, Portland State University, and University of Oregon), Oregon BEST has established a network of nine Oregon BEST Labs, which are shared-user research facilities. Oregon BEST Commercialization Funding is competitively awarded to collaborations between entrepreneurs and Oregon BEST Member Faculty at partner universities.

About Walking Point Farms
Walking Point Farms is a certified Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business operating out of Tigard, Oregon. In memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and in honor of those who put their lives on the line in service to their nation, Walking Point Farms works tirelessly to provide career opportunities for veterans and currently serving members of the armed forces. Walking Point Farms specializes in the development of biochar based seed coatings and soil amendments with a focus on sustainable natural resource utilization, providing viable retail offsets against global climate change, and ultimately building better soils for generations to come. Research into the efficacy of biochar in new applications continues as Walking Point Farms looks to add new products to its existing line of Pro-Pell-It!™ biochar soil amendment, coated seeds and custom blended fertilizers.