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Field testing biochar from micro-gasifier stoves in rural Costa Rica

August 2012

The Seattle Biochar Working Group (SeaChar) is a grassroots nonprofit organization whose mission is to develop, promote and share tools for carbon negative living. SeaChar is working with local partners in rural Costa Rica to introduce portable, fuel-efficient micro-gasifier cook stoves that can efficiently burn a wide range of sustainable organic fuels.

This issue is particularly important for local growers and the thousands of migrant farm workers who make an annual trek from Nicaragua and Panama to pick coffee and cocoa in Costa Rica. These workers typically live in tin-roof shacks, without electricity or running water, cooking over open wood fires—a known source of upper respiratory health problems and driver of habitat destruction from the over-harvesting of wood.

The micro-gasifier stoves introduced by SeaChar will:

  • increase fuel efficiency by approximately 50 percent, compared to a traditional fire.
  • reduce particulate matter and carbon monoxide by more than 85 percent.
  • produce a useful carbon negative byproduct (biochar) for use as soil amendment by local farmers.1

The biochar acts as a sponge retaining nutrients and reducing soil erosion, and provides a suitable habitat for micro-organisms. The stoves have already been pilot tested on a project involving migrant coffee farm workers with funding from National Geographic.

SeaChar has embarked on an expansion of an earlier National Geographic pilot program to a broader set of applications composed of several interrelated programs, each of which is designed independently to achieve concrete and measurable goals in the areas of health, environmental sustainability and economic development. The specific aspects of this project that ENVIRON Foundation funding will support are the biochar field trials in cocoa production, investigating the impact of various biochar-based soil amendments on cocoa productivity, maturation rates, disease resistance, nutrient cycling and soil carbon levels.

SeaChar is working with researchers from numerous organizations, most notably CATIE (the Center for Tropical Agricultural Investigation and Education) and APPTA (a local farmer-owned organic growers association) to conduct a three-to-five-year biochar pilot test. This involves organic cocoa production in the lower Talamanca region of southeastern Costa Rica, specifically in the town of Bribri.

Visit SeaChar for more information.

1 The carbon negative attributes are a function of carbon sequestration by the recalcitrant carbon in the biochar, as well as avoided emissions of CH4 and N2O from soil and from biomass decay.