Company looking to bring biochar plant to area

The Inter-Mountain photo by Amanda Hayes Dr. Wil Spencer speaks at the annual meeting of the Buckhannon River Watershed Association Wednesday in Buckhannon.

BUCKHANNON — Biochar had been around for 4,000 years when it was first created by the Amazon River Indians to improve agricultural yields, but it’s only in the last 25 years that its popularity has began to spread again.

Dr. Wil Spencer, a resident of Randolph County for five years, spoke this week at the Buckhannon River Watershed Association annual meeting. Spencer’s company is Environotics Unlimited which would like to bring a biochar plant and composting facility to the region. They are working to secure funding now and the first phase of the multi-phase project is expected to cost $10 million.

So, what is biochar? It’s charcoal used as a soil amendment.

More than 4,000 studies have been done on biochar over the last 25 years that show how it works and the benefits including plant growth, water sequestration, water/air filtration, animal feed supplement and many human uses and filler applications.

Biochar is a stable solid, rich in carbon, and can endure in soil for thousands of years, according to information Spencer shared. Biochar is also known as a rare carbon-negative product making it an exceptionally green product.

Spencer said that Dupont has funded projects in which they are lining some of the banks of bodies of water with biochar and putting biochar in socks to float in the water and absorb heavy metals and contaminants in the bay.

What fascinates Spencer is the ability for the biochar to attract toxins and absorb them into honeycombs through sequestering.

He related it to a magnetic charge that attracts toxins and absorbs them into the honeycombs.

The Buckhannon River Watershed Association had show and tell as Spencer brought several different packages of biochar to pass around Wednesday.

“These carbons here are all around 60 percent and higher,” he said. “The powder has been tested at 85 percent carbon.”

Spencer said the biochar can be loaded with nutrients.

“What makes biochar excellent for this region is its biomass availability,” he said. “We have a broad array of possibilities we can use to make biochar.”

Just like what the hemp industry is experiencing, Spencer said that some people look at biochar differently.

“Hemp raisers and biochar enthusiasts are kind of looked at as weird,” he said. “It is weird. This is kind of different and people are just now catching on to this all over the country. This technology has been around since the 1960s. I am really happy to be on the forefront of pushing this out and to keep up. It’s time we get away from some of this archaic thinking.”

Environotics Unlimited is using biochar in agriculture and remediation.

Spencer is working with county resident Kevin Campbell about having biochar on his property for some experiments.

“The higher quality biochar is running around close to 9 — some of it is even a little over 9 percent alkalinity so the ability to neutralize the acid is really high and raw in any floating contaminants is pretty high,” Spencer said. “I’m really thankful for Kevin for offering us that site because that is four different things we are going to accomplish hopefully.”

New uses for biochar are still being discovered.

“They are putting this biochar in with plastics, concrete and asphalt and making the tension strength of it much, much greater,” he said. “Putting it in concrete as a filler makes concrete less likely to crack and stronger and lighter.”

“Ultimately, if we can run it through a filter of some kind, it works great as a filter material,” he said. “It absorbs a massive amount of not just moisture, but contaminants.”