NCDA&CS Grant Supports Appalachian Research Of Biochar To Increase Crop Yields At Local Farm

BOONE, N.C. — Thanks to a $98,599 grant from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS), a team of professors in Appalachian State University’s Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment, along with Hei-Young Kim, research assistant in the Appalachian Energy Center (AEC), will study the effects of biochar combined with anaerobic digestion (BCAD) on crop growth at Heritage Homestead Farm in Crumpler. The grant will be administered by the AEC.

Faculty members involved with the project are Dr. Ok-Youn Yu, associate professor and interim assistant chair; Dr. Jeremy Ferrell, assistant professor; Dr. Jim Houser, associate professor; and Dr. Susan Doll, associate professor.

According to Yu, researchers in the department have demonstrated the use of biomass energy for greenhouse heating to help local agricultural producers extend growing seasons and increase yields through optimization of biomass and fossil fuel resources.

In addition, he said they have demonstrated the viability of producing locally appropriate bioenergy crops at their research facility using marginal non-arable land to assist local agricultural producers in developing the use of syngas for greenhouse heating while producing the valuable soil amendment biochar to further support yields.

“The main purpose of this proposal,” Yu said, “is to investigate the viability of biochar combined anaerobic digestion (BCAD) as a means to enhance biogas production and improve soil quality to increase crop yields on marginal lands.”

Heritage Homestead Farm in Crumpler has recently agreed to participate in a BCAD technology transfer project to demonstrate the regional applicability of small-farm BCAD, Yu said.

During this project, Yu said the team will evaluate performance of the system, potential for meeting crop production, farm waste management (manure and cheese production whey) and energy needs. “Specific farm operations that could benefit from on-site BCAD include the daily hot water demands for the dairy’s cleaning needs and space heating,” he added.

Graduate and undergraduate students who will assist with the project:

  • Mason Atkinson, a graduate student in the technology program from Pawleys Island, South Carolina;
  • Jon Linck ’17, a graduate student in the technology program from Raleigh;
  • Jordan Holder ’15, a graduate student in the technology program from Norfolk, Virginia;
  • Gordon Miller, a senior sustainable technology major from Wilmington; and
  • Gabbie Batzko, a junior sustainable technology major from Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

This illustration displays both the soil and atmospheric benefits of using biochar. Illustration by Kevin D. Brown/International Biochar Initiative

About the Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment

One of seven departments housed in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, the Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment at Appalachian State University features an integrated array of programs spanning the fields of sustainable design and technology. Its mission is to foster a strong and vibrant culture of inquiry, discovery and innovation that integrates theory with application, problem seeking with problem-solving, local issues with global perspectives and technological progress with environmental stewardship. It offers bachelor’s degrees in sustainable technology and building science, and a master’s degree in technology. Learn more at https://stbe.appstate.edu.

About the College of Fine and Applied Arts

Appalachian State University’s College of Fine and Applied Arts is a dynamic and innovative group of seven academic departments, bringing together a variety of perspectives, experiences and real-world education to provide unique opportunities for student success. The college has more than 3,000 undergraduate and graduate majors. Its departments are Applied Design, Art, Communication, Military Science and Leadership, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment, and Theatre and Dance. Learn more at https://faa.appstate.edu.

About Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, Appalachian enrolls about 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.