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Recent News:
Fall 2013:
The group’s paper Biochar and microbial signaling:  production conditions determine effects on microbial communication, was just accepted at ES&T and is now online.  Congratulations to the student coauthors Shelly Cheng and Ye Chen!

Summer 2013:
Welcome to our summer students Ashton Gooding, Wilfred So, and Lynn Gai, and our new summer teacher, Irene Fong!  And welcome back to Cinco Ranch teacher Laura Driver and high school student Jacob Berger.

Undergrad alumnus Chase LeCroy’s paper Nitrogen, biochar, and mycorrhizae: Alteration of the symbiosis and oxidation of the char surface is now published in Soil Biology and Biochemistry.  Congratulations Chase!

Spring 2013:
**Upcoming Biochar Meeting at Rice University**
March 21, 2013

Guest speaker: Dr. Kurt Spokas
USDA Agricultural Research Service

2:30 pm seminar, Anderson Biological Laboratories, room 131
3:30-4 pm reception, Keith-Wiess Geological Laboratories, library (room 214)
4:00-5 pm poster session, Keith-Wiess Geological Laboratories, 2nd floor lobby

Seminar Abstract
Biochar (a form of black carbon) has been recently heralded as an amendment to revitalize worn-out/weathered soils, increase soil C sequestration, enhance agronomic productivity, and enter into future carbon trading markets. Soil application has been the assumed target for biochar. Biochar has been shown to occasionally cause immense benefits to both crop yields and soil fertility when added to degraded/weathered soils, but simultaneously has a documented history of negative to negligible agronomic impacts. Past research, as far back as the 1800's, has demonstrated that biochar has variable properties, which spans the full spectrum of black carbon residuals. Thus, suggesting that biochar is not a panacea for all soils. The mechanisms behind these biochar impacts are complex with multiple potential hypotheses. This presentation will summarize on-going research into the potential role of sorbed organics on biochar in the mitigation potential for N2O emissions and the role of biochar in improving water quality through reduced nitrate and agrochemical leaching. With population expansion and the finite area of tillable ground, improving nonproductive soils with biochar could be a vital key to future global food production, food security, and energy supplies.

Speaker Bio
Kurt Spokas is a research soil scientist with the United States Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) in St. Paul, MN. Kurt received his PhD in soil science from the University of Minnesota. He also holds a graduate adjunct professor appointment in the Department of Soil, Water & Climate and the Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota. Kurt's main research areas are: 1) impacts of management practices (particularly fungicides and biochar additions) on the cycling of carbon, nitrogen, and other greenhouse gases and 2) development of agricultural practices to improve overall water quality.

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We hope you can join us!

Questions?  Contact Dr. Catie Brewer: cbrewer@rice.edu 713-348-4114

Fall 2012:
Welcome Dr. Catie Brewer to the group as a postdoc working on biochar porosity and hydrology!

Summer 2012:
We’re looking forward to the US Biochar Initiative Meeting in Sonoma! The Rice Biochar group will give presentations on our work on the effects of biochar on microbial quorum sensing and on soil hydraulic conductivity.

Spring 2012:
Congratulations Dr. Sun!  Hao Sun successfully defended his Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering PhD on Monday, April 2nd at 11 am.  His thesis title is “Carbon Sequestration Through Soil Biochar Amendment:  Experimental Studies and Mathematical Modeling.”  

Undergrad alumnus Tim Kinney’s paper on biochar hydrophobicity is online: 
Kinney, T.J., C.A. Masiello, B. Dugan, W.C. Hockaday, M.R. Dean K. Zygourakis, and R.T. Barnes.  Hydrologic properties of biochars produced at different temperatures.  Biomass and Bioenergy, doi: 10.1016/j.biombioe.2012.01.033. 

Undergraduate Vicki Chuang presents a poster at the 2012 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Salt Lake City: “Black carbon:  does it sink or float?” V.J. Chuang, C.A. Masiello, H. Gonnermann, Z. Liu, B. Dugan, K. Zygourakis.  February 2012.

Fall 2011:
The Rice Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering funds the Rice biochar group’s grant “Investigating Biochar Impacts on Cell-Cell Communication.”  Congratulations Joff Silberg, Jenn Rudgers, Kyriacos Zygourakis, and Carrie Masiello! 

Graduate student Hao Sun gives a talk at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) in Minneapolis:  “Soil amendment by biochar:  Theoretical and experimental studies on the dynamic adsorption of ammonium nitrate in soil/biochar mixtures.” H. Sun, W.C. Hockaday, C.A. Masiello, K. Zygourakis. Thursday, October 20th, 2011.

Rice Biochar faculty member Kyriacos Zygourakis gives a talk at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in Minneapolis:  “Characterizing the pore structure of biochars:  a new approach based on multiscale pore structure models and reactivity measurements.” H. Sun, C.A. Masiello, K, Zygourakis.  Tuesday, October 18th, 2011.

Carrie Masiello speaks at the Baylor University Institute for Ecological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences: “Black Carbon in the Earth System.” Tuesday, October 4, 2011.

Summer 2011: 
Dong Li’s paper on earthworm response to biochar is online: Li, D., W.C. Hockaday, C.A. Masiello, P.J.J. Alvarez. Earthworm avoidance of biochar can be mitigated by wetting, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2011.4019

The biochar and microbes review paper is online: Lehmann, J., M. Rillig, J. Thies, C.A. Masiello, W.C. Hockaday, D. Crowley.  Biochar effects on soil biota - a review. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2011.04.022.

Bill Hockaday visits Austin, TX as a part of a collaboration with the City of Austin to demonstrate the operation of the Rice Biochar group’s mobile pyrolysis unit at the Hornsby Bend Center for Environmental Research, June 15-16, 2011.

Undergrad Vicki Chuang accepts a Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (German Academic Exchange Service) RISE scholarship to travel to Germany for summer research with Johannes Hahn at IFM-GEOMAR.

Undergrad alumnus Chase LeCroy accepts a ThinkSwiss scholarship to travel to ETH-Zurich for the summer to work with Tim Eglinton in the ETH Department of Earth Sciences.

Undergrad alumna Lacey Pyle travels to U. Zurich to work with Michael Schmidt and Samuel Abiven.

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Ph.D. student Hao Sun accepts an internship with Chevron.

New PhD student Zuolin Liu joins the Rice Biochar group to work with Brandon and Carrie.  Welcome Zuolin!

High school teacher Laura Driver joins the Rice Biochar group to work with Helge, KZ, Brandon, and Carrie.  Welcome Laura!

Spring 2011:  

The Rice biochar group presents at the 3rd Annual UK Biochar Meeting:
C.A. Masiello, B. Dugan, K.Zygourakis, W.C. Hockaday, T.J. Kinney, M.R. Dean, R.T. Barnes. Assessing controls on the hydrologic behavior of biochars. 3rd Annual Biochar conference, UK Biochar Centre, Edinburgh, UK.  May 2011.

Dong Li defends her PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering.  Congratulations Dr. Li!

Amending soils with charcoal may increase soil fertility, improve soil drainage, and help manage nutrient pollution. Adding charcoal to soils also sequesters carbon when this charcoal is made from biomass that would otherwise rapidly decompose to CO2. We are applying this promising C sequestration technique to the problem of greenhouse gas management in Texas. We are supported by grants from NSF, DOE, USDA, the Rice Shell Center for Sustainability and the Rice Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering.

Carbon sequestration and energy production through soil biochar amendment