Breaking biochar: What’s a real chemistry instructor cooking up?
Langara chemistry instructor Kelly Sveinson’s biochar research is exciting stuff, albeit far less controversial than brewing up crystal meth like on TV’s popular show, Breaking Bad.
“I could do it as well,” said Sveinson of character Walter White’s meth-making magic. “I could use $11 million to further our research, but I have moral standards that don’t allow me,” he said.
Real-life chemistry instructor changes world for better, not worse
Instead, Sveinson has been researching biochar, a charcoal-like substance made from organic waste materials like wood, paper, or manure. The experimental substance has multiple applications for fighting climate change, including the potential to be used for soil purification, renewable fuel and wastewater treatment.
Much of this research at Langara has been a joint project with renewable energy company Diacarbon Energy. Jared Taylor, vice president of research and development, explained that once biochar is buried in soil it not only removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but also improves soil quality.
Langara critical to biochar project’s success
“Biochar is considered to be one of the most promising products that can actually benefit the world environmentally on a global scale,” said Taylor.
The chemistry department‘s ability to conduct small-scale preliminary tests has been critical to the research. “We wouldn’t actually be where we are if it wasn’t for Langara,” said Taylor. “I can’t overstate how important Langara’s been.”
“The founders started this company because we always wanted to make the world a better place. That sounds kind of lofty but that was the idea,” added Taylor.
Langara community garden used in experimental biochar research
Sveinson, along with research student Marcus Stein, has been experimenting with biochar for nearly two years. Last year he used the community garden on the east side of campus. “The garden is currently planted with the first set of experiments using biochar,” said Stein. “Some have regular soil, some have biochar, and some have beneficial fungus.”
“When we finish it we might look at how much grass grew in each plot by mass, comparing the plants heights and how many seeds were produced,” said Stein. The experimental garden is ongoing and will be bigger next spring.
Reported by Amy Jones