1. What is your innovation story?
To begin, AirTerra is more of a facilitator than an inventor. Once a market place for biochar as a soil enhancing amendment is developed, we plan to acquire an equity stake in a biochar production plant in Alberta and possibly every province in Canada to enable production of biochar for soil products in locations that are not too distant from soil markets.
If there is anything unique about us, it is our passion to take biochar to a commercial scale as soon as possible by working with the talented technologists who are ready to make and operate boichar production equipment, but who lack the time and focus to develop the market place. Since both production and sales need to be developed at the same time and at the same speed, we offer this service for the rest of the biochar industry.
The first accomplishment was to register a biochar product with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in a way that allows us to assign batch numbers to our inventory to identify products coming from different locations and vendors. We use third party labs to conduct tests on random samples of these inventories to be sure the product complies with the specifications we have had approved by the CFIA. This is kind of boring stuff, but it is absolutely necessary to ensure the biochar industry has integrity moving forward.
2. Do you follow a sustainable development agenda (for people, planet and prosperity) in your company/business?
We started AirTerra as an outreach to Kenyan farmers who have depleted soils and who are in need of cleaner cooking stoves. Putting these two needs together resulted in our introduction of Dr. Paul Anderson’s TLUD biochar producing stoves in Kenya during 2010. We intend to continue this activity once we are able to develop a business model that is sustainable for commercial agriculture and retail gardening in Canada.
3. If your enterprise could have a global application, what is your vision for transforming the planet?
Over the past 100 - 200 years, mechanized farming with the plough and powerful farm equipment has degraded soils to the point where crop yields are compromised. Tillage with a plough every year introduces oxygen to the organic carbon matter in soils and this results in oxidation of this natural carbon component (humus and residual crop materials). In fact, about 1/3 of the CO2 in the earth atmosphere is the result of losses of carbon from soil over the history of mechanized agriculture. As a result, large areas of farmland all over the planet are now deficient in organic matter that feeds and protects beneficial microbes and fungi in healthy soils. As a result, if farmers expect to produce adequate yields to feed a hungry planet from their organic carbon depleted soils, applications of large unsustainable amounts of chemical fertilizers are needed every year.
To mitigate and regenerate carbon-depleted farmland, we would love to see biochar become an accepted routine soil amendment practice in North America (especially Canada). Additions of biochar to soil, even in small quantities, using no-till precision air seeding farming technology, can regenerate depleted soils by stimulating microbial populations back to healthy levels. . Sales of biochar in the commercial agricultural market place would see significant tonnes of biochar sales in North America.
As a bonus, soil amendments of biochar have the effect of removing carbon from the atmosphere and increasing carbon stocks in soils – mitigating atmospheric GHG concentrations. Very few renewable energy technologies can claim to actually remove carbon from the atmosphere. Most claim only that they are carbon neutral. But to be significant, we need to encourage a very large-scale use of the biochar soil amendment approach.
Once we have a sustainable North American business, we want to promote the use of biochar in agriculture in developing countries at the smallholder farmer level as well. We see the potential for small communities to generate electricity with the excess heat generated during the biochar production process. Co-producing biochar and electricity would improve both energy security and food security for rural people in developing countries.