In Search of Soil podcast

Biochar with Francesco Tortorici - ISOS S2 #1

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In this episode of In Search of Soil, we have biochar scientist and citizen scientist advocate Francesco Tortorici to fill in those knowledge gaps and encourage you to push forward with being a responsible citizen scientist.

Francesco Tortorici is an engineer by trade, and since 2014, he has worked with the Port Townsend designing and building biochar filters that remove heavy metals from stormwater runoffs. He and his wife Joan founded Olympic Biochar in 2015 to promote biochar and its benefits and provide good, locally-made biochar.

Learn about Francesco Tortorici -



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In this episode of In Search of Soil:

  • Diego introduces the episode’s guest, Francesco Tortorici (00:35)  
  • Francesco Tortorici’s claim to fame in the world of biochar (01:15)
  • How Francesco views citizen scientists and how they fit into greater research (03:08)
  • Doing trials with controls in your context instead of blind following (06:10)
  • The need to fully understand your context and the biochar you plan to use (08:37)
    • Not all biochars are created equal (09:52)
  • Francesco Tortorici’s definition of biochar (10:52)
    • Biochar isn’t biochar until it’s biologically active (12:02)
  • Biochar and what’s left after the carbon (14:00)
  • The soil benefits of sequestering atmospheric carbon in the soil versus using compost carbon (14:42)
  •  Why has the Pacific North West look at biochar as a way to guide the soil? (19:37)
  • Some case studies of university research trials and citizen science trials and their results (22:38)
  • Biochar doesn’t directly help the plant per se, it enhances the biological community (29:55)
  • The possible negatives of putting in biochar (32:12)
    • Worm avoidance test (35:50)
  • What to look for and what to avoid in choosing commercial biochar (37:26)
    • International Biochar Initiative standards, PAHs, PCBs, and dioxins (39:35)
  • Which biochar to use if you’re growing vegetables (40:24)
  • Measuring the pH of the soil and Francesco’s view on biochar affecting soil pH (42:08)
  • The only apparent trade-off for biochar: time, money, effort (45:20)
  • A concern: the potential of concentrating heavy metals biochar by burning long-lived trees that absorbed large amounts of pollution (49:35)
    • A question you should raise: what do the microorganisms eat and transmute into something else? (52:30)
  • Fransesco’s input on application rate and rules of thumb (54:40)
  • Will you see different results working on a kiln and a retort? (58:38)
  • Ash to char ratio and burning smaller feedstock (01:02:25)
  • Tips on how to be a good kiln operator: what to look for (01:04:50)
  • Humans’ intrinsic connection with fire (01:10:13)
  • Adding biomass: more of stacking pancakes instead of piling everything in one go (01:13:55)   
  • Digging a cone out of the ground instead of fabricating a kiln (01:16:55)
  • Quenching the burn: what does water do apart from extinguishing the fire? (01:18:36)
  • What’s next after you’ve got your biochar sitting in your kiln (01:21:17)
  • Other potential uses of biochar (01:23:23)
  • Is biochar activated carbon? (01:30:00)
  • One thing Francesco wants everyone to take away about biochar (01:34:25)
  • Where to find Francesco and his work on biochar (01:35:28)

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