By Don Harfield and Scott Lundy April 10, 2014
Representatives from government, industry and Campus Alberta met in Edmonton for an informative half-day seminar followed by a technical panel on April 8, to discuss the development of regulations for the production, sale and use of biochar in Alberta and across Canada.
More than 60 people participated in the symposium, which was hosted by the Alberta Biochar Initiative (ABI) at the Radisson Edmonton South, about four kilometers north of AITF Mill Woods.
Barry Mehr, VP of Agriculture, Food & Forestry, opened the session by recognizing some of the ABI’s accomplishments and praising its highly collaborative approach.
“Collaboration amongst the ABI partners is excellent,” said Barry. “It’s great to have industry partners such as The Prasino Group, Air Terra and Novagreen. The collaboration between Lakeland College and AITF, with financial support from Western Economic Diversification Canada, is also noteworthy.”
Participants were treated to four high-quality presentations from subject-matter experts. The following presentations were given:
- Biochar field trials and application methods – Bonnie Drozdowski, Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures
- Biochar marketing and commercialization experience – Lloyd Quantz, on behalf of Rob Lavoie, AirTerra Inc.
- Biochar and carbon protocol development – Rick Phaneuf, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Development (ESRD)
- Current practice and regulatory process – Vadim Gouida, Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
*you may click on the list above to download the presentations
A lively panel discussion involving all of the presenters and Keith Driver, Managing Partner of The Prasino Group, occurred after lunch. Its topic? The development of provincial and federal regulations for biochar.
One of the central questions panelists grappled with was whether regulations should focus on the qualities of the final product or on the methods of production. The Prasino Group’s Keith Driver argued in favour of focusing on the biochar product itself, while others suggested it was just as important to focus on the ways in which biochar is produced. CFIA’s Vadim Gouida said both were important, and assured participants that production methods would be handled as confidential or proprietary information.
The group also discussed the topic of manufacturers’ claims. Interestingly, ESRD’s Rick Phaneuf stressed that it isn’t enough to substantiate claims that biochar is harmless to the environment (soil, water and wildlife). Manufacturers need to substantiate claims that biochar benefits the environment in some way. Lloyd Quantz lamented the fact that biochar and other similar products have been used successfully for centuries by other cultures in other parts of the world without heavy regulation. One of the participants noted that charcoal is approved as a livestock supplement in Canada, but not as a soil amendment.
Another participant asked if individual farmers who choose to produce small quantities of biochar on their own property and either use it themselves on their land or share it with others at no cost are subject to the same regulations as a commercial biochar producer. ESRD’s Rick Phaneuf suggested the regulations would be different, but he was quick to add complaints from neighbours about deteriorating air or water quality might lead to an investigation.
The panel concluded by recommending a collective approach to developing regulations, perhaps based on existing International Biochar Initiative (IBI) guidelines and regulations used in other jurisdictions, for the production, sale and use of biochar in Alberta. It emphasized the importance of working with the regulators – ESRD and CFIA – rather than working around them.
Mel Mathison, Lakeland College’s Dean of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and Applied Research, wrapped up the session by sharing a few observations about the workshop and ABI’s next steps.
“A few years ago, ABI thought if we purchased a couple of mobile biochar units, started making biochar and told people about the material’s numerous benefits, commercialization would take care of itself,” said Mel. “We’ve since come to the realization our expectations were unrealistic. We need to work together, with the regulators, to develop appropriate regulations for biochar so we can continue our efforts to create a viable biochar industry in Alberta and gain market entry across Canada.”