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Learn about Biochar, an Environmental Superstar, at NASA's Langley Research Center

Press Release From: Langley Research Center
Posted: Monday, January 8, 2018

A little-known way to get your garden growing — and promote a healthier planet —will be discussed at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Langley scientist Doris Hamill will give a lecture Tuesday, Jan. 9, at 2 p.m. in the center’s Pearl Young Theater entitled “Biochar – Environmental Superstar” as part of NASA Langley’s Colloquium and Sigma Series Lectures. Hamill will also give the same talk Tuesday, Jan. 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the Virginia Air & Space Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Biochar, which is charcoal used as a soil amendment, has an interesting origin. Most approaches to the global warming problem concentrate on reducing the rate at which greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere, with the ultimate hope of moving to a “carbon-free” future in which we are no longer adding them at all.

But these solutions cannot undo the damage that has been done by three hundred years of removing carbon from geological sequestration to cycle through the atmosphere, biosphere and oceans. To reverse this damage, carbon must be withdrawn from the cycle and sequestered in an inert state for hundreds or thousands of years.

About 20 years ago, discoveries in the Amazon rain forest showed that primitive people already had an approach to doing just that. They were making and using a material now called biochar, an inert form of carbon made using simple materials – woody biomass – and a simple, carbon-negative process.

Biochar can sequester this carbon in Earth’s soils, and when it does, the soils become more productive, require less chemical amendments, and even filter harmful materials from percolating groundwater. While there is a dedicated community of biochar enthusiasts, it has not yet become well enough known to live up to its potential. This lecture will describe biochar, its history and its virtues, and also describe how it can be made and used simply by almost anyone.

Hamill is a scientist with degrees in physics and biophysics who has spent her career managing technology development. She began as an Air Force officer and became a program manager with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. At Oceaneering Space Systems, she managed the development of a commercial life-support system for firefighters. At Spacehab, she managed the commercial research portfolio for space experiments. Since 2003, she has been with NASA Langley in several technology management roles. She has promoted biochar to various interest groups in the Hampton Roads region for 10 years.

Interested media members who wish to attend the lecture at NASA Langley may contact news chief Michael Finneran at 757-864-6110 or michael.p.finneran@nasa.gov by noon Tuesday, Jan. 9.
NASA Langley’s Colloquium and Sigma Series Lectures provide monthly talks and demonstrations related to science and technology.

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