Matthew Pfister, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA and Subhrajit Saha, Department of Biology, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA
Over the past decade there has been an increased interest in developing alternative energy to offset current fossil fuel demands. Specific interest has been given to pelletized biomass as a partial or total substitute for petroleum based energy sources. However, significant demand for feedstock will increase pressure on many already stressed agricultural systems. In an attempt to mitigate the need for additional nutrient input a greenhouse study was conducted to evaluate the efficacy of biochar as a soil amendment. Biochar is of specific interest because of its established nutrient and water holding capacity, as well as its ability to alter soil pH. To determine the extent of this potential and the effects it may have on overall feedstock quality, sunflower, a fast-growing perennial feedstock, was grown under differing fertilizer and biochar treatments at a controlled greenhouse at Georgia Southern University (GSU), Statesboro, GA. Data from parameters ranging from soil moisture, pH and total biomass, to caloric content, syngas levels and ash levels were collected. All chemical analyses were conducted at GSU’s chemistry and biology departments. These tests allowed for the overall feedstock quality to be compared based on initial growing conditions. After the final analysis of the data we found that significant changes were seen in soil composition. It is expected that biochar will alter energy density in sunflower feedstock. This may have implications for future feedstock production as it may yield promising potentials for biochar application; reducing nutrient application on fields, increasing soil organic carbon and ensuring continued soil health and feedstock production.