Colloquium: 2018-01-09

Biochar – Environmental Superstar

Doris Hamill

January 9, 2018 at 2:00 P.M. in the Pearl Young Theater
(video within Langley firewall only)


Most approaches to the global warming problem concentrate on reducing the rate at with 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 To reverse this damage, carbon must be withdrawn from the cycle and sequestered in an inert state for hundreds or thousands of years.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 twenty years ago, some 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 we have come to call 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 naturally more productive, require less chemical amendments, and even filter harmful materials from percolating groundwater. Yet 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.


Doris 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 manage the development of a commercial life support system for firefighters. At Spacehab, she managed the commercial research portfolio for space experiments. Since 2003, shehas been with NASA Langley in several different technology management roles. She has been promoting biochar to various interest groups in the Hampton Roads region for ten years.