UC Merced research aims to use biochar to reduce methane emissions from dairies

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It’s a smell we’re all too familiar with in the Central Valley. Manure from cows add a significant amount of greenhouse gases to our air. Thanks to a multimillion-dollar grant, a team at UC Merced is working to reduce those emissions with resources already in the region.

The $3,088,188 grant comes from the California Strategic Growth Council’s Climate Change Research Program. To be awarded the grant, the project needs to contribute to a healthier California, as well as have a component of disadvantaged community engagement.

The project at UC Merced is fine-tuning the production and use of biochar, specifically in mixing it with manure and soil to reduce methane emissions from dairies. Biochar is the byproduct of processed biomass, like a tree or woodchips.

The Central Valley is home to a lot of resources optimal for biochar, like of the dead trees.

“There is a problem that needs to be tackled in a way that we can actually take advantage of the resource,” Gerardo Diaz, associate professor in UC Merced’s School of Engineering, said. Diaz is also the project’s principal investigator.

While the aim of the research is reducing methane emissions, the team will also be looking at the feasibility of creating a mobile biochar production unit. There’s one in Ballico, however, it’s stationary and can’t move. The project will also explore other environmental impacts of biochar, like its effect on soil’s nutrients.

In total, six professors from UC Merced’s School of Engineering and School of Natural Sciences are working on this project. Catherine Keske, who teaches in the School of Engineering, particularly is exploring the economic feasibility of the project.

“Our results could have very immediate impact in the state of California. We could potentially open up a sector,” said Keske.

Most importantly, the goal of the research is to improve living conditions in the Central Valley.

“The big and important part is to make sure there’s a benefit directly for low-income and disadvantaged communities,” said Diaz.

This is a three-year project and is going to focus first on Merced and Madera counties, before spreading to other parts of the region.

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