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Master of Environmental Science and Management: Master's Group Project
(2025)

Safety and Sustainability Assessment of Biochar Produced From Biosolids for Agricultural Applications

Greenhouse with pots of plants.

Group Members: Riley Black, Sam Lance, Lauren Londoño, Jessica Rodriguez

Faculty Advisors: Arturo Keller

Client: The Santa Ynez Chumash Environmental Office

Deliverables:

Proposal

Description

The widespread use of biosolids from wastewater treatment plants as agricultural fertilizer presents significant environmental and health challenges due to the accumulation of contaminants in soil and water sources. To address this issue, this project aims to evaluate the feasibility and benefits of utilizing pyrolyzed biochar derived from biosolids from wastewater treatment as a safer and more sustainable soil amendment.

By applying biosolids-based biochar as an additional soil amendment to grow native plants and crops in collaboration with the Santa Ynez Chumash Environmental Office (SYCEO), this project seeks to assess biochar’s effectiveness in improving nutrient content, plant yield, and contaminant levels. To quantify this, we will conduct native plant and food crop experiments at the SYCEO plant nursery and UCSB greenhouse. These experiments will provide insight into real-world application by determining the optimal amount of biochar needed for crop growth, aiding in assessing its financial feasibility for farmers.

Our team will conduct a comprehensive analysis, including a cost-benefit analysis and a life cycle assessment, to evaluate the costs faced by farmers at different scales. This will encompass the costs associated with biochar and its potential to mitigate these expenses through the previously mentioned crop improvements. Additionally, we will interview farmers of varying scales to gather data on the costs and benefits of using biochar. To communicate our findings, we will create a visual infographic guide summarizing the project's results, aiming to inform the public about biochar as a fertilizer option without explicitly promoting its use. We anticipate that the results of our project will enable the SYCEO and farmers of varying scales in California to make informed decisions regarding their agricultural practices.

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