What is biochar?

Caminos de Agua Board Member Rob Lerner presents about Biochar Applications at TedX

Biochar is a sustainability strategy for food, climate and environmental management. Similar to charcoal, biochar is made by heating biomass in an oxygen-starved environment, with usable bioenergy as a co-product. Based on recently discovered agricultural practices of ancient Amazonia, and supported by solid science, biochar has been demonstrated in field trials to increase yields while reducing agrochemical inputs, shorten harvest cycles, enhance pest resistance and improve drought tolerance. Its stable carbon matrix resists biological decay, so biochar soils are persistently fertile. And since its sequestered carbon originated in the atmosphere (through photosynthesis), biochar actually reduces atmospheric carbon, making it a “carbon negative” technology for addressing climate change. Biochar can also be used as filtration media (similar to activated carbon) and to address other environmental management challenges.

research to functionalized bone biochar 

Caminos de Agua is currently in the trial testing stages of utilizing biochar for arsenic and fluoride remediation of contaminated groundwater resources in northern Guanajuato (with global applications).

A colaboration with Aqueous Solutions, born out of Executive Director Dylan Terrell´s participation in a January 2016 workshop organized in Thailand, has exponentially moved forward our research in biochar application for fluoride removal. 

Current State of Caminos Research: bone biochar for Fluoride

Olivia Hobson, of Engineers without Borders-UK, and Dylan Terrell compiled 2015 on-site research. This paper summarizes the current state of research regarding bone biochar as a low-cost filter media for fluoride. In 2016, two EWB-UK researcher Fellows will continue to document fluoride reduction and explore modifications to Caminos de Agua gasifiers to improve results.




Developed and proven over the last decade by Josh Kearns (University of North Carolina and University of Colorado – Boulder) and Aqueous Solutions, high-temperature biochar utilizing wood as the biomass has proven highly effective in the removal of synthetic organic chemical contaminants – such as herbicides and pesticides from agricultural runoff, pharmaceutical runoff, and other chemicals that can cause cancer and endocrine disruption. 

Caminos de Agua has modified Aqueous Solution’s treatment system, utilizing our ceramic water filters and biochar adsorbers to target extreme levels of chlorine found in many communities.  Excessive chlorination is linked to some health effects, especially when combined with diabetes (a major issue in Mexico) and other diseases.  The major issue, however, is that many, if not most, of the people in the communities Caminos de Agua works detest the taste of chlorine – leading to overall less water consumption and/or consuming water from other non-chlorinated and potentially unsafe sources.  Many communities are afraid to regulate or disconnect their chlorination systems as they are frequently threatened with fines upwards of $50,000 pesos by the Health Secretary.  

Biochar treatment system in the elementary school of Vergel de Guadalupe

Biochar treatment system in the elementary school of Vergel de Guadalupe