Biochar Research


In 2014, with the help of the Sprout Fund and the Garden Club of Allegheny County, GTECH researched potential uses of knotweed, the invasive plant taking over many vacant lots in Pittsburgh. The Knot on Lots project included a study of knotweed biochar, that is, a nutrient-rich soil amendment made from burning knotweed. We learned through that project that knotweed biochar can be made at a low cost using materials found at your local hardware store.

GTECH, along with Chatham University professors, wanted to see where exactly we could go with this idea. Peer-reviewed research shows that, in addition to amending soil quality, biochar can slow down the flow of water through soil, making it a great addition for rain gardens and other projects that capture stormwater.


Thanks to funding from Allegheny County Conservation District, we were able to connect with a Chatham University student, Payal Patel, and a biochemistry class at Winchester Thurston to dig deeper into the uses of biochar.

The project began as Payal created an experimental design to test the ability of biochar to slow down the flow of water through soil with the support of her professors, Dr. Linda Johnson, and Dr. Sherie Edenborn. When Payal finished creating and testing her experiment, she passed on her methods and insight to Winchester Thurston.

An 10th grade biochemistry class taught by Mr. Graig Marx, and a 11th grade environmental biology class taught by Ms. Lara Tukarski, worked to replicate Payal’s experiment and carry it to the next step. The students learned about the ways that biochar could be used for some of Allegheny County’s main environmental issues, like poor soil quality in vacant lots, and stormsewer overflow.

This research fits in well with the good work of Allegheny County Conservation District and other Pittsburgh organizations working to protect our ecosystems. Allegheny County Conservation District, in particular, is “an urban conservation district that engages and leads through partnerships, innovation, and implementation to conserve, promote, and improve Allegheny County’s natural resources”. If you are interested in doing a project to further conservation efforts in the region, you can learn how to apply through their website.