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Estufa Finca Project

Seattle Biochar Working Group

Project title: SeaChar Estufa Finca- Talamanca Project
Project location: Talamanca region of Costa Rica (Lat: 9.6 / Long: -82.783333) | Click here for map

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Project goal: The goal of this project is to introduce biochar and the carbon-negative biomass energy technology, which produces biochar to a farming community in one of the world’s most diverse eco-systems. This fuel efficient, clean burning technology will help with adaptation to climate change related impacts on local agricultural systems, as well as mitigating the harmful effects of traditional unsustainable biomass energy use on community and environmental health.

Project objectives:

  • (In the first year) use local labor and resources to build and install approximately 120 biochar producing Estufa Finca cook-stoves. The participants in this pilot project will be indigenous, Bribri farm families. These stoves will be introduced to mitigate the negative health impacts on these families, of the smoky traditional fires, which they rely on to cook their meals. We will work with these communities to improve this technology using careful in field testing and monitoring of the stoves performance and acceptance.
  • Hire and train locals to promote, teach and follow-up in their communities in order to increase the rate of successful adoption of this innovative technology. This methodology will include a biochar “buy back” program for our new stove users. The Estufa Finca project will be a “proof-of-concept” demonstration for this approach, which we feel can serve as a template for other biochar/ stove projects around the globe.
  • Use biochar from the Estufa Finca biochar “buy back” program, to supply community demonstration gardens. This biochar will also be marketed to the general public, via Costa Rica’s nationwide Feria Verde (organic farmers market) system.
  • Organic cacao, used in the production of premium quality chocolate is the primary cash crop for the Bribri farm families. We will also work with these farmers and their network of Associations and farmers Co-ops, to develop and demonstrate larger scale biochar producing technology, which can supply the heat for environmentally friendly, carbon negative cacao drying systems. Biochar from these systems will be used in the multi-year cacao and biochar field trials being led by our partners at CATIE (the Center for Tropical Agriculture Investigation and Education).
  • Work with all partners to create local jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities based on selling biochar producing technology and biochar as a carbon negative, organic soil amendment.

The SeaChar Estufa Finca (Farm Stove) Project is now in it’s third year. We began our work in Costa Rica in January of 2009. SeaChar founder Art Donnelly was invited to share the innovative energy technology, which he was working on with coffee farmers in the high mountain valleys of Costa Rica’s Santos region. Respiratory disease among the migrant coffee-bean picker population is particularly severe; these preventable diseases are the leading cause of death for children under ten years of age in this population.

The Estufa Finca cook-stove was developed to improve this situation. It is a micro-gasifier stove, (PDF Download – 151 KB) which can use a broad range of dry organic material as fuel. These stoves achieve a clean burn and increased fuel efficiency by burning the smoke and gases emitted by most forms of open combustion. This form of energy production has the unique advantage of producing a type of charcoal called biochar as a by-product. The same engineering concept the stoves are based on can be scaled up to produce larger amounts of biochar on farms or larger amounts of heat for crop drying. Biochar has been used in agriculture for thousands of years to build durable soil carbon, improve nutrient cycling and improve soil water management. Many organic farmers in Costa Rica already use charcoal in their fertilizer formulations. However until now all of that charcoal was produced using traditional methods, which increased air pollution and deforestation.

During the coffee harvest of 2010-2011 SeaChar volunteers worked with the local Santos women’s group APORTES (Asociación de Productores Orgánicos y Turismo Rural Eco Educativo de Los Santo), area farmers and researchers from the National University of Costa Rica (UNA) to conduct a small pilot project in order to evaluate the performance and customer acceptance of these innovative stoves. Thirty-two stoves were built by APORTES and installed in migrant worker housing. The stoves were monitored for use and Controlled Cooking Tests were conducted to establish fuel efficiency. As part of this project the stoves were laboratory emissions tested at the Aprovecho Research Center in Cottage Grove Oregon. These test showed the stoves to emit approximately 92% less particulate matter and 87% less carbon monoxide than a traditional open cooking fire. Major funding was provided by the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives, the Seattle International Foundation and GroundWork Opportunities. A 42-page report on this project is available (PDF Download – 1.33MB).

The current phase of the Estufa Finca project is hosted by a 1200 member organic cacao growers association (APPTA) located near the Caribbean coast, close to the border with Panama. We intend this to be the first year of a minimum three-year development process. SeaChar and its partners view this project as an important opportunity to develop affordable, appropriately scaled carbon negative energy technology and the systems need to share them widely. Farmers across Central America need these tools and methods to mitigate and adapt to climate change happening in their region right now.

“Energy is not a commodity. It is a system of relationships. The funding from the Great Energy Challenge has allowed a small group of American innovators to work directly with the Bribri of Costa Rica’s Talamanca region, in order to develop a new relationship to energy. One that is reciprocal, as well as carbon negative. The Bribri are the stewards of one of the most bio-diverse areas of the earth. Their millennia old culture is based on just such principles. Our culture’s future depends on our ability to learn how to adapt their worldview to our present. Their culture’s future depends on their ability to adapt our technologies to their environment.”

-Art Donnelly, President, Seattle Biochar Working Group

Estufa Finca Project - Photo by Sara Porter

Estufa Finca Project – Photo by Sara Porter

Relevant links:

Project participants: 

  • Seattle Biochar Working Group (SeaChar):
    • Art Donnelly, Project Director
    • Kate Selting, Talamanca Promoter Program Manager
    • Laura Roldan, Talamanca Promoter Program Assistant Manager
    • Dr. Hugh McLaughlin, Biochar and Technology consultant
  • El centro de educacion agricultura y investigacion (CATIE)
  • Asociación Comisión de Mujeres Talamanqueñas (ACOMUITA)
  • Asociación de Pequeños Productores de Talamanca (APPTA)

SeaChar.Org is a registered 501c3 Non-profit corporation. To support our work, get more information or to get involved please contact us at:

Art Donnelly
President SeaChar.Org
US Director, The Farm Stove Project
Proyecto Estufa Finca

“SeaChar.Org…positive tools for carbon negative living”

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