BY AVERY FALLER
Earlier this week, Encendia Biochar (YEI ’10) unveiled its 2012 product line, which features two products: “Urban Blend” and “Spring Blend,” both proprietary biochar blends developed by the company. The 1/3 cubic ft. bags, available at encendia.com, are stylishly designed with a rustic-looking print that explains the properties of biochar, and its potential uses and benefits.
Encendia was founded in 2009 by Michael Sesko (CEO), Justin Freiberg (Chief Marketing Officer), Peter Kuhn (Chief Technology Officer), George Collins and Bidisha Banerjee. It got off to a quick start when it won the 2011 Sabin Environmental Venture Prize, which is awarded every year by Yale University’s Center for Business and the Environment to an environmentally oriented, for-profit business.
As its name suggests, Encendia’s main product is biochar, which is a soil-enhancing, carbon-rich mixture, made from the pyrolysis of biomass, or in layman’s terms, the transformation of organic matter into a carbon-filled soil amendment. Biochar is porous like a sponge, giving the soil the ability to retain greater amounts of water and fertilizer, increasing yield. Also, microorganisms that plants depend on are able to colonize the surfaces of the biochar, decreasing the need for pesticides. Although biochar has been known to increase the fertility of soil for hundreds of years, currently it is not widely sold in garden shops. Encendia is changing that. A growing number of stores across New York and New England are carrying its products.
“One way to think about it is that the academic understanding of biochar has thus far outpaced the commercialization of it because companies are not sure if the market is ready for it,” Justin explained, adding, “In some ways, fertilizer is the high-fructose corn syrup of soil, giving a quick boost to the soil in the short term, while the benefits of biochar are longer-term. It keeps your soil stronger for years. Add the biochar to some high quality food for the soil, as we do, and you have a potent mix.”
While synthetic fertilizers are great short-term solutions, they tend to run off of soils. Encendia’s biochar blends are extremely durable and once applied, will continue to provide benefits to the soil for years to come, as evidenced in the historical terra preta soils of the Amazon basin, which remain bountiful centuries after biochar was incorporated into them. Biochar also aids in the process of carbon sequestration by storing stable carbon in the soil.
Encendia’s current products were developed specifically for gardening enthusiasts with small indoor and outdoor gardens. However, to test and optimize their biochar blends to the New England soil and weather, they have been working with local partner farms with positive results.
The history of biochar as well as the visual properties of its bags will help Encendia create a brand-image and sell its product. Justin has been securing shelf-space for at local stores, and educating retailers on the properties of biochar, which they can then pass on to customers. Surprisingly enough, many of the store owners had never even heard of biochar despite working in the gardening industry, which just goes to show that the market is unsaturated.
You can look for Encendia’s products in garden stores around Connecticut, or on their website encendia.com. Both Spring and Urban Blends 1/3 cubic ft. bags are available for $17.95 a piece, just in time for Spring planting.