When any form of biomass is heated in an oxygen-free or low oxygen environment
(Pyrolysis) such that it does not combust, it becomes black carbon.
Biochar is charcoal created by Pyrolysis of biomass. Its primary use is not for
fuel, but to enhance soil fertility. Biochar is the modern version of an ancient
Pre-Columbian technology invented by native Amazonian peoples in Brazil called
terra preta (prepared earth) to enhance soil fertility. Recently it was
discovered that Biochar can permanently remove CO2 greenhouse gas from the
atmosphere when it is applied to soil. The carbon from biomass, when pyrolyzed,
can remain in the soil for thousands of years. We know this because some of the
terra preta soils of the Amazon are 2000 years old. These ancient soils are
still so fertile after all this time that there is an industry in Brazil to
collect these soils and put them in bags to sell as potting soil. When added to
soil properly Biochar actually takes carbon out of the atmosphere and puts it in
the soil, where it makes the soil more fertile.
Biochar made from Pyrolysis is unique in its ability to help humanity solve the
climate change problem by creating a sustainably system of carbon capture and
storage while increasing plant growth that will actually lower CO2 levels in the
atmosphere over time.
Here is a quick list of some applications:
1) Soil Fertility
Field tests by Biochar Fund in Cameroon
have demonstrated up to 220% yield
increase in maize crops planted in degraded soil in one season with addition of
Biochar to the soil. Although it works in many different soil conditions, and
possibly all, we know that Biochar works especially well in degraded soils, and
in the tropics where the results are truly spectacular. Biochar Fund recently
received a $300k grant from Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai's
organization for additional Biochar projects in Kenya, after their spectacular
results in Cameroon.
2) Farms & Gardens
Biochar holds nitrogen and water. This
means that farmers can use less water and less fertilizer. They can make biochar
from their wastes and use it in their own fields without transportation.
Different technologies are being developed that are optimized for different
agricultural inputs, like rice husks, coconut shells, etc. Less fertilizer use
3) Pollution Prevention
Biochar prevents runoff of nitrogen into
waterways, thus preventing human deaths (blue baby syndrome) and preventing the
growth of "dead zones" from nitrogen-induced algae blooms in the ocean and
lakes. Biochar may also be able to remediate other soil contaminant chemicals.
4) Invasive Species Control
Invasive species like kudzu in the southern US, cat
tails and striga in Africa, and water hyacinth in Africa and India are desirable
feedstock for Biochar production. These invasive species can now be used
productively as a sustainable Biochar feedstock.