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EcoFacts: Biochar

By Barbara Hirsch
biocharIn the past several years, this stuff called biochar has been seen as a potential planet changing product, providing ways of simultaneously mitigating climate change, cleaning the air, generating energy and managing waste. It does sounds like a game changer, eh?

Biochar is an un-manufactured form of charcoal. It is created by very slow burning of biomass in a low oxygen environment – pyrolysis – creating a charred substance that contains about half the carbon that was in the original material. The other half is emitted in the burning process, and can be used as fuel. The story goes that if left to rot, or simply burned, the biomass would release its carbon into the atmosphere, but as biochar it sequesters a large part of its carbon, indefinitely. In fact it (terra preta) remains deep in the soil of ancient civilizations.

Some research has shown that when applied to fields, biochar boosts agricultural yields by increasing microbial activity, retaining nutrients and water. And the making of it, using agricultural waste or almost anything organic that is handy, also produces fuel as heat or syngas, to be used in place of fossil fuels. A devoted researcher describes 55 uses for the stuff here.

A microcosm of this system can be seen in a modern but simple cook stove, that could greatly improve the lives of three billion people who cook their food on open fires, often suffering health problems from the spewing smoke. With it they could use much less valuable fuel, breathe no smoke and sell the biochar they make while cooking!

Back in the U.S., Kingsford charcoal is owned by Clorox (few things are as black and white) and their charcoal production, although energy intensive, employs the heat from the charring as energy for a later part of the process. Of course the charcoal then goes on to emit its carbon, as the grills nourish and entertain us for the summer barbecue season

9 Responses to “EcoFacts: Biochar”

  1. mememine69

    32 years of “could be” is a consensus of nothing or anything you “want” it to be, except “sustainable” for another three decades of needless panic.
    Scientists are 100% certain the planet is not flat and for 32 years have been 95% to 99.9% certain apparently that Human CO2 “could” flatten the planet. It’s science, not a mob of determined “believers” that can determine certainty for a global climate crisis so please stop telling children that science is as certain as you remaining “believers” so eagerly are.
    And get up to date;
    *Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by politicians.
    *Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).

    • Tin Foil Hat

      Weeeee! Geez I thought the article was about biochar, can you spell b-i-o-c-h-a-r? Somewhere up ahead on a sign post……there’s a flailing individual warning us not to believe in climate change, it’s all made up! It’s a good thing the gov did not listen to the sky-is-falling crowd when they mandated auto emission standards or we would all be driving behind a smog wagon and SB would look like Shanghai. Ever drive behind a 1972 Chevy station wagon with no smog gear?

      Anyway, this process is valuable and millions around the world will benefit if it gets off the ground. As it stands now, wood is used, very inefficient and smoggy. Methane from septic pits is another widely used cooking fuel (gas) in most of India and Indonesia. More efficient because everyone uses the bathroom and why not use the gas to cook? I’d be interested to know how this can be done on a micro-local level iow in a back yard.

      As far as climate change I can’t wait for the climate to change politically, too many weirdos running loose and even running for Congress! When a candidates opponent isn’t really alive, he’s an android!, the loonies are running the asylum. Nut job central.

      • Dumb and Dumber

        Tom Steyer best buddies now with Barry Soetoro should alarm us all.

  2. ThinkAboutIt

    At one time Santa Barbara held the world record for highest temperature of 123 degress Farenheit only to be broken by Death Valley at 126F only to be broken by Saudia Ariabia 129F. The year Santa Barbara broke the record was 1887 so there must have been global warming progressive climate change back then too!

    • One day’s temperature anywhere does not indicate global anything – there’s distinction between weather and climate!

      • Barbara

        Yes, for example this last May was the hottest worldwide, ever recorded, and the last four were as well.

  3. Stock phrases

    Are we selling investments in Biochar now?

  4. For a complete review of the current science & industry applications of Biochar please see my 2014 Soil Science Society of America Biochar presentation. How thermal conversion technologies can integrate and optimize the recycling of valuable nutrients while providing energy and building soil carbon, I believe it brings together both sides of climate beliefs.
    A reconciling of both Gods’ and mans’ controlling hands.

    Agricultural Geo – Engineering; Past, Present & Future
    Across scientific disciplines carbons are finding new utility to solve our most vexing problems

    2014 SSSA Presentation;
    Agricultural Geo-Engineering; Past, Present & Future.