Can biochar singlehandedly save the world from all of its carbon dioxide, global warming woes? Well, the jury is still out but there may be some potential. This I learned from reading the book, “The Biochar Solution: Climate Farming and Climate Change,” by Albert Bates. First, I should explain what biochar is. Biochar is charcoal, a cellulosic material that has been pyrolyzed (to pyrolyze something you burn it a low oxygen environment, such as a kiln, burning off everything but the carbon). The resulting charcoal is black and largely devoid of any nutritional value, yet it can be burned in a high oxygen environment without producing much smoke. These attributes make it a good option for burning in cooking stoves.
But Bates believes the real value of biochar lies in that it has a unique ability to condition soil. Bates explains that if it is turned in a nutrient pile and then tilled into the ground, it immediately becomes colonized by soil microbes. These microbes attract fungi, which connect to the roots of the plants, carrying nutrients to the place they are most needed. Biochar is also a water solution – it provides a reservoir and conduit for soil moisture, soaking up water from oversaturated areas and moving it to dyer areas (it can also be used to purify water). Bates says that one gram of charcoal has the surface area of one small house, or 1,000 to 2,500 square meters, because of all its micropores. In terms of soil health, after several years, biochar helps soil return to its natural state and eliminates the need for inputs such as nitrogen or phosphorous – another major environmental benefit.
There is also a connection between biochar and biofuels. When converting biomass to biofuels, not all of the biomass is consumed. At this point, the remaining biomass can be burned and turned into biochar and then the biochar can be tilled into the biomass fields to aid in soil sustainability. In this example, biochar becomes both a biofuels and agriculture solution.
There are several views of biochar one being those who truly believe that biochar alone can reduce CO2 emissions faster and more completely than any other solution. Continue reading