Biochar: “Black Gold” for Solving Global Warming

May 12, 2009

(ChattahBox)— The answer to our planet’s global warming problem may well be an innocuous looking metal “cooker” sitting on the grounds of the University of Georgia, Athens campus. The metal cooker is called a Biochar and it transforms organic waste into charcoal-like pellets, having a high carbon content that can be used in agriculture for a highly potent fertilizer that also cleans the air.

The carbon rich Biochar pellets cleanse the air of damaging CO2 by locking it into the soil, preventing its release into the air we breathe.

Who knew that cooking up a little chicken manure, woodchips and cornhusks could save the planet? Well, the indigenous peoples in the Amazon jungle did. The South American natives used a similar method of fertilizing their soil nearly thousands of years ago.

The natives cooked up animal waste and wood to produce material similar to Biochar pellets, referring to the resulting material as “terra preta,” meaning black earth. Scientists discovered that the fields left by the South Americans, fertilized with their black earth, remain fertile hundreds of years later.

University of Georgia researcher, Brian Bibens developed the Biochar cooker, cooking up an assorted mix of organic waste called biomass, at temperatures approaching 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The biomass waste can include any animal, forest or agricultural waste, as long as it’s natural. After a few hours in the metal cooker, the resulting material can be formed into pellets.

Farmers using the pellets as fertilizer benefit from a more fertile soil, which increases water and nutrient retention and protects valuable soil microbes. The carbon rich pellets help keep the air free of CO2 by helping plants in the fields to store CO2, rather than releasing it.

Additionally, removing rotting organic waste from the earth, which releases CO2 into the air, also helps to keep the air free of damaging CO2.

NASA scientist James Hansen, believes the large-scale use of Biochar in agriculture could reduce CO2 levels by eight parts per million within 50 years.

Biochar can also produce gases during the cooking process that can be converted to electricity or condensed into gasoline. Waste products that would otherwise be discarded as worthless trash may now be worth its weight in gold, literally turning trash into treasure.

Farmer’s organic waste could provide an additional revenue source, helping farmers stay in business.

Biochar is an exciting discovery that could help solve the planet’s global warming problem. Researcher Brian Bibens says the process needs further testing before large-scale production can take place.



7 Responses to “Biochar: “Black Gold” for Solving Global Warming”

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  4. Erich J. Knight on May 14th, 2009 12:23 am

    Biochar Soil Technology…..Husbandry of whole new orders of life

    Biotic Carbon, the carbon transformed by life, should never be combusted, oxidized and destroyed. It deserves more respect, reverence even, and understanding to use it back to the soil where 2/3 of excess atmospheric carbon originally came from.

    We all know we are carbon-centered life, we seldom think about the complex web of recycled bio-carbon which is the true center of life. A cradle to cradle, mutually co-evolved biosphere reaching into every crack and crevice on Earth.

    It’s hard for most to revere microbes and fungus, but from our toes to our gums (onward), their balanced ecology is our health. The greater earth and soils are just as dependent, at much longer time scales. Our farming for over 10,000 years has been responsible for 2/3rds of our excess greenhouse gases. This soil carbon, converted to carbon dioxide, Methane & Nitrous oxide began a slow stable warming that now accelerates with burning of fossil fuel.

    Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon,

    Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

    Biochar, the modern version of an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice called Terra Preta (black earth, TP), is gaining widespread credibility as a way to address world hunger, climate change, rural poverty, deforestation, and energy shortages… SIMULTANEOUSLY!
    Modern Pyrolysis of biomass is a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration,10X Lower Methane & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too.
    Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration, Bio-Gas & Bio-oil fuels, so is a totally virtuous, carbon negative energy cycle.

    Biochar viewed as soil Infrastructure; The old saw;
    “Feed the Soil Not the Plants” becomes;
    “Feed, Cloth and House the Soil, utilities included !”.
    Free Carbon Condominiums with carboxyl group fats in the pantry and hydroxyl alcohol in the mini bar.
    Build it and the Wee-Beasties will come.
    As one microbiologist said on the Biochar list; “Microbes like to sit down when they eat”.
    By setting this table we expand husbandry to whole new orders of life.

    This is what I try to get across to Farmers, as to how I feel about the act of returning carbon to the soil. An act of pertinence and thankfulness for the civilization we have created. Farmers are the Soil Sink Bankers, once carbon has a price, they will be laughing all the way to it.

    One aspect of Biochar systems are Cheap, clean biomass stoves that produce biochar and no respiratory disease. At scale, the health benefits are greater than ending Malaria.
    A great example;

    The USDA-ARS have dozens of studies happening now to ferret out the reasons for char affinity with MYC fungi and microbes, but this synergy is solidly shown by the Japanese work, literally showing 1+1=3

    UNCCD Submission to Climate Change/UNFCCC AWG-LCA 5
    “Account carbon contained in soils and the importance of biochar (charcoal) in replenishing soil carbon pools, restoring soil fertility and enhancing the sequestration of CO2.”

    This new Congressional Research Service report (by analyst Kelsi Bracmort) is the best short summary I have seen so far – both technical and policy oriented. .

    Given the current “Crisis” atmosphere concerning energy, soil sustainability, food vs. Biofuels, and Climate Change what other subject addresses them all?

    This is a Nano technology for the soil that represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.

    Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.
    Erich J. Knight
    Shenandoah Gardens
    540 289 9750

  5. Michael Garjian on July 9th, 2009 2:56 pm

    Not all charcoal is biochar. True biochar is the result of heating biomass in an emission free pyrolysis reactor devoid of oxygen. Biochar has been shown to be a very effective soil amendment in numerous studies in South America and Japan. It is becoming popularized enough in the US that Biochar Xtra is now even being sold on Ebay. Others are using the bio-oils derived from biochar production to replace fossil fuels. Some folks are alarmed at the possibility of vast tracts of land being denuded to produce biochar. This is not a valid concern because, due to its very low density of from 20 to 35 pounds per cubic foot, the transport of biochar over long distances is not economically feasible.

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  7. greenpower on December 28th, 2010 5:15 am

    I hope this it will help you
    “The Biochar Revolution” with “The Biochar Solution”
    I want to call this book: “All about Biochar” because “The Biochar Revolution” collects the results and best practical advice that these entrepreneurs have to offer to the biochar community.

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