March 12, 2009

Its Time for a Conversation about BioChar -

BioChar is basically taking torrefied wood and tilling it into farmland. Why would you do that?

1) Because it would sequester the carbon -- it doesn't break down quickly
2) It is reported to be quite helpful to the soil (and this is where the debate seems to be)

But here's the important thing.  If BioChar gets legislated as an acceptable form of carbon sequestration.......... Watch out!

 Torrefaction will soar. The existing nasiant industry will explode and existing players will either take off or get blown away by savvy investors that bet big bucks on a 'better machine'.

A lot of smart, knowledgable people point to science that says it really helps soil quality. I recently learned that a Duke Professor has a trial patch in NC (the southeast has a lot of marginal farmland). I'll track that particular experiment.

Althought the science seems compelling, the press and industry are not all over it.  I'm not sure why. If short rotation crops were turned into biochar and tilled under the soil of nearby food production acreage we might get a win win. Cornell and Duke are deep into the subject.

If you want to do your own reading click on any of the following:

If you know why biochar is not getting more attention in the discussions on carbon sequestration please update our growing audiance by commenting below.


Erich J. Knight said...

Ultimately we must leave the combustion age behind. Charcoal to the soil is a bridging first step as other energy conversion technologies bloom from Nano and bio reasearch. Thankfully we can do TP now.

Oil interest must come to see the overwhelming value of their carbon as the feedstock for the manufacture ( via carbon nanotubes, fullerines, DNA programed nano self assembly, etc.) of virtually all things in the near future.

This convergences of different technologies will end the Combustion age.
Terra Preta starts as a soil nano technology with increased CEC, than a micro tech with our wee- beasties / fungus, and macro with bugs and worms.

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 soil biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

Un to Recognize Soil as a Carbon Sink;
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. .

The Better BTU said...

Interesting and thoughtful post.

I visited your blog and found it quite informative. I've added it to the links on this post and also on the overall links for this blog.

Readers -- click on over and See what Erich has to say on biochar. Thoughtful writing.

I particularly recommend the second post in the archive "Sustaining Future:"

Erich J. Knight said...

Thanks BTU,
Sorry,,,, here's better links;

UN Soil Carbon Sink sense:

CRS Biochar report;

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Anonymous said...

Torrefied biomass created in around 300 Celsius isn't suitable for putting in the ground as the pore structure is undeveloped and will break down quickly. For this to work char created at higher (500 Celsius) range would need to be used


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Chris said...

I heard about biochar a few months ago from a friend of mine. I never thought that something as simple as charcoal could do so much for the soil and the environment.

I was amazed after reading "The Biochar Revolution" from

Check it out. It was a great help in opening my mind to issues that affect us all.