Biochar : What is Biochar?
Any biomass waste – from wood to peanut shells – releases carbon as it decomposes; but it can be stabilized in a kiln by pyrolysis (heated to greater than 400 degrees C in an low oxygen environment) to create biochar. The biochar is then worked into the earth in order to lock carbon into the soil. This was a practice followed by ancient South American civilizations – which exposes the idea as a “re-discovery” rather than a discovery.
What is groundbreaking, however, is the concept of using biochar to mitigate our current predicament of runaway greenhouse gas emissions. According to experts, billions of tonnes of carbon could potentially be sequestered in the world’s soils, specifically from agriculture and forest waste. Biochar appears to lock carbon in for much longer than other forms of sequestration: a plant or tree will only sequester carbon for 15 to 20 years, for example, whereas it has recently become apparent that amending biochar into soil will sequester it for at least 100 years; some experts have said over 5000 years.
When you look at the magnified picture of biochar to the right, you see a cellular like structure that has enormous surface area. We liken it to a condominium apartment complex, just ready to be filled up with nutrients, moisture and beneficial microbes in a way that is helpful to roots. Biochar anchors soil nutrients and organic content extremely well at a time when soils around the globe have lost half of their carbon due to industrialized agriculture.