What is biochar?

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So, what is biochar?

According to the International Biochar Initiative,

Biochar is a solid material obtained from the carbonisation of biomass.

Biochar is a fixed form of carbon produced using temperatures above 450oC in an oxygen-controlled environment. Biochar can resist breaking down and remain stable in soils for potentially 66 million years plus in the form of phytoliths. Biochar is currently a hot topic of research around the world as it has a unique set of abilities to improve soil quality, increase plant growth and performance, as well as sequestering carbon.

Biochar can be used in a cascade of uses eg. beginning with water filtration or coupled with molasses for livestock food, however much attention has been given to the improvement of soil functions and fertility, which includes:

  • reduced greenhouse gas emissions from soil such as nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) (decreasing the acceleration of climate change/chaos)
  • increased soil carbon content (microbial food) and carbon sequestration if used at the end of the cascade (decreasing the acceleration of climate change/chaos)
  • increased soil microbial activity, biochar being more effective if charged/activated with bacteria before entering the soil - important for soil food web, general soil fertility and plant growth
  • increased water conservation through high water holding capacity (WHC) - less irrigation water required
  • improved cation exchange capacity (CEC) with improved nutrient holding capacity - with one of the benefits of slow release fertiliser if biochar is charged/activated with nutrients before entering the soil eg. nutient reclamation from agricultural wastewater
  • reduce the need for ecologically harmful chemical fertilisers or organic fertiliser in general
  • improved soil structure/drainage - more beneficial in poorly structured soils like sandy loam
  • reduced need for ecologically harmful pesticides due to healthier plants
  • remediate toxic soils

In fact, there are many more benefits to soil - more and more new research is being released every year about this ranging from small pot trials to large-scale agricultural trials.

Other uses for biochar include:

  • Improve the yield, quality, disease resistance of crops, and increase nutrient density of food.

  • Amend animal feed and bedding for improved feed conversion, product quality and animal health

  • Be applied in building materials (“charcrete”), worm farms, hydroponics, roof gardens etc.

It is expected that biochar and other Carbon-based technologies like graphene and biocomposites will eventually substitute many out-of-date and polluting technologies in the economy of the future.  My hope is that eventually we will see closed-loop or circular economies emerging in industrialised countries with less industrialised countries leap-frogging the unsustainable technologies of the past and present. Why not make biochar-making a sport? To learn more about biochar including case studies and production and application of biochar why not purchase a copy of 'The Biochar Revolution' paperback below?