Biochar farming isn’t a new concept. Indian farmers were the first to use it, and they referred to it as terra preta del Indio, which meant “Indian dark earth.” They used charcoal and fish bones to fertilize the soil, and it created the perfect environment for growing crops. The amounts of charcoal and fish bones as well as the procedure for this farming are not recorded, but biochar, a type of charcoal, has been looked at as providing similar benefits that the Indian farmers experienced.
In the event that farmers figure out how to properly use biochar to its fullest advantage, food shortages and global warming could be a worry of the past. It’s predicted that biochar farming can produce higher crop yields and decrease the use of chemical fertilizers. In addition, biochar can store carbon for hundreds or maybe even thousands of years. So if left over crops are turned into charcoal, they can store the carbon longer and reduce the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere. The gases that are produced from charring the plants can be turned into carbon-negative bio-oil, which could be used to power a car.
According to Johannes Lehmann’s research at Cornell University, biochar makes soil absorb better and achieve stability, which makes the soil better prepared to deal with erosion, weather changes and water contamination.
However, as with any solution, there are always drawbacks. For example, overproducing charcoal can cause an increase amount of contamination into the environment. Also there is not a market for carbon yet, and there isn’t a monetary credit provided to farmers who use biochar. In fact, Dynamotive, an energy company located in Vancouver, has been handing out biochar to any farmers who will try it.
Biochar may be dynamic enough to lessen some of the world’s problems, but further research is necessary to examine its advantages and disadvantages. But it’s difficult to do this without knowing how to effectively incorporate biochar into our current farming practices. It might have worked hundreds of years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s the answer to the issues our world faces today.