Biochar Farming: The Next Big Thing

October 2nd, 2013 BY Marina Hanes | 4 Comments


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.

  1. Erich J. Knight
    1

    “overproducing charcoal can cause an increase amount of contamination into the environment”
    Only using traditional methods, Kilns and retorts, Modern Pyrolysis is closed-loop , no GHG emissions, except when the bio-oil and bio-gas is burned

    . This technology represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.Terra Preta Soils a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 10X Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too.
    Indeed, Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s top Atmospheric authorty, is now placing it in the center stage of pro-active solutions for the climate crisis.

    UN Climate Change Conference: Biochar present at the Bali Conference

    http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/steinerbalinov2107

    SCIAM Article May 15 07;

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=5670236C-E7F2-99DF-3E2163B9FB144E40

    After many years of reviewing solutions to anthropogenic global warming (AGW) I believe this technology can manage Carbon for the greatest collective benefit at the lowest economic price, on vast scales. It just needs to be seen by ethical globally minded companies.

    The main hurtle now is to change the current perspective held by the IPCC that the soil carbon cycle is a wash, to one in which soil can be used as a massive and ubiquitous Carbon sink via Charcoal. Below are the first concrete steps in that direction;

    S.1884 – The Salazar Harvesting Energy Act of 2007

    A Summary of Biochar Provisions in S.1884:

    Carbon-Negative Biomass Energy and Soil Quality Initiative

    for the 2007 Farm Bill

    http://www.biochar-international.org/newinformationevents/newlegislation.html

    Bolstering Biomass and Biochar development: In the 2007 Farm Bill, Senator Salazar was able to include $500 million for biomass research and development and for competitive grants to develop the technologies and processes necessary for the commercial production of biofuels and bio-based products. Biomass is an organic material, usually referring to plant matter or animal waste. Using biomass for energy can reduce waste and air pollution. Biochar is a byproduct of producing energy from biomass. As a soil treatment, it enhances the ability of soil to capture and retain carbon dioxide.

    ( Update; In conference the $500 M was cut to $3M….:( :( :( )

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  3. Alex
    3

    ”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.” ……… someone does it. Check out the posting in the agriculture forums at http://talk.newagtalk.com/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=79068&posts=9&start=1

  4. REB
    4

    I have been doing this for awhile now in my crops and it seems to be helping,soil seems to be improving,have to work at it for a few more years to really know.

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