Biochar revolutionary’ remedy for climate chaos

January 24, 2009 at 3:43 pm 6 comments

biochar-2.jpg – News – A `revolutionary’ remedy for global warming: “Next week, as 10,000 delegates in Poland wrap up another inconclusive United Nations conference on climate change, a small group will gather in Montreal to try to actually do something about the problem.

They’ll launch a Canadian branch of a global effort to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make farms more productive. Their tool: something called biochar.

The stuff comes from baking biological matter – wood chips, manure, stalks, leaves and other crop residues – without oxygen. The process, called pyrolysis, produces methane, oils and charcoal.

It’s already employed to extract the gas and liquids as biofuels, and some charcoal is burned to keep the pyrolysis going. What’s developing, though, is the idea of grinding the charcoal and incorporating it into farm soil.

‘The process is revolutionary,’ says Lloyd Helferty, a product designer in Thornhill who is helping to organize this inaugural meeting of the Canadian Biochar Initiative.”

(Via The Toronto Star.)


Entry filed under: Agriculture, climate change, Soil Management. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. shadowphenyx  |  January 29, 2009 at 5:35 am

    Now mind you, this article does not mean that I (Sunny) or FoodCycles completely endorse the use of biochar at this point. It was simply posted as an article of interest in relation to the topic of soil management.

    As Ken later on points out on an email of the ACGA list serve, if you convert this matter into char you are depriving the soil of organic nutrients.

    Yes, you do lock up carbon in it. At the same time however that carbon is needed for good soil health in non-char form.

    I have also heard of some research some time ago that using char may actually speed up breakdown of organic matter, possibly increasing net greenhouse gas emissions. I will try to find the article as soon as I can – it may have been on Sciencedaily.

    Much research remains to be done and I’m still trying to figure out how best to integrate the idea of biochar into farming if it is at all possible. Personally I am much more in support for building up organic matter. With climate change however causing “vicious cycle” or positive feedback effects I don’t know how much time we have to rebuild soil (we destroy it faster than it can heal – last I heard, we destroy a cm or more of soil in 10 years which took at least 100 years to make).

    Ken’s original post to the ACGA list serve:
    From: Ken Hargesheimer
    Date: January 27, 2009 7:12:06 PM GMT-05:00
    To: kane
    Subject: Re: [Community_garden] BIOCHAR

    Some months ago a friend forwarded to me info on biochar telling me how
    wonderful it is. He is not a farmer. My discussion is strictly from a
    farming/soil point of view. If it is bi-product of gas production, fine, if
    it is not using crop residue. That must be left on the soil.

    The biochar people are recommending it for the farmer. Where have they been? We have been trying to get farmers to stop burning the crop residue for decades as it destroys plant food. Even worst, it destroys the soil structure.

    Even tilling destroys soil structure. [email for a document for proof] The promoters of it tell how it increases yield. I emailed them and asked them “compared to what”. I asked them if they had tested it in comparison to organic, no-till gardening and farming. They said no. Excuse me!

    Biochar destroys the most import thing for the soil; organic matter. Organic, no-till is sustainable forever. Gives the highest yields possible. This is not my invention. I only report what others have done worldwide. There is more of it abroad than in the USA.

    Ken Hargesheimer

  • 2. shadowphenyx  |  January 29, 2009 at 5:38 am

    This has always been the issue when people talk about converting what they term “waste farm residue” into biofuel for example.

  • 3. shadowphenyx  |  January 29, 2009 at 5:38 am

    Though I fear not enough people are realizing the importance of healthy soil.

  • 4. shadowphenyx  |  January 29, 2009 at 5:45 am

    From: “Diann Dirks”
    Date: January 28, 2009 12:20:01 PM GMT-05:00
    To: , “Karen Jones”
    Cc: community garden
    Subject: Re: [Community_garden] Clueless in Canada, Biochar

    The thing about biochar as far as I can see is the differentiation on what the raw material is. One can’t make a generalization that it is all good or all bad. Just like what an organic farmer or gardener does when putting things on his compost pile, you leave some things out just because they aren’t what you want to put back into the soil. If there were a way to sort out the bad from the good before putting it through this process, I think this discussion would be over. If that can’t be done or it isn’t feasible, then we need to come up with a better solution. Farm land across the country has become so polluted, so mis-managed with the introduction of petro-chemical based fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides (just to keep it producing when the ecology of the soil through microorganisms has been destroyed or the mineral content has been leached out), that we must look for ways to restore the balance. Anything we put in the soil must be introduced field by field and care must be made to put in what will restore. It’s like a body. You don’t tell everyone who doesn’t feel well to take one drug. You diagnose it correctly, and you do what it takes to restore balance. We must be more skilled at this if we are to survive.
    A friend of mine, Winston Gao, who lives in Clearwater, Fla, has done extensive research and pilot programs to restore micro-organisms to farmland soil. I recommend you check out his website.

    Check it out. He also has a wonderful newsletter free for the taking.

  • 5. shadowphenyx  |  January 29, 2009 at 5:45 am

    From: xx
    Date: January 28, 2009 12:33:55 PM GMT-05:00
    To: Diann Dirks
    Cc: Karen Jones , community garden
    Subject: Re: [Community_garden] Clueless in Canada, Biochar

    If it were a Just way to produce gases to produce electricity and a way to reduce organic waste going to landfills and a solution for getting rid of sewage sludge, I would still be for it even if it never is put on cropland. The idea of putting it on the land in order to sequester carbon that then won’t enter the atmosphere might be a reason to put it on nonarable land if it contains undesirable elements for food growing. Thinking about it as only a way of improving soil (although that is exciting too I think), is forgetting all the other advantages of using this process. I’m only against using valuable organic materials like woodchips and compost or food crops to create it.


  • 6. Michael Garjian  |  July 9, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Not all charcoal is biochar. True biochar is the result of heating biomass in an emission free pyrolysis reactor devoid of oxygen. Biochar has been shown to be a very effective soil amendment in numerous studies in South America and Japan. It is becoming popularized enough in the US that Biochar Xtra is now even being sold on Ebay. Others are using the bio-oils derived from biochar production to replace fossil fuels. Some folks are alarmed at the possibility of vast tracts of land being denuded to produce biochar. This is not a valid concern because, due to its very low density of from 20 to 35 pounds per cubic foot, the transport of biochar over long distances is not economically feasible.


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