What is Biochar?
Biochar is the charred organic matter formed under high heat and low oxygen conditions occurring in natural fires and modern pyrolysis systems. Under low oxygen conditions, biomass does not combust, but rather thermally decomposes. The result is a porous and stable form of organic matter. A number of biomass materials are used as feedstocks for biochar, including wood and wood waste, agricultural residues, and other organic wastes. The properties and potential uses of the biochar depend on the feedstock and the conditions under which it is produced.
For much of the last 2,500 years, people of the Amazon Basin have produced and used char to enhance low quality soils to sustain agriculture, creating soils known as terra preta (“dark earth”). Modern scientists and land managers are evaluating the potential for biochar as a soil amendment to reclaim and remediate disturbed or contaminated soils, enhance agricultural productivity, and possibly mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration and reduction of emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O), a powerful greenhouse gas. Production of biochar may also address problems with over-stocked or beetle-killed forests and organic waste management. Further, biochar is often a co-product of biofuel production, improving both the greenhouse gas balance and economic viability of biomass-based renewable fuels.
Other Links & Resources:
- Yale Environment 360: As Uses of Biochar Expand, Climate Benefits Still Uncertain
- The Guardian: Cool Planet - can biochar fertilize soil and help fight climate change?
- University of Edinburgh UK Biochar Research Centre
- European Biochar Foundation
- International Biochar Initiative
- US Biochar Initiative
- Biochar in Colorado Fact Sheet
- Biomass Magazine: Bioenergy Byproduct to Soil Savior
- PBS: The Coal That’s Good for the Climate