What is Biochar

We now have the technology to turn global waste into a multifunctional band-aid for the planet; in effect, turning garbage into gold. Biochar is a new, very porous type of charcoal created by heating organic wastes to high temperatures. The type of waste used to make biochar can be just about any organic material that would break down on its own eventually, such as wood, corn husks, and manure.

* How is Biochar Made? *

To make biochar, organic waste is placed in a special machine that heats the materials to temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, a process known as “pyrolysis”. After a few hours of exposure to intense heat, the trash is transformed into charcoal-like pellets that farmers can use as fertilizer. Even the gasses given off during pyrolysis of organic matter can be harnessed to make fuel.

* What’s So Great About Biochar? Everything. *

In addition to creating fertilizer and fuel, this panacea pellet is a natural carbon-sink. Forests that are slashed and burned, or even cut down and left to naturally decompose, release large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere; a green house gas that contributes to global warming. Carbon drawn from the atmosphere can be locked into this natural charcoal, and then stored in the ground, where it is unable to contribute to atmospheric carbon dioxide. As an added bonus, the presence of biochar in the ground also improves soil and water quality.

* Can We Stop Worrying About Global Warming Now? *

So, now that biochar is on the scene, are pollution and global warming problems a thing of the past? Not quite. Currently, biochar production is very small-scale, too small to make a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions. But that is only because the technology is new. Over time, if more development funds are directed towards initiating biochar production, the impact of biochar could grow significantly, especially in countries that use slash and burn techniques. Biochar could eliminate the carbon emissions from deforestation and help enrich the soil for subsistence farmers.

NASA scientists predict that global use of biochar could cut CO2 levels by 8 parts per million (ppm) over the next 50 years. Since the year 2000, CO2 emissions have been increasing by 2 ppm annually. Biochar could eventually turn things around and get us out of environmental debt.

To learn more about biochar, see the CNN article Can Biochar Save the Planet? and the Biochar website, and blog Sustainable Design Update.