What is bio-char?
Bio-char is bio-mass (wood, plants, plant waste) that has been converted to charcoal, but ... not for the purpose of burning it as a fuel, instead it is retained and used in other ways.
Volatile fluids and gasses are captured and used, whereas with traditional charcoal production these "go up in smoke"
Bio-char is produced by pyrolysis: heating in the absence of oxygen, which prevents burning of the biomass (which happens in open fires)
What use is it?
Bio-char, and its byproducts, has multiple uses
---When added to the soil it can significantly improve soil fertility (especially if
some volatiles are left or re-cycled back in)
---The volatile fluids and gasses produce usable bio-fuels, that can be produced on
a sustainable basis
---The carbon, when recycled into the soil, provides a stable long term removal
of carbon (dioxide) from the atmosphere. Removing carbon from the atmosphere is
Isn't planting trees good enough?
Growing trees takes a long time
There is a finite limit to how much carbon an acre of forest can store
When trees die they decay and release carbon into the atmosphere via CO2 and methane
It is estimated that as little as 10% of the carbon captured by trees remains in the soil over the long term but if trees are coppiced, the harvested biomass can be used to produce a continual source of bio-char. Or if they are harvested for other purposes and the incidental waste is used as a feedstock for bio-char production (e.g. in forestry or sugar can production).
Biochar has been attracting growing interest due to its potential in carbon sequestration and in improving soil health. However, further research needs to be undertaken to answer questions about its properties and the benefits associated with its production and application.
This fact sheet explains what biochar is, the process by which it is produced (pyrolysis) and looks at the possible role of biochar as a soil conditioner and in offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.
The knowledge gaps and research questions which need to be addressed in relation to biochar's production and application are also discussed.
It advocates biochar as a strategy to:
•improve the Earth’s soils;
•help mitigate the anthropogenic greenhouse effect by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering atmospheric carbon in a stable soil carbon pool; and
•improve water quality by retaining agrochemicals.
•sustainable co-production of clean energy and other bio-based products as part of the biochar process;
•efficient biomass utilization in developing country agriculture; and
•cost-effective utilization of urban, agricultural and forest co products.