Biochar Could Make a Significant Dent in Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Biochar Could Make a Significant Dent in Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Posted on February 17th, 2010 by dpacheco

So what is biochar and how is it going to save the world?

Let’s start with a definition. Biochar is fine-grained charcoal used as a soil supplement. Not too terribly exciting. But what is exciting, especially to climate scientists, is the potential applications. The process of creating and burying biochar actually removes carbon from the atmosphere. And it doesn’t stop working there. By helping plants grow, biochar helps suck CO2 out of the atmosphere by virtue of photosynthesis. It’s a process that was used centuries ago by Amazon Indians, and maybe its time has come around again.

From (UPDATE: h/t USA Today):

USA Today reports that at Josh Frye’s poultry farm in West Virginia, the chicken waste is fed into a large, experimental incinerating machine. Out comes a charcoal-like substance known as ‘biochar’ – which is not only an excellent fertilizer, but also helps keep carbon in the soil instead of letting it escape into the atmosphere, where it acts as a greenhouse gas.

Former vice president and environmental advocate Al Gore calls biochar “one of the most exciting new strategies” available to stop climate change. For Mr Frye, it means that, before long, “the chicken poop could be worth more than the chickens themselves.”

He said: “I thought it was crazy at first, and my wife still thinks it’s nuts.” However, he has sold nearly $1,000 worth of biochar to farmers as far away as New Jersey, and plans to sell much more as he refines production. Venture capitalists, soil scientists and even members of Congress have all come to Frye’s farm to see whether his example can be repeated.

Biochar is typical of the promise – and potential pratfalls – of some of the new technologies. Scientists are still trying to determine how much of an impact biochar can really make in reducing pollution.

As with many new green initiatives, Mr Frye’s began with one main objective: money.

He explained: “I always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to burn all this manure and use the heat to warm the chicken houses?’” His farm produces up to 800,000 chickens a year, and hatchlings need to be kept at a steady temperature of about 90 degrees, resulting in about $30,000 a year in propane costs.

Read the Full Article HERE:

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Replies to This Discussion

Sydni, would you please make a point of linking to the sites where you get your cut-and-pastes? It shows respect for the original author and helps us follow up at the source for more information. This one, for instance, is from here.
Joshua, this time YOU are wrong... The " Read The Article In Full" link at the bottom of the portion I reprinted, will take you directly to the site where this article was 'Originally' from. I am not a child and I do resent your tone with me. It is a rare occurrence, when I've neglected to post the author's name and the link to the site. I post enough discussions everyday, to know my etiquette and copyright laws.

With 17 T/A moderators 'policing' this site, I would have been forewarned long ago if I was routinely negligent of this practice.
15 minutes left to edit your comment.
Hi Sydni,

Perhaps I am wrong. Goodness knows I am a lot. But the link you provided is a link to the article that dpacheco linked to -- not the dpacheco post, which contains original content that is now on this site. Are you dpacheco? You could be. Do you have a link to the dpacheco post that I'm not seeing? If neither of these is true, you cut-and-pasted without attribution.
Are you for real Joshua? Do you really want to nit-pick this point with me? I'd love for you to comment on the article, offer an opinion, discuss a related topic, or even post your own discussion in this group. Now that would be constructive and very welcome.
Does this mean you did take someone else's content without attribution, and don't consider such behavior questionable?
Contact the moderator's if you have issue with me, or become one yourself... Enough.
Yes, we agree on "Enough" for this conversation. Thank you.
Hm. Well, I actually *AM* dpacheco and you're right, Joshua. There was no attribution or link on Sydni Moser's post back to the site I blog for,

Sydni, I don't consider your post to have been properly attributed. In the future, please provide a link back to our site when quoting us. And please excerpt only a portion, not the entire text of the blog post.
Wikipedia cites researcher Johannes Lehman's paper "Lehmann, Johannes,A handful of carbon, 447 Nature 143, 144 (2007)" as saying that Biochar sequestration becomes cheaper than paying for extra C02 emissions at any point when the cost per ton exceeds $37. I'm trying to understand to see what the price currently is. Someone wanna race me? :-)
OK, I'm having some trouble understanding the site navigation, but from ChicagoClimateEx, their 180 day history as of today looks like this (for posterity I put it on my own site, as it will change every day):

(I don't know if images work in comments yet.)

From that graph, it looks like for most of the past 6 months (2/3 of it? 3/4? more?), including right now, the price was above $37. This is a good sign insofar as it will encourage solutions such as these. Finding ways to make production more cost-effective would increase the times it is workable.

I formalized "McGee's First Law" as "Everything is more complicated than it at first appears to be, even when McGee’s First Law is taken into account." So those of us who are Vegetarianism advocates (Sydni is, I believe [correct me please if I'm in error], and I am, for instance) are advocating a strategy that would decrease the amount of biochar available. Thoughts? The solutions are wonderfully, if maddeningly, intricate.

End note: We could of course try to convince companies to be "green" on principle. But showing them that they can save money is probably more effective.

OK, one more: I remember something on farmers being paid by companies to sequester C02 in their fields, but I haven't chased that one down yet. If someone has a link, please post.
A major focus of my work is coming to fruition, a soil C Standard.
The next step in this process will be nominations for elections to seat a Soil C Board, a supreme court, if you will, under USDA / EPA oversight, to validate / certify practice & protocols for systems that build soil C.

I know this is not exactly down your alley, but if you know of anyone credentialed to sit on the board, please refer them to me.

A dream I've had for years ( see Paraphrased speech below ) to base the coming carbon economy firmly on the foundation of top soils. My read of the agronomic history of civilization shows that the Kayopo Amazon Indians and the Egyptians were the only ones to maintain fertility for the long haul, millennium scales. Egypt has now forsaken their geologic advantage by building the Aswan dam, and are stuck, with the rest of us, in the soil C mining, NPK rat race to the bottom.

The Ag Soil Carbon standard is in the second phase of review by the AMS / ARC branch at USDA.
After initial review, approval is expected in this month. Contact Gary Delong . 515-334-7305 office
Read over the work so far;

In my efforts to have Biochar included I have recruited several to join the list, briefed the entire committee about char when issues concerning N2O & CH4 soil GHG emissions were raised, fully briefed a couple members when they replied individually to my "Reply all" briefs.

All political persuasions agree, building soil carbon is GOOD.
To Hard bitten Farmers, wary of carbon regulations that only increase their costs, Building soil carbon is a savory bone, to do well while doing good.

Biochar provides the tool powerful enough to cover Farming's carbon foot print while lowering cost simultaneously.

Agriculture allowed our cultural accent and Agriculture will now prevent our descent.
Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon,
Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

Biochar, the modern version of an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice called Terra Preta (black earth, TP), is gaining widespread credibility as a way to address world hunger, climate change, rural poverty, deforestation, and energy shortages… SIMULTANEOUSLY!

Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration (= to 1 Ton CO2e) + Bio-Gas & Bio-oil fuels = to 1MWh exported electricity, so is a totally virtuous, carbon negative energy cycle.

Biochar viewed as soil Infrastructure; The old saw;
"Feed the Soil Not the Plants" becomes;
"Feed, Cloth and House the Soil, utilities included !".
Free Carbon Condominiums with carboxyl group fats in the pantry and hydroxyl alcohol in the mini bar.
Build it and the Wee-Beasties will come.
Microbes like to sit down when they eat.
By setting this table we expand husbandry to whole new orders & Kingdoms of life.

This is what I try to get across to Farmers, as to how I feel about the act of returning carbon to the soil. An act of penitence and thankfulness for the civilization we have created. Farmers are the Soil Sink Bankers, once carbon has a price, they will be laughing all the way to it.
Unlike CCS which only reduces emissions, biochar systems draw down CO2 every energy cycle, closing a circle back to support the soil food web. The photosynthetic "capture" collectors are up and running, the "storage" sink is in operation just under our feet. Pyrolysis conversion plants are the only infrastructure we need to build out.

Another significant aspect of low cost Biomass cook stoves that produce char is removal of BC aerosols and no respiratory disease emissions. At Scale, replacing "Three Stone" stoves the health benefits would equal eradication of Malaria
The Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF).recently funded The Biochar Fund $300K for these systems citing these priorities;
(1) Hunger amongst the world's poorest people, the subsistence farmers of Sub-Saharan Africa,
(2) Deforestation resulting from a reliance on slash-and-burn farming,
(3) Energy poverty and a lack of access to clean, renewable energy, and
(4) Climate change.

The Biochar Fund :
Exceptional results from biochar experiment in Cameroon
The broad smiles of 1500 subsistence farmers say it all ( that , and the size of the Biochar corn root balls )

Mark my words; Given the potential for Laurens Rademaker's programs to grow exponentially, only a short time lies between This man's nomination for a Noble Prize.

This authoritative PNAS article should cause the recent Royal Society Report to rethink their criticism of Biochar systems of Soil carbon sequestration;

Reducing abrupt climate change risk using
the Montreal Protocol and other regulatory
actions to complement cuts in CO2 emissions


The Ozzie's for 5 years now in field studies
The future of biochar - Project Rainbow Bee Eater

The Japanese have been at it dacades:
Japan Biochar Association ;

UK Biochar Research Centre

Virginia Tech is in their 4 th year with the Carbon Char Group's "CharGrow" formulated bagged product. An idea whose time has come | Carbon Char Group
He said the 2008 trials at Virginia Tech showed a 46% increase in yield of tomato transplants grown with just 2 - 5 cups (2 - 5%) "CharGrow" per cubic foot of growing medium.

Dr. Rory Maguire,
In first year with Poultry litter char

USDA in their 2 nd year; "Novak, Jeff" , & "david laird" ,
There are dozens soil researchers on the subject now at USDA-ARS.
and many studies at The up coming ASA-CSSA-SSSA joint meeting;

Nikolaus has been at it 4 years. Nikolaus Foidl,
His current work with aspirin is Amazing in Maize, 250% yield gains, 15 cobs per plant;

My 09 field trials with the Rodale Institute & JMU ;
Alterna Biocarbon and Cowboy Charcoal Virginia field trials '09

Thanks for your efforts.

The Terra Preta Prayer

Our Carbon who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name
By kingdom come, thy will be done, IN the Earth to make it Heaven.
It will give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our atmospheric trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against the Kyoto protocols
And lead us not into fossil fuel temptation, but deliver us from it's evil
low as we walk through the valley of the shadow of Global Warming,
I will feel no evil, your Bio-fuels and fertile microbes will comfort me,
For thine is the fungal kingdom,
and the microbe power,
and the Sequestration Glory,
For ever and ever (well at least 2000 years)

Soil Carbon Commandments:

1) Thou shalt not have any other Molecule before Me

2) Thou shall not make wrongful use of the name of Biochar, It will not acquit anyone who mis-charactorizes it's name

3) Observe the Fallow days and keep them, as Sustainability commands thou

4) Honor your Micro Flora & Fauna , as the Soil Carbon commands you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that High Soil Carbon has given you.

5) Thou shall not murder the Soil Food Web

6) Neither shall thou adulterate the Soils with Toxicity

7) Neither shall thou steal Biomass from the Soil Food Web

8) Neither shall thou bear false witness against your neighbors Biochar, or about Thy own

9) Neither shall thou covet your neighbor's Fertility

10) Neither shall thou desire your neighbor's house, or field, or Pyrolysis Reactor, or farm implements, or anything that belongs to your neighbor, as thou may Create thy Own

Soil Carbon Dream

I have a dream that one day we live in a nation where progress will not be judged by the production yields of our fields, but by the color of their soils and by the Carbon content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, a suite of earth sensing satellites will level the playing field, giving every farmer a full account of carbon he sequesters. That Soil Carbon is given as the final arbiter, the common currency, accountant and Judge of Stewardship on our lands.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made forest, the rough soils will be made fertile, and the crooked Carbon Marketeers will be made straight, and the glory of Soil Sequestration shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see a Mutually assured Sustainability.

This is our hope.

My apologies to Dr. King, but I think he would understand my passion


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