Biochar gets some attention at Poznan as a measurable way of sequestering carbon

What’s a promising way of removing carbon from the atmosphere? Scientists attending climate talks in Poznan, Poland, are trying to sell the idea of biochar, a type of charcoal produced when biomass like agricultural and forest residue is “baked” in the absense of oxygen. This process, called pyrolysis, also produces syngas and bio-oil that can be used as a renewable fuel. But it’s the char or “black carbon” that’s capturing scientists’ imagination. The pyrolysis process locks carbon into the char, which remains stable for hundreds, potentially thousands of years.

The char, when mixed with earth, is excellent at helping soils retain nutrients. Farmers can put the char back on the land to improve crop yield (and reduce dependence on fertilizers) or the char can be used to help revive depleted lands. In this way the char both permanently sequesters the carbon and improves the ability of soils to grow more carbon-absorbing plant life.

The end result: Carbon Negativity

Scientists supporting this approach to carbon sequestration are hoping it will be recognized as part of Kyoto talks and qualify as carbon-offset projects. They argue the potential is huge, though it remains to be seen if, in practice, it could ever achieve meaningful scale. That said, interest is growing. Next week Canadian scientists, government officials and academics are meeting in Montreal for the first meeting of the Canadian Biochar Initiative, a national branch of the International Biochar Initiative.

I’ve written about this a couple of times in the past. If you want to read more click here and here.

6 thoughts on “Biochar gets some attention at Poznan as a measurable way of sequestering carbon”

  1. This is a great idea. Some other good ideas are carbon sequestration through selective grazing of herd animals. Holistic Management Institute is a good place to look.

  2. The Engineer Poet blog wrote an interesting article on this subject a few years ago. Very interesting. with T.Boone Pickens lobbying Washington and advertising like crazy to convert all the eighteen wheelers to his natural gas (fertilizer) we’d better do something or find ourselves in another price pickle.

  3. This is one of the best solutions I’ve come across. This is only carbon negative if operated locally. If you transport biomass a thousand miles, pyrolyze it and transport the biochar another thousand miles, you’re missing the point. That’s the real challenge here–not letting agribusiness/energy giants hijack the biochar discussion and brainwash everyone into thinking centralized pyrolysis facilities are the way to go. We’ve already seen this happen with corn ethanol, the massive energy loser.

    I think one of the best uses for the syngas is to replace natural gas and propane as cooking fuels in this country, since there is no other convenient renewable substitute and the scale seems appropriate. General heating for buildings and energy for transportation are best met with other, more appropriate fuels and techniques.

  4. 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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