Biochar is a stable form of charcoal produced from heating natural organic materials and biomass (crop and other waste, woodchips, manure) in a high temperature, low oxygen process known as pyrolysis and or gasification.
Due to its molecular structure, biochar is chemically and biologically in a more stable form than the original carbon form it comes from, making it more difficult to break down. This means that in some cases it can remain stable in soil for hundreds to thousands of years.
The production of biochar via pyrolysis and gasification also yields bioenergy in the form of synthesis gas (or ‘syngas’). Syngas consists of a variety of gases which in turn can be captured and used to produce heat and power.
Biochar quality is dependent on feedstock and the conversion process used. While more research needs to be done on how applying biochar effects soil health, early results are promising.
Studies have shown that biochar can aid in:
- Retaining nutrients and cation exchange capacity
- Decreasing soil acidity
- Decreased uptake of soil toxins
- Improving soil structure
- Nutrient use efficiency
- Water-holding capacity
- Decreasing releases of non-CO2 greenhouse gases (CH4, N2O).
Producing biochar and bioenergy can result in capturing carbon emissions. The organic materials being burnt are naturally part of the photosynthesis cycle, so taking the carbon out of the cycle and locking it in biochar and bio-gases means that there is a net decrease of carbon in the atmosphere.
Due to its high chemical stability, high carbon content and its potential to reside in soil over decades, centuries, and even up to millennia, biochar applications have the potential to become a long-term carbon sink providing on farm carbon capture and storage.
Assessing the full carbon sequestration benefit will require analysis of all the carbon storage gains and losses throughout the biochar lifecycle from production, processing, transport and application to physical and chemical changes over time within the soil. (Source CSIRO)
For more information on biochar and the work being done in Australia and around the world, visit the following links.
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