Scrap wood chipped and then baked into biochar

Biochar is made by heating biomass to a high temperature, about 600 degrees C.  That's hot, hot enough to burn. The trick is to do it in a container that lacks a lot of oxygen. Without oxygen, most of the carbon will not burn, but water and other molecules will be removed.  This leaves only the carbon behind, with tiny holes like bread or a sponge, where the non-carbon material used to be.

  • Reduces water needs – Biochar particles attract and hold water that would otherwise be lost through run-off.  Biochar makes this water available to plants on an as-needed basis.
  • Reduces fertilizer use & preserves soil nutrients by increasing the nutrient holding capacity of soils, which is known as the Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC).  Reducing excess nutrients  from fertilizers such as Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium(K) prevents contamination of lakes and rivers.

  • Enhances soil biodiversity & microbial biomass regardless of soil type.

  • Reduces pollution by preventing pesticides and other organic molecules for entering our water supply.

How We Know That It Works 

Biochar-rich soils were made by man centuries ago.  Some of these anthropogenic soils are known as Terre Preta del Indio or Amazonian Dark Earths. The scientific study of these soils show that the beneficial effects of biochar are consistent and long lasting.  This conclusion is also also supported by thousands of current scientific studies world-wide.

It improves soil structure in damaged or compacted soils by reducing bulk density, this improves root penetration and the movement of soil animals like worms and nematodes.  It also improves water and air movement that help bring nutrients and oxygen to plant roots and by removing toxic gases and root waste.   The pore size in woody biochars is less than 20 μm(that’s 20 millionths of a meter!) and allows entry of bacteria, fungi, and nematodes. 

Biochar is a sponge-like carbon structure that results from the cells of the parent biomass and pores that are created and destroyed in the pyrolysis process. Biochar contains a wide range of pore sizes which play different roles in the beneficial functions of biochar.  This carbon structure  is also characterized by negatively charged sites that attract soil nutrients and organic molecules like pesticides.

 

Diagram of old carbon cycle.  Shows CO2 goring from air to trees.  Then trees die and rot and CO2 is released to the air.  Arrows show the directions between each step.

Bio mass, represented in this diagram as trees, absorbs carbon from the air as CO2.  When the bio mass or trees die, they rot.  When they rot, the carbon is released back into the atmosphere as CO2.  This CO2 / Biomass cycle accounts for a large portion of the carbon cycle.  Excess CO2 from cars, buildings, farm animals etc. is driving climate change. Our aim is store some of this extra carbon in the soil as biochar.

Diagram of old carbon cycle.  Shows CO2 goring from air to trees.  Then trees die and rot and CO2 is released to the air.  Arrows show the directions between each step.

This improved carbon cycle shows part of the rotting wood and brush diverted through a chipper.  These chips are then made into bio char.  The method used is similar to making charcoal.  Biochar cannot be broken down or consumed by plant, animal or insect.  It can be applied to the earth bringing many benefits to the soil.  Once in the soil, it stays there.  This removes some of the carbon from the unsustainable carbon cycle.  Current research shows that biochar stays in the soil for between 1,000 and 10,000 years.

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