Betting on Biochar to Solve Our Super CO2 Imbalance

Charcoal creation in Poland photo

Nope, it's not biochar production you are witnessing but Polish charcoal making! Photo ecksunderscore @ flickr.

UN climate talks are bogged down in Poznan, Poland, partly by Polish insistence that a new EU climate deal give them concessions to allow them to keep depending on coal (90 percent of their electricity comes from burning the black stuff) awhile longer.

But as usual, sometimes the news comes not in the climate-talk chambers themselves, but out in the corridors and on the streets. In Poznan, around 700 environmental activists marched through the streets over the weekend demanding negotiators get real in efforts to formulate a post-Kyoto deal. And in a side event, scientist and promoter Johannes Lehman from Cornell University made a push for how plant waste heated at high temps (called "biochar") might be a super-effective CO2 storage method (and less expensive, perhaps, than CCS?). What's exciting is that entrepreneurs have started to see biochar's promise.

Simple Pyrolysis For Biochar photo
Biochar could potentially sequester 1 billion tons of CO2 annually
Biochar (which is essentially charcoal from tree and/or farm waste) has great potential, researchers say, to both enrich soils and soak up some of the excess carbon dioxide that is accumulating in the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. The air-free heat process called pyrolysis required to make biochar is of course, neither free not totally CO2 neutral. Still wouldn't it be great if demon charcoal could stop creating the CO2 cloud we all live under and start being part of the solution? Amazonian Indians used biochar to enrich their soil, and Debbie Reed of the International Biochar Initiative (yup, there is one!) says that soils enriched with biochar thousands of years ago contain up to 70 times more nourishing black carbon than surrounding soils and have more nutrients.

From Black to Green?
Britain and Belize are slated to make biochar trials in 2009, in projects that are the brainchild of entrepreneurs Craig Sams (a Green & Black founder) and Dan Morrell, a Future Forests founder. Fast-growing trees would sequester CO2 on their way up, and then when cut would be turned into biochar. It is burning the trees without oxygen that proves to be the trick that traps the CO2 instead of releasing it to the atmosphere. Researcher Ning Zeng has calculated that if we buried half of the wood grown each year (in biochar or other ways so that it couldn't emit CO2) we could offset the world's fossil fuel CO2 emissions.

Via: Science Daily
Pyrolysis photo credit: IBI
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