Carbonscape: Microwaved Biochar for Massive Carbon Sequestration

Carbonscape biochar will sequester carbon in the soil photo

Image credit: Carbonscape
Carbonscape - Developing Industrial-scale Carbon Capture
Biochar, or the concept of turning woody materials into charcoal that is buried, or tilled into soil, is a hot topic. Tim has explored the benefits of biochar for carbon sequestration and soil fertility before, April has talked about biochar trials in Belize and there are the beginnings of an interesting conversation about biochar on the TreeHugger forums. Now a company with offices in the UK and New Zealand is hoping to take these ideas and apply them on a massive scale - utilizing giant microwaves to turn wood into charcoal and bury it in the ground.
Carbonscape is the brainchild of Chris Turney, a professor of geography at the University of Exeter, who has built a 5 meter long prototype as proof of concept. According to The Guardian, Carbonscape's biochar project is setting its sights high in the fight against climate change:

Turney said biochar was the closest thing scientists had to a silver-bullet solution to climate change. Processing facilities could be built right next to forests grown specifically to soak up CO2. "You can cut trees down, carbonise them, then plant more trees. The forest could act on an industrial scale to suck carbon out of the atmosphere."

The biochar could be placed in disused coal mines or tilled into the ground to make soil more fertile. Its porous structure is ideal for trapping nutrients and beneficial micro-organisms that help plants grow. It also improves drainage and can prevent up to 80% of greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxides and methane from escaping from the soil.

Of course the 'industrial scale' forestry that Carbonscape are talking about is not without its own ecological and societal problems - loss of biodiversity and fertile land being chief among them - but with the headlines about climate change getting grimmer by the day, it makes sense to explore some stabilization methods that can be deployed quickly and ambitiously. I'd be interested to know if folks are also looking at ideas like coppicing as part of the solution, that would have added biodiversity benefits alongside simple carbon capture.

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