Schematic of how biochar can improve soil fertility, decrease deforestation, sequester carbon, and provide electricity
The biochar buzz continues: Biochar Fund has announced that it and its Congolese partner ADAPEL has been selected as one of the six projects to receive funding by the Congo Basin Forest Fund. Biochar Fund will receive €300,000 to implement its biochar program in ten villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo:The goal of its program is to help solve four persistent problems 1) low crop yields and hunger among the subsistence farmers of Sub-Saharan Africa, 2) deforestation due to reliance on slash-and-burn farming, 3) energy poverty and a lack of access to renewable energy, 4) climate change.
Improving Soil Fertility
Application of biochar can help solve the first problem by increasing soil fertility, quality and productivity; that's problem one down, and many TreeHugger readers are probably somewhat familiar with that biochar application.
Slowing Deforestation + Combatting Climate Change
As far as slash-and-burn agriculture and deforestation as well as combatting climate change are concerned, biochar can help by,
Because their soils are so poor, subsistence farmers are forced to shift their cultivation to another plot after only a few years as crop yields decline rapidly. By slowing down the tempo of this cycle via biochar, deforestation can be prevented in a substantial way. Furthermore the project attempts to replace the slash-and-burn system with a slash-and-char concept. This will not only increase soil productivity but also conserve approximately 50% of the carbon otherwise released as CO2 into the atmosphere. As long as re-growing resources are used this would establish a considerable carbon sink.
The amendment of soils with biochar establishes a permanent, stable and easily measurable carbon sink. Char oxidizes over the course of centuries or millennia. Thus, by capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the farm residues, and by transforming these into a highly recalcitrant form that is sequestered in soils, a low cost and extremely effective type of carbon storage emerges. Carbon credits or other forms of compensation may become available for this effort, opening up a novel source of income for the farmers.
Byproduct Can be a Renewable Energy Source, Too
As far as how biochar can help decrease energy poverty in the region, we saw a glimpse of how biohcar production can also create a renewable energy source in a short video clip from the folks over at re:char last week. The Biochar Fund project proposes something analogous:
Via a technology that combines slow pyrolysis and gasification, farmers obtain access to clean and renewable electricity from agricultural residues. The co-product of this process is biochar, which will be stored into the farm soils to improve the output and sustainability of tropical agriculture.
This will take place over the next two years in the region of Pimu, in Équateur Province. Farmers in the region suffer from a state permanent food insecurity, making less that $150 per year from subsistence farming.
More: Biochar Fund (press release)