Last week’s CounterAct Climate Change program on biochar drew attendees from as far away as the state of Tasmania in Australia, and our neighbor to the north, Canada! If you missed it, you can view the recording here. There is so much to learn about biochar, we could only scratch the surface of the subject in a one-hour presentation followed by a 45-minute Q&A!
Kathleen Draper, the Board Chair of the International Biochar Initiative and Vice Chair of the U.S. Biochar Initiative, gave us an overview of biochar production, markets and carbon benefits. Michael Garjian, a Massachusetts-based entrepreneur and inventor, explained various ways to produce biochar, and gave us a peek at his patented invention, the CarbonStar biochar and biofuel system.
Prepare for Puns…
Some people might not think biochar is all that cool, because it sounds suspiciously similar to biomass energy, which is a hot topic among environmentalists, especially now in Massachusetts. Governor Charlie Baker and his administration are facing fiery criticism for proposing regulatory changes to the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards program, which would classify wood-burning power plants as a clean form of renewable energy, and give renewable energy subsidies to such plants. That really burns some people’s butter, because many scientists agree that biomass energy plants cause air pollution, and release large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which of course, heats up the planet, causing global warming.
Biomass is any organic matter that comes from vegetation, or animal waste. Common forms of it include wood chips, branches, and other debris from logging operations, sawdust from furniture mills, agricultural waste (husks, hulls, straw, manure, etc.) and landscaping yard waste.
Biochar is a charcoal-like substance produced by burning biomass through the process of pyrolysis, with very little oxygen. Unlike combustion, which sends a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, pyrolysis converts the biomass into biochar, and sequesters (stores) most of the carbon in the biochar, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. Beyond carbon sequestration, biochar has multiple uses that benefit the environment, including soil amendment to improve fertility and water retention, and pollution remediation.
There are many ways to make biochar, and use it. In general, the process of biochar production is planet-friendly and biochar is good for the planet!
Still Not Sure?
Do you still wonder whether biochar truly can help the planet? Don’t take our word for it. Consider that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, listed biochar as one of only six negative emissions technologies that may be capable of significantly re-balancing carbon. You can learn more about that in this Biochar Journal article.
Whether you’re skeptical or all fired up about it and ready to go, there’s a ton of information on the Web about biochar. To save you some time and effort, here’s a list of sources to light your fire:
- Kathleen Draper’s Finger Lakes Biochar blog: http://fingerlakesbiochar.com
- Michael Garjian in “Fixing Carbon: The Carbon Cycle Solution to our Climate Crisis” https://vimeo.com/251245935
- Project Drawdown: https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/biochar-production
- Terra Preta: https://www.amazon.com/Terra-Preta-Fertile-Reverse-Climate/dp/177164110X
- Burn: https://www.amazon.com/Burn-Using-Fire-Cool-Earth/dp/1603587837
- US Forest Service biochar webinars: https://www.fs.fed.us/research/biochar-webinars/
- An article about the Forest Service making biochar at wildfire recovery site: https://www.capitalpress.com/ag_sectors/timber/forest-service-begins-making-biochar-at-wildfire-recovery-site/article_691de1b6-34bf-11eb-b393-ab6ccecca049.html
- An article about municipal biochar production in the cities of Minneapolis, MN and Stockholm, Sweden: https://bloombergcities.medium.com/inspired-by-stockholms-success-a-u-s-city-goes-big-on-biochar-70e011ccf865