Imagine this: You have a garden or yard full of trees. Each year you prune and cut dying branches to make room for new growth. Each autumn you rake in several pounds of dead leaves, fallen fruits and other garden “leftovers.” What are you going to do? Ordinarily, you would just leave them alone scattered on your yard, where they would just decay or be buried in winter frost. You probably would clear out a fallen branch or two as well.
How to make Biochar
- Clear your garden of all living, organic material.
- Dig a trench approx 12 inches deep.
- Use a fork to loosen and turn the soil at the bottom.
- Pile brush in the bottom of the trench, approx 8 inches deep.
- Light the brush on fire, and allow it to smolder until the smoke thins and turns bluish-gray.
- Cover lightly with an inch of dirt and let it continue to smolder until it turns to charcoal chunks.
- Put out with water.
- Turn and mix the charcoal with the soil turned underneath and then fill in the trench.
- Continue the process around your garden.
- You can also mix the biochar into your compost pile.
The Process of Pyrolysis
But if you knew what the Amazon natives did centuries ago, then you would probably “burn” all those organic trash until they turn into charcoal, then bury them in the soil. The process involves “pyrolysis,” but without the presence of oxygen. Archaeologists discovered that Amazon has been a rich forest due to this ancient slash-and-char technique. It has been practiced for 3,000 years in Brazil. The Amazonians have helped fertilize the soil not only with wood chips and dead leaves but also chicken manure, among other things.
Just like Beef Jerky
Danny Day, president of Eprida, compares “biochar” production with making a beef jerky. The organic matter is not wholly burned down to ashes. Instead, it is turned into charcoal, where it can be buried and is expected to last for ages. Biochar is a stable byproduct that takes a long time to disintegrate. Rain and dry weather also helps preserve its stable structure. Just like beef jerky, you are like drying out meat that you can enjoy eating and will not spoil for a long time. With biochar, you are basically “feeding” the Earth. In fact, the Amazon soil is still so fertile that farmers are still tilling them for plant production.
So why use biochar? Simple. First, it absorbs the enormous amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Second, it helps fertilize the soil for better plant growth. Third, the process of pyrolysis generates smoke that can be transformed into “bio-oil” which is a renewable energy source.
Black Gold as a Carbon Sink
But let’s focus on the first reason. As a matter of fact, biochar is currently being eyed as one of the best and simplest ways to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. Biochar production is straightforward and speeds up nature’s process of sequestering greenhouse gases. What would take the soil years to take in all those emissions and CO2 being released by the decaying organic matter on the forest floor, would take only days if biochar was manufactured in a plant, and then buried in the soil for fertilization. It’s an excellent carbon sink. Tonnes of CO2 have already been removed from the atmosphere thanks to an ongoing research and expansion of biochar industry.
To many conservationists, biochar is one of the most promising ways to halt the earth’s global warming problems. Just like any possibilities though, there are skeptics and supporters. There are also a lot of questions facing biochar in the future. As of today, even before anybody has heard of “biochar,” people in various places all over the world are already buying and selling this black gold!