Biochar is a fine-grained, highly-porous charcoal produced from carbon-rich biomass, including yard and landscaping waste and agricultural waste. Biochar is produced by pyrolysis or gasification of biomass (heating the biomass with little or no air). A primary function of biochar works to improve soil and enhance soil fertility. Further, biochar acts a natural cleanser, filtering out and retaining nutrients from percolating water in the soil. The technology is simple, but the results are quite profound. By pyrolyizing (heating in the absence of oxygen) biomass, and mixing the resulting char into the soil, it is possible to produce: 1) Energy; 2) Carbon sequestration; 3) More fertile land.
Furthermore, biochar resists ordinary decomposition in the soil, and hence stays there for centuries, even the millennia as a carbon sink (removing carbon from the atmosphere). Therefore, biochar generates long-term soil fertility as well as works as a long-term contributor to climate change mitigation.
Agricultural Uses: Although biochar alone has not been shown to enhance soil fertility, its complex surface area and intricate pore structure is hospitable to beneficial soil bacteria which help plants absorb nutrients from the soil. Consequently, biochar has a remarkable ability to act as an agricultural catalyst, enhancing plant growth by 30% to 300%. Even more remarkable, biochar need only be applied once as it is not consumed, and therefore significantly cuts costs. The growth promotion takes place from the absorbent carbon acting as a slow-release agent for nutrients and host for soil microbes. Thus, this growth promoter can be utilized to reduce fertilizer consumption, resulting in greater plant growth and lower fertilizer applications. The end result is more food production and lower fossil fuel consumption from lower fertilizer demand.
Another benefit to the agricultural industry is that crop waste can be utilized as the source of biomass. Thus, the industry could be self-sufficient in biochar supply to promote plant growth while promoting climate change. If future trials confirm current research, the market potential is astronomic.
Dr. Bruno Glaser with biochar treated plant on right, NPK treatment in middle and control on far left. Biochar & Soil Benefits: The porous biochar attracts worms and captures nutrients for plants that would otherwise run off the land. On large scale applications, such absorption reduces nutrient loading and need for fertilizer. In this way, biochar has also shown to be beneficial in absorbing and removing phosphate from water for sustainable water quality treatment. Research at Cornell University in New York, US, suggests that burying biochar appears to double the capacity of soils to store organic carbon. New studies at the University of Bayreuth, Germany, show that biochar may almost double plant growth in poor soils. “Research on biochar began back in 1947,” says Dr Bruno Glaser, a researcher from the University of Bayreuth. “Now there is a lot of excitement about what biochar can achieve.” Dr Glaser is working on studies to see how effective it proves to be on poor soils in northern Germany.
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