Biochar boosts soil productivity and helps plants thrive, but that is just one aspect of this environmentally friendly soil amendment’s usefulness. Learn how biochar aids in wastewater treatment and agricultural waste management.
Biochar results from the heating of organic biomass at high temperatures in an oxygen-free environment, a process known as pyrolysis. It is an ancient practice whose benefits stand the test of time–in this case, literally thousands of years.
Indigenous people in the Amazon Basin were the first to create a biochar-like substance by burning organic material and allowing it to smolder. The poor jungle soils were transformed into the rich black earth known as terra preta, areas of unusual fertility. To this day, these soils remain extremely productive.
Most Popular Use: Soil Remediation
Biochar is best known as a soil amendment. It is especially useful in restoring degraded soil. Biochar increases water retention by improving drainage and aeration. Nutrient availability for plant roots is also boosted, and the growth of beneficial microorganisms is enhanced.
Biochar works in any type of soil to deliver more nutrients and water with less work.
Uses Beyond Soil Remediation
Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are the foremost drivers of global warming and subsequent climate change. Biochar sequesters carbon dioxide in the soil, preventing its release into the atmosphere. This makes biochar a key component in the battle against global warming.
For every pound of biochar applied, two pounds of carbon dioxide is sequestered.
Another of biochar’s most critical uses involves wastewater treatment and issues surrounding agricultural manure lagoons.
Why Wastewater Treatment and Manure Lagoons Matter
Wastewater consists of storm runoff or water that has been used in industry, the home, or in business. Wastewater treatment removes pathogens and pollutants so that the water can be released back into the environment. Treated wastewater is used as fertilizer on farmland and can even generate electricity.
Manure management is a major component of raising livestock. Manure lagoons are designed to treat raw livestock waste and store the treated sludge. Such lagoons are large, earth-lined basins that may resemble farm ponds. At some point, the slurry is transported for use as fertilizer on farm fields.
Any spillage from such lagoons causes not only water pollution but nitrate and phosphorus runoff can cause aquatic dead zones. Algae blooms proliferate but die off, their decomposition depleting oxygen from the water.
Wastewater Treatment With Biochar
Traditional processes for treating wastewater have limitations. Improper treatment can lead to pathogens remaining in the water, contaminating ground and surface waters and potentially leading to disease.
There are environmental and economic costs to inefficient wastewater treatment. Ineffective treatment endangers public health. Good wastewater treatment provides economic benefits in the form of reduced ratepayer rates.
Biochar possesses distinctive characteristics that make it especially effective in wastewater management. Its adsorptive qualities allow it to capture contaminants, including heavy metals and other pollutants. In some instances, biochar can remove nearly 100 percent of wastewater micropollutants.
The end result of using biochar for wastewater treatment is improved water quality and a discharge that is eco-friendly.
Using Biochar to Reduce Gas Emissions from Manure Lagoons
Even the best-managed manure lagoons produce odor and emissions. According to the EPA, manure management accounts for roughly 11 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector in the U.S. Floating biochar covers over manure lagoons can reduce odor and gas emissions.
The most common gases emanating from manure lagoons include:
- Methane – Because manure in lagoons is not exposed to oxygen, a process known as anaerobic digestion begins. Eventually, this releases methane, another huge greenhouse gas factor in climate change. Biochar reduces methane emissions from manure composting facilities.
- Ammonia – A primary source of manure odor, excess ammonia can cause the anaerobic digestion system to fail, a situation known as ammonia inhibition. Biochar’s properties can alleviate or eliminate ammonia inhibition.
- Hydrogen sulfide – Another significant odor source, this volatile compound is adsorbed by biochar.
- Nitrous oxide – When it comes to greenhouse gases and global warming, nitrous oxide is the third most significant such gas in the atmosphere, after carbon dioxide and methane. Biochar can decrease nitrous oxide emissions.
Environmental and Health Impacts of Lagoon Emissions
Any manure lagoon spillage can cause serious environmental and health impacts. Ground and surface waters may become polluted. Ammonia and nitrous oxide contribute to ground-level air pollution. Nitrates in the groundwater can even harm infants by causing a condition that limits oxygen supply to the blood.
Biochar’s Gas Absorption Capabilities
Due to its porous nature, biochar acts like a sponge. Because biochar can also float, when used as a cover in manure lagoons, it can trap and absorb gases at the surface.
The bottom line is that using biochar to treat manure lagoons results in reduced emissions, lower odor levels, and enhanced manure quality.
The addition of biochar to the manure improves its soil improvement ability when it is spread on agricultural land.
Choose Wakefield BioChar
We invite you to learn more about biochar and its positive impact on soil and the environment. Contact Wakefield BioChar to see how we can help with wastewater treatment and management of agricultural waste.