Wakefield BioChar recently presented a biochar summary of benefits to the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association at their annual convention. The 90-minute session brought to light how biochar can be a vital part of our community through landscaping. The bulleted summary below hits the key points addressed in part of the session. Additional blog posts will also cover the key benefits of biochar in more detail, the value of biochar to improve a business financially and a comprehensive list of areas where biochar is already making a difference.
- Biochar is a premium quality soil conditioner and remediation material.
- It gives your plantings the best opportunity for success because it helps create a healthier soil.
- It has been put to the test for over a thousand years.
- The native Amazonians used to burn trees and plants for many reasons. The result of their burning was soil up to two meters deep called “terra preta”, which is the Portuguese term for “dark earth.”
- This is a highly fertile dark-colored soil that has for centuries supported the agricultural needs of the Amazonians.
What is Pyrolysis?
- The process of thermo-chemical decomposition of organic material at elevated temperatures in the absence of oxygen (Bridgwater, 1994)
- Pyrolysis of biomass dates back at least 5000 years when the Egyptians formed pyroligneous acid (wood vinegar, tars, and smoke condensates or bio-oil) used for embalming (Baumann, 1960).
- 380°C to 900°C (716 °F to 1,652 °F) with limited oxygen
- Gases (H, CO, CH4)
- Take the syngas and condense on biochar to get biocoal
- Increase in phytotoxicity if gases are allowed to condense on the biochar
- Today, biochar is manufactured in an environmentally responsible bio-based process specifically designed to produce biochar for use in agriculture and remediation.
- Pyrolysis results in a very stable porous biochar with some incredible qualities.
Note: If left unattended the normal microbial decomposition of biomass produces water and carbon dioxide.
What is Important About Biochar?
The Wakefield Biochar presentation put together a biochar summary that includes the physical characteristics that define biochar. It is important to fully understand the properties of the biochar put into your soil. The feedstock, manufacturing process and application can all affect the overall success of using biochar.
- Total organic matter (C, H, O, N)
- Total carbon
- Inorganic carbon (carbonates)
- Total organic carbon
- Elemental carbon
- Total ash
- Carbonates, oxides and soluble minerals from nutrients
- Dirt, stones, silica
- Neutralizing Value
- Particle size distribution
- Bulk Density
- Cation Exchange Capacity
- Increase Plant Growth
- Drought Resistance
- Long lasting
- Increase Beneficial Microbes
- It is as a Coral Reef!
Biochar Summary List of Advantages
- Enhanced plant growth
- Suppressed methane emission
- Reduced nitrous oxide emission (estimate 50% – 80%)
- Stored carbon in a long term stable sink
- Reduced fertilizer requirement (estimate 10 – 60%)
- Reduced leaching of nutrients
- Reduces soil acidity: raises soil pH
- Reduces aluminum toxicity
- Increased soil aggregation due to increased fungal hyphae
- Increase Plant Growth
- Yield increases
- Ranges vary from 5% to 150%
- Soil Science Society of America experiments found that biochar supplemented with fertilizer outperformed fertilizer alone by 60%.
- Proven in farms, labs, backyards and pots around the world.
- Carbon negative
- Improves soil health
- Carbon sequestration
- Let’s say a bag of 50/50 mix of biochar and compost weighs 20 lbs.
- At best a 20 lb bag then has 10 lb of biochar and if it is made from
plant or tree waste could consist of up to 80% carbon or 8 lbs of
- This translates to 29.6 lbs of CO2 sequestered.
- Often times the organic waste feedstock used for biochar was
previously destined for the landfill.
- Almost all of the carbon will biodegrade within a relatively short period and return to the atmospheric carbon cycle.
- Not only that but organic waste is responsible for large amounts of methane emissions. By averting the landfill, this methane generation is avoided.
- Methane is more potent GHG than CO2! Recent research shows that applying biochar to soils helps to suppress the methane that is emitted at landfills, sometimes at a rate of more than 80%!
- Nitrous oxide (NOx), even more destructive than methane or CO2 as a GHG (approx. 300 times worse than CO2 and erodes the ozone layer), is also significantly curtailed when biochar is added to soils.
- NOx emissions are largely related to fertilizer use (roughly 2/3). Not only does using biochar mean less fertilizer needs to be produced and used which results in saving money, minimizing leaching and reducing NOx emissions, but it also has been shown to reduce NOx soil emissions by 80 – 100%.