Watchful eyes, thoughtful mind

Earth and us ….. past, present and future ….. connected?

Trash to treasure: Biochar / Agrichar April 8, 2009

Filed under: ancient knowledge,ecology,forest,recycling,rtr09 — Radiance @ 9:34 AM
My last couple posts about ‘tree avalanching‘ and ‘ecological forestry‘ are concerned with what goes on above the ground. Today’s blog post is about soil conservation and regeneration. And not just that but also about one of my other favourite topics, ancient knowledge. Our ancestors invented and used Biochar, charcoal created by heating biomass (plants) under low oxygen conditions, to enrich their agricultural land by carbon sequestering. Biochar enhanced soil, called Terra Preta (dark Earth), has been found in vast areas of the Amazon basin, Ecuador, Peru, parts of West Africa, the South African savanna and late Roman Britain. And after 2500 years, it is still regenerating the soil it has been added to! Slash and burn policies so prevalent and destructive in topical rainforests around the globe could be easily converted to sustainable practices that end deforestation and create rich pockets of fertile land. This land will not only produce abundant crops, but will create “sinks” that draw carbon from the atmosphere to clean the air and minimize methane and nitrous oxide emissions from the soil. The article and the video on RTR09 website explain the production and working of Biochar (or Agrichar as it is called in modern day soil scientists). If you are a farmer or just anyone trying to neutralise their carbon footprint in Australia, the video gives some pointers to Agrichar productions plants and people who have successfully used them here.
There is also a 45 minute BBC documentary from the series Horizon, called ‘the secret of El Dorado’, the video of which is embedded on the Eco Preservation Society’s blog. It tackles the much-asked question, was El Dorado real?, from a different perspective. Based on the current research, scientists have deemed the central Amazonian soil to be inappropriate for serious agriculture. Without intensive agriculture how would there be a large civilisation? However, the video unfolds the story of Clark Erickson, who found unnatural criss-cross lines and isolated mounds of forests with signs of large, permanent human habitation in the Bolivian savanna. These were agricultural lands of the ancients, boosted by use of Biochar, to support civilisations of thousands of indigenous Amerindians. There have been conferences on the usefulness of Biochar lately and people have started taking notice. However, a lot needs to be done before politicians would start taking notice of this wonderful, ancient, carbon-negative (not just neutral) technique as one of the steps towards countering global warming.

3 Responses to “Trash to treasure: Biochar / Agrichar”

  1. Erich J. Knight Says:

    Biochar Soil Technology…..Husbandry of whole new orders of life

    Biotic Carbon, the carbon transformed by life, should never be combusted, oxidized and destroyed. It deserves more respect, reverence even, and understanding to use it back to the soil where 2/3 of excess atmospheric carbon originally came from.

    We all know we are carbon-centered life, we seldom think about the complex web of recycled bio-carbon which is the true center of life. A cradle to cradle, mutually co-evolved biosphere reaching into every crack and crevice on Earth.

    It's hard for most to revere microbes and fungus, but from our toes to our gums (onward), their balanced ecology is our health. The greater earth and soils are just as dependent, at much longer time scales. Our farming for over 10,000 years has been responsible for 2/3rds of our excess greenhouse gases. This soil carbon, converted to carbon dioxide, Methane & Nitrous oxide began a slow stable warming that now accelerates with burning of fossil fuel.

    Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon,

    Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

    Biochar, the modern version of an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice called Terra Preta (black earth, TP), is gaining widespread credibility as a way to address world hunger, climate change, rural poverty, deforestation, and energy shortages… SIMULTANEOUSLY!
    Modern Pyrolysis of biomass is a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration,10X Lower Methane & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too.
    Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration, Bio-Gas & Bio-oil fuels, so is a totally virtuous, carbon negative energy cycle.

    Biochar viewed as soil Infrastructure; The old saw, "Feed the Soil Not the Plants" becomes "Feed, Cloth and House the Soil, utilities included !". Free Carbon Condominiums, build it and they will come.
    As one microbologist said on the TP list; "Microbes like to sit down when they eat". By setting this table we expand husbandry to whole new orders of life.

    Senator / Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has done the most to nurse this biofuels system in his Biochar provisions in the 07 & 08 farm bill,

    Charles Mann ("1491") in the Sept. National Geographic has a wonderful soils article which places Terra Preta / Biochar soils center stage.

    Biochar data base; TP-REPP

    NASA's Dr. James Hansen Global warming solutions paper and letter to the G-8 conference, placing Biochar / Land management the central technology for carbon negative energy systems.

    The many new university programs & field studies, in temperate soils; Cornell, ISU, U of H, U of GA, Virginia Tech, JMU, New Zealand and Australia.

    Glomalin's role in soil tilth, fertility & basis for the soil food web in Terra Preta soils.

    UNCCD Submission to Climate Change/UNFCCC AWG-LCA 5
    "Account carbon contained in soils and the importance of biochar (charcoal) in replenishing soil carbon pools, restoring soil fertility and enhancing the sequestration of CO2."

    This new Congressional Research Service report (by analyst Kelsi Bracmort) is the best short summary I have seen so far – both technical and policy oriented. .

    Given the current "Crisis" atmosphere concerning energy, soil sustainability, food vs. Biofuels, and Climate Change what other subject addresses them all?

    This is a Nano technology for the soil that represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.

    Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.
    Erich J. Knight
    Shenandoah Gardens
    540 289 9750

    Biochar Studies at ACS Huston meeting;

    Most all this work corroborates char soil dynamics we have seen so far . The soil GHG emissions work showing increased CO2 , also speculates that this CO2 has to get through the hungry plants above before becoming a GHG.
    The SOM, MYC& Microbes, N2O (soil structure), CH4 , nutrient holding , Nitrogen shock, humic compound conditioning, absorbing of herbicides all pretty much what we expected to hear.



    665 – III.


    Company News & EU Certification

    Below is an important hurtle that 3R AGROCARBON has overcome in certification in the EU. Given that their standards are set much higher than even organic certification in the US, this work should smooth any bureaucratic hurtles we may face.

    EU Permit Authority – 4 years tests
    Subject: Fwd: [biochar] Re: GOOD NEWS: EU Permit Authority – 4 years tests successfully completed

    Doses: 400 kg / ha – 1000 kg / ha at different horticultural cultivars

    Plant height Increase 141 % versus control
    Picking yield Increase 630 % versus control
    Picking fruit Increase 650 % versus control
    Total yield Increase 202 % versus control
    Total piece of fruit Increase 171 % versus control
    Fruit weight Increase 118 % versus control



    EcoTechnologies is planning for many collaborations ; NC State, U. of Leeds, Cardiff U. Rice U. ,JMU, U.of H. and at USDA with Dr.Jeffrey Novak who is coordinating ARS Biochar research. This Coordinated effort will speed implementation by avoiding unneeded repetition and building established work in a wide variety of soils and climates.

    Hopefully all the Biochar companies will coordinate with Dr. Jeff Novak's soils work at ARS;

    I spoke with Jon Nilsson of the CarbonChar Group, in their third year of field trials ;
    An idea whose time has come | Carbon Char Group
    He said the 2008 trials at Virginia Tech showed a 46% increase in yield of tomato transplants grown with just 2 – 5 cups (2 – 5%) "Biochar+" per cubic foot of growing medium.

    Low Tech Clean Biochar;

  2. Radiance Says:

    Hi Erich, thank you so much for your detailed and insightful post. Just visited your blog too. Looks great! Thanks for you time to read mine and comment.

  3. Zachary Stowasser Says:

    reforestation and sustainable coppiced wood for biochar is a foundation for sustainability!

    glad you found my blog and appreciated it! also likewise glad you are enlightened as well. make sure you do something in ‘reality’ as well.. activism can only go so far. plant some trees around town or in your yard and encourage others! did you see my permaculture networking site?

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