It’s All in the Soil

August 27th, 2010 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on It’s All in the Soil

Imagine a farming solution where the soil actually trapped carbon from being released into the atmosphere, considerably impacting the affect of climate change. We may be able to do more than just imagine this. Scientists are reporting that the mass production of “biochar” has the potential to capture carbon that would typically end up in our atmosphere as carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Centuries ago the Amazonian Indians used “biochar” to enhance their soil. A report that appears in the ACS’ Environmental Science and Technology, a bi-weekly journal notes:

Biochar is charcoal produced by heating wood, grass, cornstalks or other organic matter in the absence of oxygen. The heat drives off gases that can be collected and burned to produce energy. It leaves behind charcoal rich in carbon.

Amazonian Indians mixed a combination of charcoal and organic matter into the soil to improve soil fertility, a fact that got the scientists interested in studying biochar’s modern potential.

The study involved a “life-cycle analysis” of biochar production, a comprehensive cradle-to-grave look at its potential in fighting global climate change and all the possible consequences of using the material. It concludes that several biochar production systems have the potential for being an economically viable way of sequestering carbon — permanently storing it — while producing renewable energy and enhancing soil fertility.

As much as 12 percent of the world’s human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be sustainably offset by producing biochar, a charcoal-like substance made from plants and other organic materials. That’s more than what could be offset if the same plants and materials were burned to generate energy, concludes a study published August 10 in the journal Nature Communications.

Nitrous oxide accounts for about 60% of the total emissions from the agricultural sector. Nitrous oxide is produced naturally in soils through the microbial processes. If it turns out that biochar is a reasonable solution in the farming sector, this could be a huge deal. Stay tuned.