The use of charcoal or as it is also called ‘bio char’ in soil is known to provide a stable foundation for living, microbial soil populations. Bio char is a term used for biomass charcoal derived from plant biomass materials. This definition generally includes chars and charcoal, and excludes fossil fuel products or geogenic carbon.
Bio char is charcoal created by pyrolysis of biomass, and differs from charcoal only in the sense that its primary use is not for fuel, but for bio sequestration or atmospheric carbon capture and storage Charcoal is a stable solid rich in carbon content, and thus, can be used to lock carbon in the soil. Bio char is of increasing interest because of concerns about climate change caused by emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG). Carbon dioxide capture also ties up large amounts of oxygen and requires energy for injection (as via carbon capture and storage), whereas the bio char process breaks into the carbon dioxide cycle thus releasing oxygen as did coal formation hundreds of millions of years ago.
From old growth forests to the most productive cropland of the world, plant health is directly linked to a diverse community of organisms that inhabit the soil. With modern management practices, many beneficial species of the soil have been eliminated.
Let’s take a look at what ancient people knew and how it can help us alleviate climate change, increase energy and crop production, and solve the ecological crisis that we face today.
The natives of the Amazon basin were using Slash and Char technology when the first Spanish explorers stopped in for a visit. The whole concept of Slash and Burn is a relatively new one; but we humans used to be much smarter than that. At least we were back when the first Spaniards explored the Amazon Basin which was like the Garden of Eden. And that lush growth was based on Slash and Char, not Slash and Burn.
One of the most exciting new benefits of biomass pyrolysis is its ability to produce valuable soil amendments in the form of charcoal (bio char). Recent archeological exploration has found that indigenous peoples of the Amazon used charcoal to enrich their soil over 1,000 years ago. However, the use of charcoal as a soil amendment is not limited to ancient civilizations. New research has shown that bio char is more efficient at increasing soil fertility and nutrient retention than un-charred organic matter (Lehmann et al., 2006). Carbon enhanced soil organic matter offers direct value through improved water infiltration, water holding capacity, structural stability, cation exchange capacity, soil biological activity and as a CO2 sink (Lehmann, 2007).
Charcoal can also reduce fertilizer runoff and adsorb ammonium ions. That’s USDA soil scientist, Dr. David Laird calls it a “A Win–Win–Win Scenario for Simultaneously Producing Bioenergy, Permanently Sequestering Carbon, while Improving Soil and Water Quality”
Biomass fuels such as wood, herbaceous materials and agricultural by-products currently form the world’s third largest primary energy resource, behind coal and oil. At best, conventional biomass to energy is considered to be carbon neutral. Harvesting biomass to produce energy may not be sustainable because it can result in reduced soil productivity by depletion of carbon and nutrients. Biomass pyrolysis addresses this dilemma, because it can utilize waste products and about half of the original carbon can be returned to the soil. The deployment of biomass pyrolysis systems can create new local businesses, job opportunities and raise the income of people in rural communities (Okimori et al., 2003). Farming communities can benefit most from this system because the bio char co-product can reduce or eliminate purchased fertilizers while sequestering atmospheric CO2 (Glaser and others. 2002). This can create new profit centers for landowners by creating carbon credits and energy, which farmers can use or sell. This can decentralize fertilizer and energy distribution, making resources more available to farmers. It can reduce agricultural dependence on petroleum and natural gas based products by allowing regional energy production that is cost competitive with fossil fuels.
Not only can you grow plants with Bio Char, but also you can grow them at less cost and in some cases even increase the yield. In our 2008 tomato transplant trials at Virginia Tech we found an average 48% increase in yield with just 2-4 cups of our carbon based soil amendment for every 5 gallons of planting mix. The reason we get this crop response is because we inoculate bio char with beneficial soil microorganisms. So our product is Bio Char plus beneficial microbes. It is the action of these organisms that we believe is what is increasing nutrient use efficiency and over health of plants. Observations in the field have also verified reduced need for irrigation where carbon based amendments was applied.
We can rejuvenate the biodiversity of soils and replace the essential organisms that were lost from artificial farming and toxic methods i.e. modern fertilizers. When the right set of organisms are present and performing their functions, both plant health and profitability soar...
Using biomass charcoal to enrich soil is at least a thousand years old.
Our products are designed to supply this microbial base with numerous additional enhancements, which support the optimal health of living soil. All products are certified organic as we are committed to supporting organic agriculture for either home or large scale farms.
The properties of adsorption in charcoal make it a perfect foundational material in the process of removing oil and petrochemicals in soil, groundwater, lakes, streams and ponds. We have solutions for home-sized oil spills and work with larger commercial applications. This can be used as a stable habitat for microbes as well as a slow release of nutrients and minerals as water. Bio char alone in the soil buffers against climatic extremes.