Biochar is used as a means of carbon sequestration in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. The charcoal that is produced can be used in several ways, including to improve the fertility of acidic and nutrient depleted soils. Biochar can be added to animal feed to aid in digestion, and it can also be added to wastewater in order to aid odor control. Biochar is also being researched to prevent some foliar and soil-borne illnesses, such as E-coli, by reducing its ability to seep through sandy soils depending on application rate, soil texture, moisture content and surface properties of the bacteria. Biochar’s uses extend farther than improving the productivity of soil. This additive can reduce the carbon footprint of the agriculture industry and lead to the production of clean, sustainable energy.
What is Biochar
Biochar is the product that results from burning agricultural biomass through a process called pyrolysis, producing a fine, black highly porous material that can be used to improve soil quality. Leaf litter, dead plants, and wood chips are heated in a chamber with little oxygen. During this process, there are little to no harmful fumes released into the atmosphere. By-products of producing biochar; the heat, gases and oils can be collected and used as a clean renewable source of energy. The carbon contained inside of biochar can be stored for hundreds or even thousands of years resulting in a reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Biochar when used For Compost
When used in compost biochar can allow for better management of carbon to nitrogen ratios. Biochar increases the retention of nutrients and moisture inside of composting piles while also improving the aeration and reducing the ammonia content. Compost containing biochar has been shown to have a pH closer to neutral rather than an alkaline base driven by high ammonia concentration. Biochar allows for better conditions for microbial activity than composts mixed without biochar. Biochar’s fine grain structure reduces the need for flipping compost piles by reducing the tendency of clumping.
Due to its ability to absorb nutrients and reduce acidity, there is little need for chemical fertilizers and liming. Biochar provides a path for the disposal of massive quantities of livestock manure, and when used in soil can reduce the emissions of nitrous oxide and methane gasses. The production of biochar can further help in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that would be produced during the natural decomposition of agricultural wastes.
Tyler Swift, author, EIM intern and assistant grant writer
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