Biochar and Soil Restoration

While using biochar as a method of carbon capture is a new concept, using it as a soil “amendment” for better crop yields has ancient roots. There is historical evidence that pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Amazon used biochar to  create what is now known as the “terra preta dos indios” or “black earth of the Indians”, creating an almost magically productive soil found along many banks of the amazon and its tributaries.

There is substantial modern evidence that adding char to soil increases soil health and productivity.  The increase in soil health is due not its chemical properties, but its physical ability to act as a biological buffer. These include:

  • The ability to absorb and slowly release water into the soil
  • The slow release of mineral content and decreased nutrient run-off
  • Adding to the number of microorganisms in the soil by providing a habitat for them

In order to create biochar with these properties, our organization is following the research and recommendations created by the  IBI Biochar Standards as set by International Biochar Initiative (IBI).

The IBI also gives instructions to create biochar that is:

  • Free of toxins and follows strict guidelines for purity
  • Has been tested to the effects on agricultural yields
  • Has evidence to predict the speed with which carbon breaks down in the soil (the rate of recalcitrance)

Because of the logistics of the materials management of both biomass feedstock and biochar, the system will be most efficient when the biochar is used near the location where the crops it were first grown. Since the nutrients it contains came from that soil, it should be an effective way of restoring the same soil’s viability. Our organization will continue to work in both the lab and the field to explore the potential of this carbon-sequestering product of gasification.