So what is biochar and how is it going to save the world?
Let’s start with a definition. Biochar is fine-grained charcoal used as a soil supplement. Not too terribly exciting. But what is exciting, especially to climate scientists, is the potential applications. The process of creating and burying biochar actually removes carbon from the atmosphere. And it doesn’t stop working there. By helping plants grow, biochar helps suck CO2 out of the atmosphere by virtue of photosynthesis. It’s a process that was used centuries ago by Amazon Indians, and maybe its time has come around again.
From ThePoultrySite.com (UPDATE: h/t USA Today):
USA Today reports that at Josh Frye’s poultry farm in West Virginia, the chicken waste is fed into a large, experimental incinerating machine. Out comes a charcoal-like substance known as ‘biochar’ – which is not only an excellent fertiliser, but also helps keep carbon in the soil instead of letting it escape into the atmosphere, where it acts as a greenhouse gas.
Former vice president and environmental advocate Al Gore calls biochar “one of the most exciting new strategies” available to stop climate change. For Mr Frye, it means that, before long, “the chicken poop could be worth more than the chickens themselves.”
He said: “I thought it was crazy at first, and my wife still thinks it’s nuts.” However, he has sold nearly $1,000 worth of biochar to farmers as far away as New Jersey, and plans to sell much more as he refines production. Venture capitalists, soil scientists and even members of Congress have all come to Frye’s farm to see whether his example can be repeated.
Biochar is typical of the promise – and potential pratfalls – of some of the new technologies. Scientists are still trying to determine how much of an impact biochar can really make in reducing pollution.
As with many new green initiatives, Mr Frye’s began with one main objective: money.
He explained: “I always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to burn all this manure and use the heat to warm the chicken houses?’” His farm produces up to 800,000 chickens a year, and hatchlings need to be kept at a steady temperature of about 90 degrees, resulting in about $30,000 a year in propane costs.