Charcoal produced from biomass is generating much interest as biochar. The use of biomass to produce charcoal has been exhibited for over 5,000 years of human history. In the Amazon Basin, also many thousands of years ago, it was known that charcoal could be used as a soil amendment to produce dark earth. These soils are still fertile! The current interest in biochar is that it may be a very effective method of sequestering carbon while increasing soil fertility and enhancing the economics of renewable energy schemes based on biomass.
Producing char from biomass is a relatively straightforward process—one in which the reaction takes place in the absence of air. The real research problem is whether or not it will actually function as a carbon sequestration agent in the field. Ideally the material would act as a host to further add carbon to the soil, but this is unknown for all soil types and application conditions. Additionally, it is hoped that biochar could mitigate areas disturbed by mining as a barrier to further release of acid mine drainage and as a promoter for soil accumulation. Although promising, these applications still need to be demonstrated more widely.
For information on the latest research in biochar technology, please contact SERC.
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