Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is Biochar?
Biochar 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.
2. Why should I be interested in Biochar ?
One of the most exciting new benefits of biomass pyrolysis is its ability to produce valuable soil amendments in the form of charcoal (biochar). 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 biochar 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”
3. How can the production and use of biochar contribute to sustainable agriculture?
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 biochar 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.
4. Can biochar increase crop production or is it just increasing the carbon content of the soil ?
That’s the question we began asking ourselves 5 years ago, and after setting up numerous field trails on our affiliate farms, at universities and just about anywhere we could get our hands on. What we got was a resounding, "yes"! Not only can you grow plants with BioChar, but 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 biochar with beneficial soil microorganisms. So our product is BioChar 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 were applied.
5. Is this product for sale now ?
Yes, it's available now from CharGrow, LLC, Mills River, North Carolina. This is the same product we are using in our corn and tomato trials.