Biochar Introduction

Biochar Value Proposition


What is Biochar?

A Zero-Waste Solution — Biochar is a fine-grained charcoal made by pyrolysis (pī-rä’-la-sis), the process of heating bio- mass (wood, manure, crop residues, solid waste, etc.) with limited to no oxygen in a specially designed furnace capturing all emissions, gases and oils for reuse as energy.

An Ancient Soil Conditioner — Biochar has been used in agriculture for more than 2,500 years1 and is now becom- ing popular in modern horticulture as a safe, sustainable soil amendment. 

Biochar Enhances Soil & Protects Water Quality 

Increased Nutrient and Water Retention — Biochar outshines all other organic soil material in its ability to attract and retain water and nutrients, as well as hold phosphorous and agrochemicals.2 Plants are healthier and less fertilizer runs off into surface water and leaches into ground- water.

Persistence — Biochar is relatively inert and therefore, persists in soil far longer than any other organic soil additives.3 Because biochar lasts 100s to 1000s of years, its benefits of nutrient and water retention and overall soil porosity keep working, unlike common fertilizers and conditioners.

Less Fertilizer Needed — When added to soil, biochar improves plant growth and crop yields while reducing the total fertilizer required. Nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas, released from certain fertilizers is 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide CO2. Biochar conditioned soils reduce N2O off-gassing by 50-80%. 

Biochar Fights Climate Change 

Decaying or burning biomass releases CO2 into the atmosphere and plants reabsorb it; this active carbon cycle has been in balance for millennia. Burning fossil fuels puts excessive CO2 into the air, more than can be absorbed naturally. This traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Reducing atmospheric CO2 is critical to combat climate change. 

A Perfect Circle Solution — Burning biomass through pyrolysis to produce energy (heat and power) instead of burning fossil fuels is a carbon neutral process; it neither adds to the climate-change problem nor reverses it.

Biochar holds 50% of the biomass’s carbon and when applied to soil, sequesters that carbon for centuries, reducing the overall amount of atmospheric CO2 by removing it from the active cycle. Biochar also enhances plant growth which absorbs more CO2 from the atmosphere. Overall, these benefits make the biochar process carbon negative5 as long as biomass production is managed sustainably. 

Other Biochar Benefits 

iochar production is fully scalable in mobile and stationary pyrolysis ovens: from cook- ing stoves in developing countries or furnaces for household use, to on-site mobile ovens for treating forest restoration or farm wastes, to industrial sized units for heating and power generation.

Combined Heat and Power (CHP) — Heat and power produced during pyrolysis can generate electric- ity and provide heat for individual homes and industries or entire communities.

Biofuels — Combustible gases, includ- ing hydrogen, are captured during pyrolysis to create syngas, a valuable fuel that can be sold or used on-site for energy production. Bio-oil is another valued energy product produced during pyrolysis.

Solid Waste Conversion — Tipping fees, overloading of landfills and open burning are avoided when bio-waste becomes a market- able product. Less waste means less CO2 and methane emissions from landfills as well.

From Waste to Value—Once a worthless and costly byproduct, biomass waste is now a valuable resource. Through biochar, bio- mass becomes a sustainable and value-added product for urban and rural agriculture and forest communities creating jobs, improving soil and reducing forest fire hazards, particularly in the wildland-urban interface.

Carbon Offsets — Carbon credits are valu- able assets for sale or trade in the offset and cap-and-trade markets. 

What's Biochar Worth

Biochar is sold as a soil amendment, the price varies significantly based on location, density, porosity, quality & availability.

Carbon credits sold by sequestering carbon in biochar are economically competitive when prices reach $58/ ton CO2e.6 Carbon markets are currently accelerating in the United States.

Syngas and bio-oil markets are evolv- ing. Most pyrolysis manufacturers retain these by-products for on-site use or sell as fuel for local industry.

Costs, savings and benefits vary by region and situation. Studies of community-sized operations with multiple stakeholders predict a return on investment within three years. Industrial-sized applications are more costly.

Current research focuses on avoided costs from biochar’s ability to: nour- ish soils; increase crop yield; protect water quality; protect air quality from avoided burning; produce alternative energy and fuel by-products through pyrolysis.

Reducing forest fire hazard is an avoided cost. Although difficult to financially quantify, a single wild- fire can cost hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect costs.

Economics will further improve biochar technology as it becomes more widespread and carbon prices increase.