8 Dec 2008, 10:10am
Latest Climate News Latest Fire News
by admin

Carbon: The Biochar Solution

By LISA ABEND / ITHACA, Time.com, Dec. 04, 2008 [here]

On his farm in the hills of west virginia, Josh Frye isn’t raising chickens just for meat. He is also raising them for their manure. Through a process that some scientists tout as a solution to climate change, food shortages and the energy crisis, Frye is transforming the waste into a charcoal-like substance called biochar that in the long run could be far better for the world than chicken nuggets. “It might look like this is just a poultry farm,” says Frye. “But it’s a char farm too.”

Burn almost any kind of organic material — corn husks, hazelnut shells, bamboo and, yes, even chicken manure — in an oxygen-depleted process called pyrolysis, and you generate gases and heat that can be used as energy. What remains is a solid — biochar — that sequesters carbon, keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere. In principle, at least, you create energy in a way that is not just carbon neutral, but carbon negative.

And the benefits only begin there. When added to thin and acidic soil of the kind found in much of South America and Africa, char produces higher agricultural yields and lets farmers cut down on costly, petroleum-heavy fertilizers. Subsistence farmers seeking better soil have traditionally relied on slash-and-burn agriculture, which generates greenhouse gases and decimates forests. If instead those farmers slow-smoldered their agricultural waste to produce charcoal — in effect, slash-and-char agriculture — they could fertilize existing plots instead of clearing more land. This in turn would reduce emissions in the atmosphere, and so on in a virtuous circle of environmental renewal.

Could it really be that simple? It appears to have been for the original inhabitants of the Amazon basin. In the 16th century, Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana wrote home describing the remarkably fertile lands he had discovered there. In the 19th century, American and Canadian geologists uncovered the reason: bands of terra preta (dark earth), which locals continued to cultivate successfully. Research revealed that the original inhabitants of the region had added charred wood and leaves — biochar — to their lands.

Centuries later, it was still there, enriching the soil. “You couldn’t help but notice it. There would be all this poor, grayish soil, and then, right next to it, a tract of black that was several meters deep,” says Johannes Lehmann, a soil scientist who worked in Manaus, Brazil, in the late 1990s. After he left the Amazon in 2000 for a job at Cornell University, N.Y., Lehmann started wondering what would happen if farmers today could make their own terra preta. He has found one answer in a field trial in Kenya, where 45 farmers achieved twice the yield in their corn crops with biochar than with conventional fertilizers. … [more]

8 Dec 2008, 10:11am
by Mike


For more on terra preta see W.I.S.E. posts:

Telltale Black Earth Indicates Amazon Not a Pristine Wilderness [here]

Ancient Earthmovers Of the Amazon [here]

The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492 [here]

The Real Indiana Jones [here]

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus [here]

*name

*e-mail

web site

leave a comment


 
  • For the benefit of the interested general public, W.I.S.E. herein presents news clippings from other media outlets. Please be advised: a posting here does not necessarily constitute or imply W.I.S.E. agreement with or endorsement of any of the content or sources.
  • Colloquia

  • Commentary and News

  • Contact

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Recent News Clippings

  • Recent Comments

  • Meta