Can biochar, or even charcoal in general, help suppress greenhouse gases?

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Charcoal While some reckon that general charcoal does not have the same effectiveness and does not work in the same way as does general charcoal I cannot see how they can claim that. They tend to claim that the black earth regions in the Amazon Jungle were created by the use of biochar and then claim that biochar is made differently to ordinary charcoal.

The truth, I would say, is that the charcoal used in the Amazon would have been ordinarily created lump wood charcoal and the gardeners on many of the big estates in England also used charcoal in the garden to improve the soil.

Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas and a precursor to compounds that contribute to the destruction of the ozone. Intensively managed, grazed pastures are responsible for an increase in nitrous oxide emissions from grazing animals' excrement. Biochar is potentially a mitigation option for reducing the world's elevated carbon dioxide emissions, since the embodied carbon can be sequestered in the soil. Biochar also has the potential to beneficially alter soil nitrogen transformations.

Laboratory tests have indicated that adding biochar to the soil could be used to suppress nitrous oxide derived from livestock. Biochar has been used for soil carbon sequestration in the same manner.

In a study funded by the Foundation for Research Science and Technology,scientists at Lincoln University in New Zealand, conducted an experiment over an 86-day spring/summer period to determined the effect of incorporating biochar into the soil on nitrous oxide emissions from the urine patches produced by cattle. Biochar was added to the soil during pasture renovation and gas samples were taken on 33 different occasions.

Addition of biochar to the soil allowed for a 70% reduction in nitrous oxide fluxes over the course of the study. Nitrogen contribution from livestock urine to the emitted nitrous oxide decreased as well. The incorporation of biochar into the soil had no detrimental effects on dry matter yield or total nitrogen content in the pasture.

Arezoo Taghizadeh-Toosi, who conducted the study, says that under the highest rate of biochar, ammonia formation and its subsequent adsorption onto or into the biochar, reduced the inorganic-nitrogen pool available for nitrifiers and thus nitrate concentrations were reduced. Such effects would have diminished the substrate available for microbial nitrous oxide production."

Research work is ongoing and still required to determine seasonal effects. The study was published in the March/April 2011 issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality.

It is a shame, however, that no one has tried to use “ordinary” charcoal in this study for I would venture that the same results would be found using just normal charcoal.

I have, personally, conducted a study, though not a very scientific one, in my “allotment” at home using biochar (Carbon Gold) and just adding ordinary lump wood charcoal and the improvement in soil quality and productivity is about to exact equal.

The charcoal that I have been using was, in fact, charcoal that has been used in outdoor cooking and that would have been the same what the old gardeners of the English estates used, namely used charcoal.

I cannot vouch for carbon sequestration but the soil improvement and thus fertility is very much improved and especially also the water retention. In other words, do not waste the charcoal from your cookouts and barbecues. Put it into your compost or rake it into the soil in your garden.

© 2011