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Biochar: a Primer


Biochar - what is it?Biochar is "char" (similar to charcoal, but there are important differences), that can be activated with beneficial microorganisms for use in agriculture, home gardens, and a myriad of other uses.

Technically, biochar is CO2 that was converted by photosynthesis into a living plant whose biomass is then converted by pyrolysis to a form of fixed carbon that is removed from the atmosphere for centuries. Are you with us so far?

When CDS micro-charged™ biochar is used in agricultural fields the endemic or introduced microbial communities work in a marvelous symbiosis with the plants to continuously draw down more carbon each year as well as increase crop yields.

Some of biochar's many uses:

  1. As a soil ammendment
  2. Filtration and bioremediation (see story below)
  3. Agent for sequestering carbon and climate change reversal

Examples:Biochar in hand

* Lehmann and Rondon (2006)

Biochar is destined to play an important role in the rejuvenation of abandoned and marginal soils. Biochar aids in re-establishment of the microbes responsible for making soils fertile by making them once again rich in the carbon needed for food security.  If we are to reverse climate change this symbiosis between soil and carbon-capturing microbes will be paramount.

See also: biochar's many uses.

Biochar for restoration of depleted soilsBecause biochar can rejuvenate depleted soils, especially those that once produced food, or soils in tropical or sub-tropical climates, it has become an much sought-after commodity. Biochar inoculated with mycchorizal fungi further sequesters carbon in normal agricultural soils long after its application!

“Worldwide, 1.8 million square miles that once produced food are now abandoned.”
- Stanford University

Forests are carbon sinks

With Micro-charged Biochar™ and good farming practices, farmland draws down carbon just like an old growth forest!


Biochar used to Detoxify and Restore Abandoned Soil

Biochar before and after

The photo to the far left is a photograph of the Hope Mine in Colorado taken July 2010, before application of biochar. The photo to its right was taken August 2011 -- just 13 months later. This is just one example of how biochar can be applied to dramatically improve soil fertility.

See original article

Unretouched before & after photos courtesy of the Colorado Independent

Biochar used as a soil detoxifier

The soil build up of organochlorines like DDT, Chloradane, Dioxin and heavy metals like arsenic is of great concern worldwide.  In New Zealand, the government has identified 50,000 toxic sites that have come from the agricultural practice of sheep dipping.  Many of these sites are in prime real estate locations, and Massey University is researching how to quickly clean up the soil so they can be repurposed.  

As you can read in this article (where both the overview and full paper can be found), application of biochar works in two ways to rejuvenate this toxic soil:

  1. Biochar supports microbes that break down the organochlorines returning it to inert components.  
  2. In addition, biochar doubled the growth to ryegrass and ferns -- the plants chosen for phytoextraction of the arsenic resulting a big reduction of the arsenic held in the soil.  

The technique of photoextraction or "phytoremediation," as it is often called, is very effective when used in conjunction with biochar and holds promise for a quick turnaround of toxic soils.

More about biochar's many uses.

“Biochar can be used to address some of the most urgent environmental problems of our time – soil degradation, food insecurity, water pollution from agri-chemicals, and climate change…”
- Dr. Johannes Lehmann, Cornell University

Bill McKibben of

“If you could continually turn a lot of organic material into biochar, you could, over time, reverse the history of the last two hundred years.”

- Prof. Bill McKibben
Founder of

More about biochar applications | About the Liquid Carbon Pathway | How to buy biochar

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