Sustainable agricultural practices based on biochar

More and more people are looking for sustainable solutions and processes in their lives.  We have spent a number of decades using science to develop synthetic solutions and now a chunk of humanity is determining that might not be the best, most healthy course for mankind.  A major area that has some concerned is our agriculture.  While people are looking for foods without chemicals sprayed on them we are also growing in numbers, meaning we need to produce more food than ever before to feed everyone.  We also need to do it in such a way that the next generation can feed themselves too.

There are a number of interesting processes and procedures that people have proposed and are testing out to make that noble goal a reality.  Some are totally new, while many come from re-examining the way our grandparents did things.  Then there are some methods that we are rediscovering that were used between 2,000 and 4,500 years ago.  And one of those is biochar.

Biochar is a simple process of putting burned organic matter into the ground to boost the fertility of the soil.  You can start with whatever biomass or bio-waste you have about.  Plant wastes are a great place to start along with woodchips and there is even some sewage that can be used.  Next you’ll burn this in a low air environment.  To up the eco-friendliness of this process you can burn it as a way of warming a home or other building.  Since it is burnt in a closed system any CO2 that is released can be piped back into the system to be broken down further into less harmful compounds.  Then you will be left with some charcoal.  If you were to add this to garden or farming soil it would help the soil as an amendment.

So, what have we accomplished with all of this?  First off you have taken a waste product and turned it into something useful.  While most of that waste wouldn’t have ended up in a dump some of it might have.  If you used any sewage then that is less that has to be run through a sewage plant.  Additionally in the process of burning it you’ve provided heat to a structure, even better the fact that you didn’t release much CO2 into the atmosphere due to the closed system.  Then you have improved soil to grow more plants in.

But there is still more that utilizing biochar has accomplished.  First off a large chunk of that CO2 that would be released by normal burning is trapped in the charcoal.  When that charcoal is buried in the ground that carbon is sequestered.  That means that it will take years, possibly hundreds to thousands of years for that carbon to be released into the atmosphere so it won’t be able to add to global warming.  Additionally much of the soil that has been treated with synthetic fertilizers has become more and more acidic.  Biochar is alkaline and can help to ameliorate the acid soil.  This will help move the overall pH of the soil to a better zone for growing crops.