About Biochar

Biochar is a name for charcoal when it is used for particular purposes, especially as a soil amendment. Like most charcoal, biochar is created by pyrolysis of biomass. Biochar is under investigation as an approach to carbon sequestration to produce negative carbon dioxide emissions.  

Biochar thus has the potential to help mitigate climate change, via carbon sequestration.  Biochar is carbon negative.  Independently, biochar can increase soil fertility of acidic soils (low pH soils), increase agricultural productivity, and provide protection against some foliar and soil-borne diseases.  Furthermore, biochar reduces pressure on forests.  Biochar is a stable solid, rich in carbon, and can endure in soil for thousands of years.  (Abstract from Wikipedia).

Pine Biochar Logo

Biochar as a soil amendment

Biochar is recognised as offering a number of benefits for soil health. Many benefits are related to the extremely porous nature of biochar.

This structure is found to be very effective at retaining both water and water-soluble nutrients. Soil biologists recognises the extreme suitability of biochar as a habitat for many beneficial soil micro organisms. When pre charged with these beneficial organisms biochar becomes an extremely effective soil amendment promoting good soil, and in turn plant, health.

For plants that require high potash and elevated pH, biochar can be used as a soil amendment to improve yield.

Biochar Illustration

Biochar can improve water quality, reduce soil emissions of greenhouse gases, reduce nutrient leaching, reduce soil acidity, and reduce irrigation and fertilizer requirements. Biochar was also found under certain circumstances to induce plant systemic responses to foliar fungal diseases and to improve plant responses to diseases caused by soilborne pathogens.

The various impacts of biochar can be dependent on the properties of the biochar, as well as the amount applied, and there is still a lack of knowledge about the important mechanisms and properties. Biochar impact may depend on regional conditions including soil type, soil condition (depleted or healthy), temperature, and humidity. Modest additions of biochar to soil reduce nitrous oxide N2O emissions by up to 80% and eliminate methane emissions, which are both more potent greenhouse gases than CO2.

Pollutants such as metals and pesticides seep into soil and contaminate food supplies, reducing the amount of land suitable for agricultural production. Studies have reported positive effects from biochar on crop production in degraded and nutrient–poor soils. Biochar can be designed with specific qualities to target distinct properties of soils. Biochar reduces leaching of critical nutrients, creates a higher crop uptake of nutrients, and provides greater soil availability of nutrients. At 10% levels biochar reduced contaminant levels in plants by up to 80%, while reducing total chlordane and DDX content in the plants by 68 and 79%, respectively. On the other hand, because of its high adsorption capacity, biochar may reduce the efficacy of soil applied pesticides that are needed for weed and pest control.  High-surface-area biochars may be particularly problematic in this regard; more research into the long-term effects of biochar addition to soil is needed. 

 Water retention

BMF Biochar Increased Lettuce Biomass

Biochar is a desirable soil material in many locations due to its ability to attract and retain water. This is possible because of its porous structure and high surface area. As a result, nutrients, phosphorus, and agrochemicals are retained for the plants benefit. Plants therefore, are healthier and fertilizers leach less into surface or groundwater.