Soil Scientists Quietly Planning a Carbon Dioxide Reduction Revolution: Biochar
When biomass, such as crop residue and wood wastes, are heated in the absence of oxygen in a process known as pyrolysis, the biomass is transformed into a liquid known as bio-oil and a solid known as biochar. Bio-oil is a greenhouse gas neutral renewable energy product that has the potential to replace some petroleum products. Biochar is a type of charcoal. Biochar can be burned as a substitute for coal, but using biochar as a soil amendment may have many benefits for the environment. One of those potential environmental benefits is an improvement in soil quality. Application of biochar to soils reduces the density of soils and this makes the soils a better medium for plant growth.
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Biochar amendments add plant nutrients to soils and increase the capacity of soils to retain both plant nutrients and water. These improvements in soil quality can increase crop yields. However, the quality of the biochar is very important. While some types of biochar increase crop yields, other types of biochar can reduce crop yields. This [information] will help farmers and land managers who are considering applying biochar to their fields avoid problems associated with putting the wrong type of biochar on their fields.
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(Podcast taken from text provided by The Economist, 8/27/09 and University of Florida Extension Chemically Speaking http://pested.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2009-10/biochar.htm).