Making Biochar Work for Energy Production


January, 2010 | Posted by: Ry

In today's promising and budding world of green technology and research, there are many ideas on the table regarding the production of renewable energy and the capturing of Carbon Dioxide. While all of these ideas certainly mean well and hold great potential in completing their desired goals, some will prove more promising and sustainable than others.

Introducing biochar. As reported in the ACS bi-weekly journal, "Environmental Science and Technology", biochar production holds great potential in removing Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere, and consequently, helping to get climate change back within normal bounds.

Unless you have extensively studied Amazonian Indian civilization, there's a good chance you haven't heard of biochar. Heck, even the Amazonian Indians probably never heard of biochar - at least the term, that is.

More importantly, the Amazonians helped put biochar research on the map by incorporating charcoal and organic matter with soil to make biochar, consequently increasing soil fertility and crop yields. And that's exactly what biochar is - a charcoal produced by heating wood, grass, corn stalks and other organic bi-products (biomass) in the absence of Oxygen. The result is a fine grain residue containing high amounts of organic Carbon.

Primarily used as a soil amendment, scientists have more recently been studying the Carbon removing properties of biochar after realizing just how large of a fraction biochar makes up the organic Carbon found in soils.

As for the ACS research, it specifically analyzed the complete life cycle of biochar, taking into consideration all of the possible side effects and consequences of biochar production and its role in capturing Carbon Dioxide. The conclusion is that biochar production is an "economically viable method" for not only capturing Carbon, but also producing renewable energy and increasing soil fertility.

Just how "economically viable" biochar is depends on the "feedstocks' used to make biochar. Those tested in the study include corn stover agricultural residues, yard waste and switchgrass, with switchgrass proving to yield the most renewable energy output of the three.

The greenhouse gas emissions for both corn stover and yard waste were at negative values, while switchgrass can be a slight greenhouse gas emitter, depending on the Carbon capture accounting methods used. Currently, yard waste holds the highest potential for economic profitability, with the offsets of transportation of biomass feedstock posing a potential setback in profitability.


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