You are on page 1of 12

Biochar and Sustainable

Agriculture
A Publication of ATTRA—National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service • 1-800-346-9140 • www.attra.ncat.org

By Jeff Schahczenski Biochar has the potential to produce farm-based renewable energy in a climate-friendly manner
NCAT Program and provide a valuable soil amendment to enhance crop productivity. If carbon offset markets develop,
Specialist biochar can provide income for farmers and ranchers who use it to sequester carbon in soil. This
© 2010 NCAT publication will review the current research and issues surrounding the production and use of this
emerging biomass energy technology and explore how biochar can contribute to sustainable agriculture.
Biochar is the product of turning biomass into gas or oil with the intention of adding it to crop and
Contents forest production systems as a soil amendment.

Introduction ..................... 1
What is biochar? ............. 1
Importance to farmers
and ranchers .................... 2
Increased fertility ........... 2
Moisture retention......... 3
Soil pH balancing ........... 3
On-farm and
community-based
bioenergy production .... 3
Biochar from various feedstocks. Photo courtesy of Nature.
Potential income
offsets, fuel and soil
amendments .................. 3
Relationship to climate
change and soil carbon Introduction about carbon sequestration, see the ATTRA
sequestration................... 5 publication Agriculture, Climate Change and

B
Limits of biochar iochar was initially linked to the Carbon Sequestration. A secondary source
and climate change: exploration and archeological study of interest in biochar comes from the grow-
The fuel-versus-food
debate ................................ 7 of early human settlement and soils. ing need to develop low-cost and healthier
Summary: The future of
These early studies of soils being enriched biomass-fueled stove technology.
biochar for sustainable from what appears to be the deliberate mix-
agriculture ........................ 8 ing of burned biomass in soils around human What is biochar?
References ........................ 8 settlements helped spark more recent interest
The definition of biochar is more about its
Further resources ........... 9 in biochar. These deposits of enriched soils,
creation and intended application rather
known as terra preta in the Amazon region
than what it is composed of. Both charcoal
of South America, have a fascinating history
and biochar are produced through an energy
of scientific study of their own (Lehmann et
conversion process called pyrolysis, which
al, 2004).
is essentially the heating of biomass in the
More current studies of biochar are focused complete or near absence of oxygen. Pyroly-
ATTRA—National Sustainable
Agriculture Information Service on its role in a growing demand for bio- sis of biomass produces char, oils and gases.
(www.attra.ncat.org) is managed mass-based energy sources that can miti- The amount of these materials produced
by the National Center for Appro-
priate Technology (NCAT) and is gate greenhouse gas emissions and slow cli- depends on processing conditions. What
funded under a grant from the mate change. For more information about makes biochar different from charcoal is
United States Department of
Agriculture’s Rural Business- bioenergy, see the ATTR A publication that the biochar product is created for use as
Cooperative Service. Visit the An Introduction to Bioenergy: Feedstocks, a soil amendment. Biochar can be produced
NCAT Web site (www.ncat.org/
sarc_current.php) for Processes and Products. In addition, biochar has from a variety of biomass feedstocks, but
more information on the potential to enhance soil quality and soil is generally designated as biochar only if it
our sustainable agri-
culture projects. carbon sequestration. For more information produces a useable co-product for soil
Healthier stoves
In rural areas, an estimated 3 billion people
still cook with biomass fuels such as wood,
dung and leaves. The many inefficient stoves
in use have resulted in severe respiratory ill-
ness and death. Over 1.6 million children
die annually in the developing world from
the consequences of exposure to biomass
fuel (Edelstein et al., 2008). The International
Biochar Initiative (IBI) has assisted in several
projects that are improving cookstove effi-
ciency while producing biochar for use as a
soil amendment. These projects are part of
a broad movement to end this serious world Making a biochar stove in Kenya. Photo courtesy of
health issue. See the Further resources Dorisel Torres, Cornell University.
section at the end of this publication for more information about IBI.

improvement. The oils and gases from Importance to farmers


pyrolysis can be used for energy production.
The biochar and energy created can provide a
and ranchers
carbon-negative energy source and a useable Increased fertility
co-product for soil improvement. Carbon-
Farmers and ranchers may have an inter-
Related ATTRA
negative renewable fuels are discussed later in
est in biochar as a soil amendment that can
Publications this publication. However, not all biochars are
enhance fertility and reduce the need for
created equal. The efficiency and effectiveness
Agriculture, Climate more expensive fertilizers. However, practi-
of the process of its creation and use can vary
Change and Carbon cal issues of how much to apply, cost, avail-
and the specific biomass sources used can
Sequestration ability and possible risks with application are
affect the characterization and usability of the
An Introduction yet to be fully explored even though research
biochar (McLaughlin et al., 2009).
to Bioenergy: is expanding rapidly. The book Biochar:
Feedstocks, Processes Complex ongoing research is striving for Environmental Management, by edited by
and Products a more uniform and standard biochar IBI board members Johannes Lehmann and
Biodiesel: that will limit potential environmental Stephen Joseph, has some of the best current
The Sustainability problems associated with biochar production information available.
Dimensions and application to soils. Creating a standard-
Scientists still don’t have a specific under-
ization of biochars may make it possible for
Renewable Energy standing of how biochar provides fertility for
Opportunities on people who buy biochar to depend on uni-
crops, but the following provides a good sum-
the Farm form attributes. Issues such as what should be
mary of what research has suggested to date.
the ideal moisture and ash content of standard
biochar are relatively easy to measure and • Biochar has little plant nutrient
standardize, but tests for metals and alkalin- content itself but acts more as a
ity are not. Some of the attributes that might soil conditioner by making nutri-
be expected from biochars can go beyond just ents more available to plants and
physical characteristics to issues of whether improving soil structure.
the feedstock used in its creation was from • The high surface area and pore
a renewable feedstock, whether its produc- structure of biochar likely provides
tion reduced greenhouse gas emissions and a habitat for soil microorganisms,
whether the biochar can improve soil quality which in turn may aid in making
in a reliable way (IBI, 2009). some nutrients available to crops.

Page 2 ATTRA Biochar and Sustainable Agriculture


• With respect to if biochar can and bioenergy to be produced on the farm
provide improved nitrogen and or as a rural community economic develop-
phosphorus availability to crops, ment project. Farms and ranches have the
the research is not definitive but is advantage of being close to several sources
suggestive of a positive effect. of biomass that would be appropriate for
• Biochar may provide an indirect biochar production and use. A few demon-
nutrient effect by reducing leaching stration and research projects in the United
of nutrients that otherwise would States are just beginning to examine biochar
not be made available to crops. production but have so far been largely lim-
ited to forestry-based biochar and bioenergy
• The quality of the biochar applied, the production. There are also a few fairly new
process of application and the over- companies developing biochar production
application of biochar may have nega- equipment and even selling biochar as a soil
tive impacts on air and water quality. amendment. See the Further resources sec-
tion at the end of this publication for a short
Moisture retention list of these projects and companies.
A few studies of biochar application on crops

F
suggest that biochar may enhance soil mois- Potential income offsets, fuel arms and
ture retention. This attribute of biochar may ranches
lessen the effects of drought on crop produc-
and soil amendments
The economic potential of biochar for farmers have the
tivity in drought-prone areas. As noted above,
this moisture retention capacity is largely and ranchers can come from three sources: as advantage of
related to the high surface area and porosity a soil amendment that could partially replace being close to
of biochar. However, there is some contro- fertilizer; as a source of heat, bio-oil and gases several sources of
versy because the moisture retention capac- for farm and ranch use; and as potential biomass that would
ity is related to the feedstock that was used income as a carbon offset in a future cap-and-
trade market For example, it is conceivable be appropriate for
to produce the biochar, as well as the exact
that a farm or ranch with significant renew- biochar production
process of the biochar’s production. These
two factors can affect the pore and surface able biomass sources available for harvest and use.
structure of the biochar. However, if climate could covert that biomass to heat and liquid
change leads to even drier conditions in many or gas fuel for machinery operation and return
agricultural production areas of the world, the biochar back to the fields to enhance fer-
biochar as a soil amendment from various tility and collect a carbon offset payment. See
feedstock sources may still have some positive Figure 1 for an illustration of possible income
effect on retaining soil moisture even if it is sources from biochar production. However,
variable (Lehmann and Joseph, 2009). several economic, institutional and regulatory
questions need to be answered before such a
project could be fully optimized.
Soil pH balancing
For soils that require liming, there is grow- First, what are the costs and values of on-
ing evidence that biochar may provide similar farm biochar production? The answer to this
benefits of improving soil pH balance (Col- question is still very much an open research
lins, 2008). However, the quantity of biochar issue. A recent study published by Wash-
that needs to be applied relative to liming may ington State University provides estimates
be high. Also, the substitution of biochar for for non-farm, ranch-based biochar produc-
lime can likely provide for net carbon benefit tion costs as well as an excellent review of
compared to standard liming. limited additional research studies (Granat-
stein et al., 2009). The result of this study,
which is based on biomass from sustainable
On-farm and community-based forest thinning, offers a wide range of costs
bioenergy production for biochar and bio-oil production. As noted
The process of making biochar has the poten- earlier, the creation of biochar results in not
tial to be scaled to a level that allows biochar only char but also oils (bio-oil) and gases
www.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 3
Figure 1. Potential income sources from biochar production
(Figure courtesy of Re:char, www.re-char.com/technology/mobile-pyrolysis)

that have potential economic value. Depend- biochar production, but these are based
ing on the scale of production, which ranges on estimates of life-cycle greenhouse gas
from mobile to stationary, the WSU study emissions and price expectations of future
suggests a range in total costs of production of unknown carbon prices. One of the distinct
biochar of between $194 and $424 for each advantages of biochar is that it provides a
ton of feedstock (Granatstein et al., 2009). relatively easy measurement for soil carbon
sequestration compared to other ways of
Second, there are only a few private car-
increasing soil carbon sequestration that are
bon offset markets available and none have
not as easily measured.
institutionalized a market for carbon offsets
related to biochar. While the U.S. House of Finally, the production of biochar has
Representatives has passed legislation (HR several potential regulatory issues to over-
2454) that could lead to the establishment come before a biochar industry can develop.
of a carbon offset market, as of the date of Major issues include:
this publication (February 2010) the Senate
• Applications and potential carbon
has yet to consider fully its version of simi-
dust air pollution. Biochar is very
lar legislation. An amendment to the Senate
light and easily broken into small
bill does mention biochar as a potential for
particles that can become airborne.
carbon offset projects. Finally, in October
of 2009 two bills were introduced in Con- • Air emission standards from biochar
gress (HR 3748, SB 1713) that would pro- production have not been fully exam-
vide for loan guarantee programs to support ined and may vary depending on the
demonstration projects for biochar produc- design of the pyrolysis equipment.
tion from biomass collected on public lands. • Water quality issues related to
Several studies have estimated what level of applied biochar on potentially
carbon offsets income may be generated from erodible fields.

Page 4 ATTRA Biochar and Sustainable Agriculture


• Potential heavy metal content of Figure 2. Biochar can be a carbon-negative renewable
biochar (depending on the biomass fuel source
feedstock) and its effect on human Source: International Biochar Initiative. Available at
and animal health. www.biochar-international.org/biochar/carbon
While these issues are not beyond solution,
they will all have to be investigated and will
likely add costs to the production and use of
biochar as a soil amendment.

Relationship to climate
change and soil carbon
sequestration
As noted above, one of the most promising
aspects of biochar with bioenergy produc-
tion is that it could be an important renew-
able energy source with the potential to sig-
nificantly mitigate greenhouse gas emissions
and slow climate change. Figure 2 provides
an illustration of this capacity of biochar.
The percentages are estimates of potential
atmospheric carbon offsets but are not yet
fully documented and are used here as an
illustration of the process only.
The first illustration shows the carbon and using part (25 percent in the example
sequestration process. Th is represents the above) for the production of bioenergy and
natural carbon cycle. As plants pull carbon part for the production of biochar. The illus-
dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, part of tration shows that the biomass that is con-
that carbon is built into the plants’ struc- verted to energy (potentially in the forms
tures through the process of photosynthesis. of heat, gas or liquid fuels) releases part of
When plants die, they sequester that embod- the carbon in the form of CO2 back into
ied carbon into the soil, but most of the car- the atmosphere in an assumed carbon-neu-
bon is rather quickly released back into the tral process. The other part of the biomass
atmosphere as CO2 through plant respiration is converted into biochar and because of its
and soil microbiological activity. The relative stability sequesters all but 5 percent of the
amounts of CO2 are more or less balanced carbon (in this illustration) in the soil and
and hence the process is said to be carbon hence has the ability to provide a carbon-
neutral. Carbon neutral means that there is negative source of energy.
no net carbon added to the atmosphere other
than what naturally occurs. Climate change However, the ability of biochar with bio-
is caused by net additions of carbon (carbon energy production to offer carbon-nega-
positive) to the atmosphere. These additions tive renewable fuel through its energy co-
are primarily due to humans burning car- products is limited to critical points in the
bon-based fossil fuel stocks at an increasing process of its production and use. First, it
rate over the past 500 years. Carbon negative is important that biochar applied as a soil
refers to the actual net reduction of carbon amendment remains sequestered for a very
long time. In climate change jargon, this
in the atmosphere.
refers to the issue of permanence. In other
In the case of biochar in Figure 2, the natu- words, it would be hard to claim a perma-
ral process is interrupted by capturing part of nent sequestration of carbon if the biochar
the biomass before it reaches the soil directly carbon that was applied as a soil amendment
www.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 5
was immediately released back into the atmo- Life-cycle analysis is a method used to eval-
sphere through possible soil decomposition uate the environmental burdens associated
processes. However, most research to date with a product, process or activity throughout
clearly demonstrates that biochar applied to its full life by quantifying energy, resources
soil releases carbon back into the environment and emissions and assessing their effect on
at a very slow rate that is in excess of several the global environment. Only a few research-
hundreds if not thousands of years (Lehmann ers have undertaken this type of analysis,
and Joseph, 2009). Whether hundreds or thou- but to date their work supports the conclu-
sands of yearsmeans a permanent sequestration, sion that biochar results in a net reduction in
it is a much slower release compared with greenhouse gas emissions (carbon-negative)
the soil carbon sequestration that occurs and is an energetically efficient use of biomass
when agricultural practices such as (Guant and Lehmann, 2008; Lehmann and
conservation tillage are adopted as a means Joseph, 2009; and Roberts et al., 2010).
to mitigate climate change. It also offers
More specifically, one study estimated that
safer and likely less expensive carbon
the production of biochar was from 2 to 5
sequestration than methods related to the
times more likely to reduce greenhouse gas
storage of carbon dioxide in underground
emissions than if the biomass was used just
geologic formations known as carbon-
for the production of energy alone (Gaunt
capture and sequestration technologies.
and Lehman, 2008). Significantly, the energy
Second, the carbon-negative potential of produced per unit of energy input (known as
biochar is either enhanced or limited by the energy ratio) was estimated to be in the
the efficiency of energy production and the range of from 2 to 7, which means that out-
ability of the overall production process to put energy of biochar production is between
limit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse 2 and 7 times greater than the energy input
gas emissions. In part, this is because of con- for its production. Th is estimated energy
troversy over the scientific methodologies ratio for biochar is potentially more ener-
for measurement of biomass-based energy getically efficient than energy production
production (UNEP, 2009). Nonetheless, for other biofuels like corn ethanol or even
to properly understand these potentials for new technologies such as cellulosic ethanol.
biochar, a life-cycle analysis of biochar needs Figure 3 provides an example of the details
to be examined to fully account for energy of the life-cycle analysis of biochar led by
efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions. Kelli Roberts of Cornell University.

Figure 3. Life-cycle analysis of biochar. Source: Roberts et al., 2010. T= Transportation energy

Page 6 ATTRA Biochar and Sustainable Agriculture


Finally, these early positive results of life- the sustainable use and production of bio-
cycle estimates need further verification mass sources. One major issue that looms for
and more careful study before anyone can all biomass-based energy – including biochar
say with great certainty that biochar has the development – is what is commonly referred
potential to provide carbon-negative renew- to as the fuel-versus-food debate. Another
able energy. This caution is advised for two characterization of this debate is what has
important reasons. been called the trilemma of the food, energy
First, the life-cycle analyses to date are based and environment implications of beneficial
on research that has yet to clearly demon- biofuels (Tilman et al., 2009).
strate that biochar applied to all soils can both This trilemma is related to the general issue
reduce nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from of sustainability and how to maximize mul-
soil and enhance fertility. Nitrous oxide emis- tiple objectives simultaneously. In the case of
sions from soils represent the single greatest beneficial bioenergy, the trilemma is posed
source of greenhouse gas emissions from agri- as follows:
culture production and are related to the use
“Biofuels done right can be produced in
of synthetic fertilizers. If biochar can reduce substantial quantities. However, they must be
nitrous oxide emissions because it can off- derived from feedstocks produced with much

O
ne major
set the use of synthetic fertilizers and lower lower life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions
nitrous oxide emissions generally, then bio- than traditional fossil fuels and with little issue that
char production can play an important role or no competition with food production.” looms for
in climate change mitigation. Research shows (Tilman et al., 2009) all biomass-based
that the majority of emission reductions come Broadly, how can biofuels be produced in a energy – including
from the stable carbon in the biochar and way that does not over time destroy our nat- biochar development
that the reduced nitrous oxide emissions and ural environment and also does not reduce – is what is commonly
synthetic fertilizer reductions contribute only our ability to maintain and improve food
a small amount to the life-cycle greenhouse referred to as the
security for all people? The authors who
emissions reductions (Roberts et al., 2010). posed this question provide a list of benefi- fuel-versus-food
However, other studies that point to both the cial feedstocks for bioenergy that can address debate.
fertility effect and reduction of other green- this trilemma (Tilman et al., 2009):
house gas emissions from the use of biochar
as a soil amendment are still limited in num- • Pe r e n n i a l pl a nt s g r ow n on
ber and will require greater research effort to degraded lands abandoned from
further substantiate results. agricultural use.
Second, the energetic analyses of cropping • Part of crop residues from agricul-
systems, which determine how much energy tural production provided that a
goes into the production of biomass energy significant portion is returned to
crops, are also limited. Thus, it is difficult to land to enhance future soil fertility
know which biomass cropping systems can and health.
reduce fossil fuel use. With improved work on • Sustainably harvested wood and
these two issues, future life-cycle studies can forest residues.
better measure the carbon-negative fuel capa- • Double crops and mixed cropping
bility of the biochar production process. systems that integrate food and
dedicated fuel crops.
Limits of biochar • Municipal and industrial wastes.
and climate change: However, the authors also point out that the
The fuel-versus-food debate full development of these biomass stocks
Biochar is both a potential renewable bio- needs to be done in a way that does not indi-
mass energy source and a means to expand rectly result in significant land use changes
the sequestration of soil carbon and mitigate that can lead to even greater releases of
climate change. However, this depends on greenhouse gas emissions. For example, if
www.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 7
parts of the crop residues produced in food 2009, there was extensive discussion about
production are not returned to soils to main- creating sustainability standards for biochar
tain soil fertility and health, that loss may be production (IBI, 2009). Finally, because
made up with increased synthetic fertilizer biochar efforts are largely directed toward
use. That causes greater use of greenhouse the production of renewable carbon-negative
gas-emitting fossil fuels through fertilizer bioenergy (versus simply carbon-neutral fuels)
production and ultimate nitrous oxide emis- there seems to be an inherent understanding
sions from its use. Furthermore, if food-pro- of these issues among biochar advocates.
ducing acres are substituted for dedicated
energy crops, this may cause the destruction
of forests and grasslands in other parts of Summary:
the world to make up for the lost produc- The future of biochar for
tion of food on those acres. This can lead
to an even greater release of greenhouse gas
sustainable agriculture
emissions. This last problem is often referred Biochar has very promising potential for the
to as the indirect land-use issue and is the further development of sustainable agriculture
source of considerable debate in assessing the production systems. Also, biochar production
sustainability of various biofuel production provides a great potential for worldwide cli-
systems. For more information, see the article mate change mitigation that goes beyond its
Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases uses in agricultural production alone. The
Greenhouse Gases Through Land Use Changes research on the many complex issues related
by Timothy Searchinger. More information to biochar production systems is growing
is available in the Further resources section. very quickly and will be needed to more fully
There seems to be great attention focused on understand the implications for food systems,
these issues and even international attempts to the environment and bioenergy production.
produce principles of sustainability to use in Finally, biochar could play an important basis
the identification of biomass sources for ulti- for rural economic development because its
mate biochar conversion. At the first North production can be scaled down for smaller
American Biochar Conference in August of communities closer to biomass sources.

References
Collins, H.2008. Use of biochar from the pyrolysis of International Biochar Initiative (IBI). 2009. Draft
waste organic material as a soil amendment: Labora- Guidelines for a Safe Biochar Industry. Proceedings of
tory and greenhouse analyses. From a quarterly progress North American Biochar Conference. Boulder, Colo.
report prepared for the Biochar Project. December 2008.
Lehmann, J. and S. Joseph, eds. 2009. Biochar:
Edelstein, M. et al. 2008. Awareness of Health Effects Environmental Management. Earthscan. United
of Cooking Smoke Among Women in the Gondar Kingdom and United States. ISBN:978-1-84407-658-1.
Region of Ethiopia: a pilot study. BioMed Center
(BMC), International Health and Human Rights, 8:10. Lehmann, J. 2007. A Handful of Carbon. Nature.
Vol. 143, P. 143.
Granatstein, D., et al. 2009. FINAL REPORT: Use of
Biochar from the Pyrolysis of Waste Organic Material Lehmann, J., et al., eds.. 2004. Amazonian Dark
as a Soil Amendment. Center for Sustaining Agriculture Earths: Origin, Properties, Management. Springer.
and Natural Resources. Washington State University. ISBN: 978-1-4020-1839-8.
Gaunt, J. and Lehmann, J. 2008. Energy balance and McLaughlin, H., et al. 2009. All Biochars are Not
emissions associated with biochar sequestration and Created Equal, and How to Tell Them Apart.
pyrolysis bioenergy production. Environmental Science Proceedings of North American Biochar Conference.
and Technology. Vol. 42. Pp. 4152–4158. Boulder, Colo. August 2009.
Page 8 ATTRA Biochar and Sustainable Agriculture
Roberts, K., et al, 2010. Life Cycle Assessment of Biochar Systems
Biochar Systems: estimating the energetic, economic This company works to bring together the business,
and climate change potential. Environmental Science science and technology of biochar. www.biocharsystems.com
and Technology. Vol. 44 (2), Pp. 827–833.
Ecoera
Tilman, D., et al. 2009. Beneficial Biofuels: The Food, This bioenergy innovation company provides technologies
Energy, and Environmental Trilemma. Science. Vol. enabling energy-efficient agriculture and carbon capture
325, pp.270-271. and is focused on the second-generation biomass heating
United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). fuel, including agropellets from hemp, agro-residues and
2009. Assessing Biofuels. United Nations Environmen- energy grasses. Ecoera also offers carbon sequestration
tal Program. ISBN:978-92-807-3052-4. and soil enhancement through the use of biochar for
carbon capture. www.ecoera.se/index.html

Further resources EcoTechnologies Group


This whole-systems company partners private,
Demonstration projects: public and nonprofit organizations with emerging
EcoTechnologies Group ecologically and economically sustainable technologies.
Through 2008 and 2009, EcoTechnologies developed www.ecotechnologies.com/index.html
numerous relationships and targeted domestic and Eprida
international projects for waste reduction, biochar and This company offers a revolutionary new sustainable
biocoal production and energy creation. energy technology that removes carbon dioxide from
www.ecotechnologies.com/projects.html the air by putting carbon into the topsoil where it is
North Carolina Farm Center for Innovation needed. The process creates hydrogen-rich biofuels and
and Sustainability a restorative high-carbon fertilizer from biomass alone,
This is a forestry-based project that uses a or a combination of coal and biomass, while removing
demonstration model of a biochar production unit net carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
manufactured by Biochar Systems. Contact Richard www.eprida.com/home/explanation.php4
Perritt at rperritt@ncfarmcenter.org or by phone at Evergreen Fuel Technologies
(910) 630-6232 for more information. This renewable energy company converts agricultural
and forest byproducts into clean electrical energy. Its
Biochar production equipment energy centers are designed to convert agricultural waste
and systems: (plant byproducts) and forest refuse into clean renewable
electricity and biochar. www.evergreenfueltech.com
International Biochar Initiative
Provides a general overview of biochar Re:char
www.biochar-international.org/technology/production This company is a developer of innovative mobile
pyrolysis technologies. It produces biochar and
Alterna Biocarbon, Inc renewable biocrude from waste. www.re-char.com
This is a company focused on the manufacturing
of biocarbon from products such as wood, municipal VenEarth Group, LLC
and agricultural waste and tires. Biocarbon, also called This group and its portfolio companies have assembled
biochar or charcoal, is a renewable replacement for coal an international team of scientists, engineers and busi-
manufactured for industrial markets. www.alternaenergy.ca ness leaders to develop earth-friendly technologies and
businesses. www.venearth.com
BEST Pyrolysis, Inc.
This company works to develop clean energy solutions. It
has developed proprietary pyrolysis and gasification tech- Other Web sites
nologies to use renewable bio-based resources while pro- The International Biochar Initiative
viding clean energy from rich local sources of biomass. This site is a source for biochar information from
www.bestenergies.com/companies/bestpyrolysis.html around the world. www.biochar-international.org

www.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 9


AirTerra biochar as an important part of Seattle’s response to the
AirTerra is a nonprofit organization committed to challenge of global climate change. Through a campaign
poverty reduction. www.airterra.ca of education and community involvement, the group
intends to research and implement a local pilot program
BioChar Central
to produce biochar from clean green waste.
This site is a user-driven information hub and strives to
www.seachar.org
provide a community where new ideas, old practices,
events and news can be discussed. www.biocharcentral.com
Sustainable Obtainable Solutions
Biochar Farms This nonprofit was created to increase the understand-
This Web site was established to provide practical, ing of sustainability and the interrelationships of people
accessible and objective information about biochar and nature, especially on public lands. It has several
production and its application to soils. links to biochar information.
www.biocharfarms.org www.s-o-solutions.org/biochar.html
Biochar Ontario
This group promotes biochar as a vehicle to reduce Books and reports
greenhouse gas emissions, improve soil fertility and Burges, J. 2009. The Biochar Debate: Charcoal’s
enhance food security by advocating research, potential to reverse climate change and build soil
development and commercialization of biochar.
fertility, Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont.
www.meetup.com/biocharontario
Biomass Energy Foundation (BEF) Lehmann, J. and S. Joseph, eds. 2009. Biochar:
This nonprofit foundation is devoted to biomass energy Environmental Management. Earthscan, UK and USA.
and specializes in gasification. www.woodgas.com ISBN:978-1-84407-658-1.
Carbon Zero Foundation Granatstein, D., et al. 2009. FINAL REPORT: Use of
This foundation supports public and private initiatives Biochar from the Pyrolysis of Waste Organic Material
to reduce global warming caused by the accumulation
as a Soil Amendment. Center for Sustaining Agriculture
of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
and Natural Resources. Washington State University.
www.biochar.info/biochar.biochar.info.cfml
Seachar Searchinger, T. et al., 2008. Use of U.S. Croplands for
This is the Web site for the Seattle Biochar Working Biofuels Increased Greenhouse Gases Through Land
Group, an organization that promotes the use of Use Change, Science Express.

Notes

Page 10 ATTRA Biochar and Sustainable Agriculture


Notes

www.attra.ncat.org ATTRA Page 11


Biochar and Sustainable Agriculture
By Jeff Schahczenski
NCAT Program Specialist
© 2010 NCAT
Holly Michels, Editor
Amy Smith, Production
This publication is available on the Web at:
www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/biochar.html
or
www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/PDF/biochar.pdf
IP358
Slot 356
Version 022210

Page 12 ATTRA