Ambitious schemes to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere abound, but the most practical might just be the simplest. Biochar–a technique that uses charcoal from plant waste to fertilize soil–has been used for centuries. And at least one company sees the material’s modern-day potential to both enrich soil and bury CO2.
Biochar Systems, a venture created by BioChar Engineering and EcoTechnologies Group, has come up with the Biochar 1000, a machine that methodically turns 1000 pounds of woody biomass like forest or agricultural waste into 250 pounds of biochar every hour. The biochar created by the machine buries CO2 that would have been released through decomposition for thousands of years,
The $100,000 machine, which will be tested this fall by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and a private North Carolina farm, does face a big hurdle–there isn’t a big market (or much of one at all) for biochar. But as soil-saving and climate change-fighting schemes become increasingly quixotic, Biochar Systems might find that its biggest patrons are governmental organizations. Already, the Bureau of Land Management plans to test the machine to improve soil that has been damaged by mining, and the Colorado State Forest Service will use the Biochar 1000 to turn wood infested by pine beetles into viable soil.
Not everyone is convinced of biochar’s efficacy at burying carbon–one recent editorial claims that modern-day soil may not hold CO2 as well as ancient soil–but the technique is far more realistic than plans to, say, spray clouds into the sky to cancel out global warming.