The more that science discovers about the properties of biochar, the more uses we seem to find for this incredible substance. Even better, it seems that nearly all uses of biochar are environmentally friendly.
From carbon sequestration to organic farming, there are some amazing environmental benefits of biochar. Yet, with research still in its infancy, it’s important to take a critical look at biochar to better understand its overall risk and reward ratio.
In this brief exploration, we weigh the advantages and drawbacks of biochar production to give you a well-rounded perspective on biochar and its many applications in modern society.
What are the Environmental Benefits of Biochar?
Biochar has the ability to curb global organic waste production, while also improving the ecosystems that regulate our climate. The benefits of using biochar are directly tied to its nutrient retention abilities and high porosity. Because of these physical traits, biochar can be used for jobs as varied as improving soil and filtering water.
Biochar is useful as a soil amendment, bioresource for energy, as well as a tool for curbing climate change. Biochar also shows exceptional promise for the hemp industry as a way to turn waste plant material into a useful commodity.
Biochar Benefits in Soil
Industrial agriculture has had many unforeseen consequences on the environment. Not only do commercial farms contribute to global water shortages, but farming practices also greatly deplete the quality of the soil. Today, studies show many farms are “experiencing a carbon crisis” because tilling practices have “off-gassed 50- 70% of carbon in farm soils into the atmosphere.”
Carbon is critical to soil health. In fact, carbon is often referred to “as the building block of life” because it is so vital in contributing to the structure and fertility of healthy soils. This puts us in a tough position. Primarily because agriculture and energy industries release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere each day.
There are many benefits of biochar in soil. By sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and returning it to the ground, biochar regenerates soil with carbon and nutrients. Even more, due to its high porosity, biochar helps farmers conserve water and fertilizers.
Biochar for Water Quality
Increased water retention from biochar makes for better crop growth in regions with limited rainfall and low water supplies. Biochar amendments also reduce runoff and help protect local watersheds and aquatic life. Heightened nutrient retention from biochar amendments aids plant growth in regions with depleted soils. In like fashion, biochar lessens the fertilizers that leach into streams and rivers.
Biochar Benefits as an Energy Resource
Another interesting way that biochar can help the environment is as a renewable source of energy. While there is still a good deal of research to be done on this process, we know that some residual heat is produced when manufacturing biochar.
Biochar is made by heating organic materials to the point of burning, but not allowing them to combust by starving them of oxygen. In this process known as pyrolysis, “about half the chemical energy in the biomass is contained in the biochar, about 40% is used for the conversion, and about 10% may be used as a local heat source.” This extra 10% of leftover chemical energy has the potential to be used as a source for electricity production.
Biochar Benefits and Climate Change
One of the most exciting ways that biochar can be used is in helping curb climate change. More specifically, biochar can help lessen the amount of carbon we release into the atmosphere with farming practices and burning fossil fuels. By reducing carbon in the atmosphere, biochar directly weakens the impact of the greenhouse effect and global warming.
When carbon dioxide is released into the air, it keeps the sun’s heat within the earth’s atmosphere. The amount of carbon we release into the atmosphere has expanded exponentially with such things as industrial farming, energy production, and combustion engines. Scientists postulate that carbon in the atmosphere is responsible for much of the global warming we have seen over the last two centuries.
Biochar can help slow global warming in multiple ways. Not only does biochar production lock carbon into a substance that will remain in the ground, but biochar itself helps stabilize carbon levels in the soil. As such, biochar helps reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, while also promoting the growth of trees and plants that lessen CO2 levels in the earth’s atmosphere through photosynthesis.
Potential Disadvantages of Biochar
The more we discover about biochar, the more uses we seem to find for this incredible substance. Nonetheless, as our knowledge is still somewhat limited, it’s a good idea to further assess biochar benefits and risks.
Some major concerns surrounding biochar are as follows:
- The long-term effects of biochar usage on a large scale are still largely unknown.
- Because biochar can be made from any organic substance on earth, the exact parameters of its properties can be somewhat unpredictable.
- A specific type of biochar that works well in one type of soil might not work well in another.
- When used incorrectly, biochar can disrupt established biological processes in soil.
While these concerns are certainly warranted, more research into biochar will inevitably help quell any apprehension surrounding the compound.
Hemp Biochar Can Help Save Our Planet
As the hemp industry continues to mature and evolve, we need to start shifting our focus beyond profitability and onto sustainability. With so many applications for biochar in the hemp industry, we are excited to see the integration of biochar production into our farming methods.
Biochar gives hemp farmers the unique opportunity to use wasted plant materials in a constructive fashion. By turning leftover stalks into biochar, CBD hemp farmers can greatly reduce the environmental impacts of their operations. This practice will help reduce global warming, while also improving soil quality at hemp farms.
Contact us today to learn more about the environmental benefits and risks of biochar.