Confusion continues to rein as bloggers and experts challenge many of the claims of the biochar community. We have previously posted about the Biochar Wars, and are alarmed by the lack of understanding demonstrated by many of these critics. Understandably, many are weary of a new ‘magic bullet’ solution to climate change, particularly after the rise and fall of 1st-gen biofuels. However, a recent posting by Jill Richardson on the blog “La Vida Locavore,” illustrates how quickly misinformation can snowball. Ms. Richardson reacts to the recent CNN Tech profile of biochar with questions and disbelief:
If the idea behind biochar is that we grow trees, burn them, and bury the resulting biochar in the ground to sequester carbon – then why bother with steps 2 and 3? Trees themselves sequester carbon. And when it comes to other materials that we can use as composts or mulches, I think I’d rather see them used as compost and mulch.
While we always appreciate those who question the news, we suspect Ms. Richardson, like many out there, may not understand the whole story of biochar. Current studies illustrate that biochar is a viable longterm storage mechanism for carbon in agricultural soils. While carbon present in biochar has a half-life of at least 1,400 years, the carbon sinks Ms. Richardson mentions do not. At best, organic material (trees, shrubs, mulch, compost) can act as a 100-200 year carbon sink. When organics are broken down, approximately half of the carbon present is respired by microorganisms as carbon-dioxide. Over time, the remaining carbon is respired as it passes through the soil food web. By contrast, the carbon present in biochar has been shown to resist degredation by microorganisms and leaching, generating a mean residence time that is an order of magnitude greater than that of organics.
We invite Ms. Richardson, and anyone else interested in the biochar concept and technology to reach out to us for clarification on these issues.