Toledo Talk

Charcoal Added To Soil May Eliminate 100% Of All Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

From: THE AVANT GARDENER Vol. 41, No.2 December 2008


It could be the most important development in agriculture and horticulture of this century. Adding charcoal - charred organic material, not ashes, to soil remarkable improves both its productive capacity and its ability to trap the greenhouse gasses which are the cause of global warming.

"Biochar" is so promising that an International Biochar Initiative was established in England in September and a Senate amendment to the 2008 Farm Bill promotes extensive research on biochar's "value for soil enhancement and carbon sequestration."

The worlds's richest soils are the biochar or terra preta del indio soils of Amazonia in Brazil. The early Indian dewllers of that region burned trees and tilled in the charred remains. Charcoal lasts for thousands of years, and it slows the breakdown of organic matter and also provides sites on which nutruents can be adsorbed.

The Indians added fish and animal manures and bones; recent tests with typical weathered tropical soils show that adding both charcoal and fertilizer can increase crop yields almost tenfold. And when charcoal was added at 20 pounds per 100 square feet to fertile soils in England, soybean biomass doubled, wheat biomass tripled.

Decrease of greenhouse gasses could be tremendous. Research in Colorado has shown that adding biochar to soils cut nitrous oxide emissions 80% and almost totally eliminated methane emissions. A British scientist says that adding biochar to all the world's arable soils could theoretecally enable them to hold all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today.

The Amazon Indians, incidentally, were believed to have moved frequently because their slash-and-burn operations depleted the soils. On the contrary, they moved because weeds grew so luxuriantly in the biochar soils that they overwhelmed crops.

So save some charred wood from the fireplace this winter and add it with organic fertilizer to some test plants next year. Someday we may be making biocharring' as regular a practice as composting. As Jean English reports in MAINE ORGANIC FARMER AND GARDENER (Box 170, Unity, ME 04988), Sustainable Harvest International has demonstrated that "biochar can be made simply by piling any organic material, setting it on fire and covering it with soil to exclude air."
THE AVANT GARDENER is published monthly ($24 per year, $30 outside USA
Horticultural Data Processors, Box 489, New York, NY 10028
Thomas Powell, Editor and Publisher

(This is a great little, simple, no frills gardening newsletter, that brings the absolute very newest gardening information. There is no advertising. There aren't any illustrations or photos, just articles packed with new, wide ranging gardening imformation about growing things. It is especially at the forefront of introducing new cultivars, anything and everything from rice to roses.)

I cant wait to try some charcoal in the gardens next spring.

created by holland on Nov 13, 2008 at 03:42:41 pm     Comments: 4

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Comments ... #

Excellent post, Charlatan...Wait a minute?! you aren't Charlatan!! What happened to Charlie. What have you done with Charlie!

posted by thetoledowire_com on Nov 13, 2008 at 03:49:28 pm     #  


posted by toledolen on Nov 13, 2008 at 04:20:50 pm     #  

I just got done reading a related story :

Nov. 18, 2008
Global warming predictions are overestimated, suggests study on black carbon

By Krishna Ramanujan

A detailed analysis of black carbon -- the residue of burned organic matter -- in computer climate models suggests that those models may be overestimating global warming predictions.

Savanna fires occur almost every year in northern Australia, leaving behind black carbon that remains in soil for thousands of years.

A new Cornell study, published online in Nature Geosciences, quantified the amount of black carbon in Australian soils and found that there was far more than expected, said Johannes Lehmann, the paper's lead author and a Cornell professor of biogeochemistry. The survey was the largest of black carbon ever published.

As a result of global warming, soils are expected to release more carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere, which, in turn, creates more warming. Climate models try to incorporate these increases of carbon dioxide from soils as the planet warms, but results vary greatly when realistic estimates of black carbon in soils are included in the predictions, the study found.

Soils include many forms of carbon, including organic carbon from leaf litter and vegetation and black carbon from the burning of organic matter. It takes a few years for organic carbon to decompose, as microbes eat it and convert it to carbon dioxide. But black carbon can take 1,000-2,000 years, on average, to convert to carbon dioxide.

By entering realistic estimates of stocks of black carbon in soil from two Australian savannas into a computer model that calculates carbon dioxide release from soil, the researchers found that carbon dioxide emissions from soils were reduced by about 20 percent over 100 years, as compared with simulations that did not take black carbon's long shelf life into account.

The findings are significant because soils are by far the world's largest source of carbon dioxide, producing 10 times more carbon dioxide each year than all the carbon dioxide emissions from human activities combined. Small changes in how carbon emissions from soils are estimated, therefore, can have a large impact.

"We know from measurements that climate change today is worse than people have predicted," said Lehmann. "But this particular aspect, black carbon's stability in soil, if incorporated in climate models, would actually decrease climate predictions."

The study quantified the amount of black carbon in 452 Australian soils across two savannas. Black carbon content varied widely, between zero and more than 80 percent, in soils across Australia.

"It's a mistake to look at soil as one blob of carbon," said Lehmann. "Rather, it has different chemical components with different characteristics. In this way, soil will interact differently to warming based on what's in it."

posted by FatBabe44 on Nov 20, 2008 at 07:12:21 pm     #  

It kind of ties together doesn't it? Good post.

posted by holland on Nov 21, 2008 at 12:31:20 am     #