Reason 6: Biochar Creates Multiple Benefits via Sustainable Carbon Recycling
In nature, carbon is recycled in a balanced way, from the atmosphere, to plant and then all other forms of life, into the soil as life forms die and decompose, and then eventually back into the atmosphere.
Up until now, we have not recycled carbon as nature does. Instead, we are transferring this valuable resource into the atmosphere on a one-way ticket, through fossil fuel use, agricultural soil mining, and deforestation. Biochar provides us an opportunity to recycle excess carbon from the atmosphere back into the soil.
Both tangible and intangible benefits, which include the potential for multiple profit streams, arise when we begin to recycle carbon with biochar.
Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and use it to create carbohydrates and a variety of carbon-based molecules that form their structure as they grow. When biochar is created from waste biomass streams and incorporated into agricultural soils, about half of the carbon in the plant matter becomes immediately stabilized in a form that will not easily oxidize to carbon dioxide and return to the atmosphere. This is the first carbon recycling step.
The second step occurs when the other half of the carbon, released as pyrolysis gases, is used to displace fossil fuel use. That carbon is oxidized to produce energy and heat and liberated to the atmosphere.
The third carbon recycling step occurs because biochar very often increases agricultural productivity. As a result, plants produce both more above ground and below ground biomass in their root systems. As a result, the increase in productivity absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere and a portion of that is transferred to the soil as increased organic carbon. The productivity increase may also increase the amount of waste biomass that is available to create biochar.
Increased biochar production implies that more agricultural land can be amended with biochar, which further increases productivity somewhat, recycling more and more carbon in a slowly expanding spiral.
The tangible benefits of recycling carbon include higher agricultural profits, not only from increased plant productivity but lower input costs of fertilizer (or compost in organic systems). Healthy soils need fewer interventions to produce healthy crops. They also include energy savings and/or income from the byproduct of energy produced in the pyrolysis process. Tangible benefits can also include income as a result of biochar's positive climate effects, either from the carbon market, or simply from the market advantage generated by a company being socially responsible in regards to climate change.
The intangible benefits include of course biochar's positive climate effects, but also include the higher nutritive value of the food produced, and the resulting higher level of health that may result.
All told, it seems nature is more than willing to reward us for recycling carbon.