During the past 150 years billions of tons of chemical fertilizers have been added to the planet’s soil, many of them harmful.
A ‘charcoal’ made from biomass like wood, manure and leaves, and produces a soil enhancer that holds carbon and makes soil more fertile, reduces agricultural waste and more: Biochar.
Pre-Columbian Amazonians are believed to have used biochar to enhance soil productivity. They seem to have produced it by smouldering agricultural waste in pits or trenches. European settlers called it terra preta de Indio.
Following observations and experiments during 2006, a research team working in French Guiana hypothesized that the Amazonian earthworm Pontoscolex corethrurus was the main agent of fine powdering and incorporation of charcoal debris in the mineral soil to produce tropical soil fertility.
As high yield biochar can be produced through torrefaction or slow pyrolysis, unlike the conventional burning of wood or plant matter, the carbon stored up through photosynthesis is not released back into the atmosphere which has a significant effect on reducing AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) through the reduction of GHG (Greenhouse Gases).
Livestock manure, along with waste-feed residues and bedding materials, is a potential source of biochar.
Pro-Natura International has developed a continuous process of pyrolysis of vegetable waste (agricultural residues, renewable wild-grown biomass) transforming them into green charcoal.
This domestic fuel performs the same as
charcoal made from wood, at half the cost. It represents a freeing up from the constraints of scarcity, distance and cost of available fuels in Africa.
The first pilot program operated at Pro-Natura’s plant in Ross Bethio, Senegal.
Research worldwide into biochar has seriously increased over the past decade, and in India specifically, the number of studies on biochar has gone up in the past five years.
A lab at the University of Zurich is working on understanding how biochar can be effectively used and have conducted field trials in Germany, Spain, Italy, Norway, Nepal, North America, Indonesia, Madagascar, Zambia, and importantly in India where, for over 12 years, Zurich has been collaborating with GKVK College of Agriculture and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru.
On a farm near Manjimup in south-west Australia, since 2012 dung beetles have been working with cowpats to develop biochar which is then added to the cattle’s feed and reduces their methane emissions and also enriches the soil.
Find out more about some of the prominent companies currently functional in the global biochar market which is expected to reach around US$ 3.82 billion by 2025:
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