The recently introduced Biochar Research Network Act would establish a national network of up to 20 research centers to expand the production and use of biochar to improve soils and accelerate natural climate solutions. The work of the proposed research centers would focus on improving crop yields and soil health, assessing carbon sequestration potential, and creating cost-effective and practical models for sustainable production of biochar across the country.
Why is Biochar Important?
The use of biochar is an ancient practice that offers solutions to various modern problems.
It’s made from superheating biomass in the absence of oxygen – a process called pyrolysis. This converts the biomass into a stable form or carbon that is highly porous and absorptive. It can enhance soil structure and the microbial ecosystem that plants need to access nutrients in the soil. It has been documented to increase crop yields significantly and is particularly beneficial in soils with low organic matter.
Biochar contains about half of the carbon and one-third of the mass of the original biomass feedstock, making it ideal for sequestering carbon back into the soil as a natural climate solution. The surplus energy produced from the biomass during its conversion to biochar also can be used to offset the use of fossil fuels for heat or power.
Used as an animal feed supplement, biochar can promote digestive health and animal growth. It can filter harmful toxins and nutrients leaching from manure lagoons into local waterways, helping farmers improve manure management while also creating a valuable inoculated biochar-manure mix ready for field application or composting.
We Need Advanced Biochar Research
Despite a recent surge of interest in biochar, there is much we still don’t understand about optimizing its use, scaling the production of sustainable and high quality products, and calculating its benefits. Further research is needed for how biochar can be used to improve perennial crops and forest health. Arthur’s Point Farm is leading a three-year study with surrounding farmers into the use of biochar in agroforestry, thanks to a grant from the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program.
We need many more practical research projects looking into different feedstocks, production processes, soils and crops systems.
This is why the proposed Biochar Research Network Act is so timely and important.