Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ancient Soil Replenishment Technique Helps In Battle Against Global Warming

Date:
December 20, 2008
Source:
University of Georgia
Summary:
Former inhabitants of the Amazon Basin enriched their fields with charred organic materials-biochar-and transformed one of the earth's most infertile soils into one of the most productive. These early conservationists disappeared 500 years ago, but centuries later, their soil is still rich in organic matter and nutrients. Now, scientists, environmental groups and policymakers forging the next world climate agreement see biochar not only as an important tool for replenishing soils, but as a powerful tool for combating global warming.

Carbon cycling.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Georgia

Former inhabitants of the Amazon Basin enriched their fields with charred organic materials-biochar-and transformed one of the earth's most infertile soils into one of the most productive. These early conservationists disappeared 500 years ago, but centuries later, their soil is still rich in organic matter and nutrients.

Related Articles


Now, scientists, environmental groups and policymakers forging the next world climate agreement see biochar not only as an important tool for replenishing soils, but as a powerful tool for combating global warming.

Christoph Steiner, a University of Georgia research scientist in the Faculty of Engineering, was a major contributor to the biochar proposal that was submitted by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification last week at the United Nations Climate Change Conference meeting in Poland. The new climate change agreement will replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

"The potential of biochar lies in its ability to sequester-capture and store-huge amounts of carbon while also displacing fossil fuel energy, effectively doubling its carbon impact," said Steiner, a soil scientist whose research in the Amazon Basin originally focused on the use of biochar as a soil amendment. At UGA's Biorefinery and Carbon Cycling Program, he now investigates the global potential of biochar to sequester carbon. He also serves as a consultant to the UNCCD, a sister program to the climate change convention.

Steiner explained that almost any kind of organic material-peanut shells, pine chips and even poultry litter-can be burned in air-tight conditions, a process called pyrolysis. The byproducts are biochar, a highly porous charcoal that helps soil retain nutrients and water, and gases and heat that can be used as energy.

But because the carbon in biochar so effectively resists degradation, it also can sequester carbon in soils for hundreds to thousands of years, effectively making it a permanent "sink"-a natural system that soaks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Soils containing biochar made by ancient Amazon people still contain up to 70 times more carbon than surrounding soils and have a higher nutrient content. Steiner said scientists estimate biochar from agriculture and forestry residues can potentially sequester billions of tons of carbon in the world's soils.

Biochar also avoids the disadvantages of other bioenergy technologies that deplete soil organic matter, said Steiner.

"Removing crop residues for bioenergy production reduces the organic matter accumulating on agricultural fields and thus the soil organic carbon pool, which depends on constant input of decomposing plant material. In contrast, pyrolysis with biochar carbon sequestration produces renewable energy, sequesters CO2 and cycles nutrients back into agricultural fields."

This unique system ideally utilizes waste biomass, and thus does not compete with food production," said Steiner. Currently most waste biomass decomposes or is burned in the field. Both processes release carbon dioxide stored in the plant biomass-for no other use than getting rid of it. Biochar can capture up to 50 percent of the carbon stored in biomass and establishes a significant carbon sink, as long as renewable resources are used and biochar is used as a soil amendment.

To address our world's climate change dilemma, said Steiner, "We need a carbon sink in addition to greater energy efficiency and renewable energy. Acceptance of the UNCCD proposal in Poland is a first step to make carbon trading based on biochar a reality.

"This has not only consequences for mitigating climate change, but also for agricultural sustainability, and could provide a strong incentive to reduce deforestation, especially in the tropics."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Georgia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Georgia. "Ancient Soil Replenishment Technique Helps In Battle Against Global Warming." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 December 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081217190439.htm>.
University of Georgia. (2008, December 20). Ancient Soil Replenishment Technique Helps In Battle Against Global Warming. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081217190439.htm
University of Georgia. "Ancient Soil Replenishment Technique Helps In Battle Against Global Warming." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081217190439.htm (accessed March 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Antarctic Ice Is Melting Faster Than Ever

Antarctic Ice Is Melting Faster Than Ever

Newsy (Mar. 27, 2015) A new study of nearly two decades of satellite data shows Antarctic ice shelves are losing more mass faster every year. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Homes Near Landslide in Washington

Raw: Homes Near Landslide in Washington

AP (Mar. 27, 2015) Aerial footage from KOMO shows several homes near a landslide in Washington. KOMO reports that at least one of the homes has been damaged. (March 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Clean-Up Follows Deadly Weather in Okla.

Clean-Up Follows Deadly Weather in Okla.

AP (Mar. 26, 2015) Gov. Mary Fallin has declared a state of emergency for 25 Oklahoma counties after powerful storms rumbled across the state causing one death, numerous injuries and widespread damage. (March 26) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
At Least Four Dead After Floods in Northern Chile

At Least Four Dead After Floods in Northern Chile

Reuters - News Video Online (Mar. 26, 2015) At least four people have been killed by severe flooding in northern Chile after rains battered the Andes mountains and swept into communities below. Rob Muir reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins