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From the ancient Amazonian Indians: 'Biochar' as a modern weapon against global warming

Date:
January 14, 2010
Source:
American Chemical Society
Summary:
Scientists are reporting that "biochar" -- a material that the Amazonian Indians used to enhance soil fertility centuries ago -- has potential in the modern world to help slow global climate change. Mass production of biochar could capture and sock away carbon that otherwise would wind up in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

Unlike familiar charcoal briquettes, above, biochar is charcoal made from wood, grass and other organic matter, and has the potential to help slow climate change.
Credit: iStockphoto/Don Nichols

Scientists are reporting that "biochar" -- a material that the Amazonian Indians used to enhance soil fertility centuries ago -- has potential in the modern world to help slow global climate change. Mass production of biochar could capture and sock away carbon that otherwise would wind up in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

Their report appears in ACS' Environmental Science & Technology, a bi-weekly journal.

Kelli Roberts and colleagues note that biochar is charcoal produced by heating wood, grass, cornstalks or other organic matter in the absence of oxygen. The heat drives off gases that can be collected and burned to produce energy. It leaves behind charcoal rich in carbon.

Amazonian Indians mixed a combination of charcoal and organic matter into the soil to improve soil fertility, a fact that got the scientists interested in studying biochar's modern potential.

The study involved a "life-cycle analysis" of biochar production, a comprehensive cradle-to-grave look at its potential in fighting global climate change and all the possible consequences of using the material. It concludes that several biochar production systems have the potential for being an economically viable way of sequestering carbon -- permanently storing it -- while producing renewable energy and enhancing soil fertility.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Roberts et al. Life Cycle Assessment of Biochar Systems: Estimating the Energetic, Economic, and Climate Change Potential. Environmental Science & Technology, 2010; 44 (2): 827 DOI: 10.1021/es902266r

Cite This Page:

American Chemical Society. "From the ancient Amazonian Indians: 'Biochar' as a modern weapon against global warming." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 January 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100113172252.htm>.
American Chemical Society. (2010, January 14). From the ancient Amazonian Indians: 'Biochar' as a modern weapon against global warming. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100113172252.htm
American Chemical Society. "From the ancient Amazonian Indians: 'Biochar' as a modern weapon against global warming." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100113172252.htm (accessed September 22, 2014).

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