Biochar: capturing the value of carbon

Biochar is a charcoal-like substance that’s made by heating organic material from agricultural and forestry wastes (also called biomass) in a controlled process called pyrolysis.

During pyrolysis, biomass is decomposed at temperatures higher than 400°C, in the complete or near absence of oxygen. As a result, syngas, bio-oil, and biochar are produced. The energy or heat created during pyrolysis can be captured and used as a form of clean energy.

Biochar can be made from different sources of biomass, including crop and forestry residues, manure, municipal and industrial wastes. In terms of physical attributes, biochar is black, highly porous, lightweight, fine-grained and has a large surface area. Approximately 70 percent of its composition is carbon. The remaining percentage consists of nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen among other elements. Biochar’s chemical composition varies depending on the feedstocks used to make it and the methods used to heat it.

Why the World needs biochar? Current and future applications

Biochar has a huge potential as method for carbon removal, and as a soil amendment to boost agricultural productivity and to remediate heavy metal contamination in soils. However, many other applications exist or appear at the horizon.

Notable fields of application of biochar outside of agriculture and carbon dioxide removal include:

  • The use of additives in the production of cement or concrete, to reduce the carbon footprint.
  • The use of biochar as a renewable fuel
  • Biochar can be treated and converted into activated carbon, which has many applications in water filtration, air filtration and pharmaceuticals.
  • Biochar can be used as additive in animal feed.