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Why biochar is the best option for large scale carbon removal

Carbon removal can take many different forms. The strategies to remove carbon are generally split into two categories: natural carbon removal and technological carbon removal.

Carbon removal by naturally occurring processes is simply the uptake and storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) by ecosystems. Afforestation (planting trees in places naturally without trees) and reforestation (planting trees in deforested areas) are common practices that can enhance carbon uptake. Improving agricultural land management techniques is another way to increase carbon uptake and storage. Similarly, the storage in coastal and ocean ecosystems, such as intertidal saltmarshes, mangrove forests, and seagrass meadows can be increased, leading to what is sometimes referred to as ‘blue carbon removal’.

Carbon removal can also be achieved through technology that actively removes carbon from the air. Examples of such technologies are Direct Air Capture (DAC), carbon capture and storage (CCS or CCUS) and the production of biochar.

Biochar has some key advantages:

  • High Technology Readiness Level: can be applied immediately, mature technology
  • It is highly scalable: relatively simple technology that can use a wide range of biomass sources as feedstock.
  • Recognized by IPCC[1] as a valid carbon removal methodology with a large potential
  • Cost per ton of CO2 removed is much lower than for other methodologies such as Direct Air Capture

(1) Image1: Data sourced from CDR.FYI, accessed on 14/05/2024

The Carbon Cycle … and how to hack it!

Part of the elegance of biochar as a scalable method for carbon dioxide removal is that it does not depend on a complex, expensive or energy intensive technology to extract CO2 from the atmosphere. Instead, it harnesses the power of plants that capture carbon a massive scale through photosynthesis, and simply concerns itself with stabilizing the carbon that was already captured by plants. In other words: the solution lies in hacking the carbon cycle.

See the image below of the carbon cycle.

(2) Imagen: Carbon Cycle

  • Plants capture 120 gigatons of carbon per year. 60 Gigatons return to the atmosphere via microbial respiration and decomposition of dead plants and animals.
  • By converting biomass into biochar, this decomposition process is prevented.
  • Biochar incorporated in the soil stabilizes carbon for hundreds of years, extracting the carbon from the carbon cycle.
  • Therefore, biochar production is a recognized method for carbon removal from the atmosphere.

Recent research quantifies the potential of applying biochar as method for CDR on a global scale

A 2023 paper by David Lefebre et al demonstrated that the potential of biochar to sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide on a planetary scale. Their model assumed the use of only sustainably supplied biomass, i.e., residues from existing agricultural, livestock, forestry and wastewater treatment operations.

In summary, their paper demonstrated a potential to capture and sequester a total of 2.65 gigatons of CO2 equivalents per year from biochar. This represents 6.23% of national greenhouse gas emissions in 155 countries, and >10% of national emissions in 28 countries.

The map below shows the potential of biochar to sequester carbon relative to the total emissions per country.

Imagen : Biochar potential share of country´s total emission(%)

In conclusion, producing biochar to sequester carbon that has been captured from the air via the process of photosynthesis is an elegantly simple method that not only makes sense theoretically, but  has the potential to have a massive impact on carbon dioxide removal on a global scale.

References:

(1) Image1: Data sourced from CDR.FYI, accessed on 14/05/2024
www.ipcc.ch/srccl/chapter/chapter-4/  (section 4.9.5)

(2) Imagen: Carbon Cycle
ISource: Wikipedia. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_cycle

(3) Imagen : Biochar potential share of country´s total emission(%)
www.researchgate.net/publication/374617060_
Biomass_residue_to_carbon_dioxide_removal_
quantifying_the_global_impact_of_biochar.

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