Origins of the Biochar Idea
I wrote a new blog post, "The Origins of the Biochar Idea":
I used that phrase "the biochar idea" that because it is by no means about the origin of making charcoal, but more about where the idea of using charcoal as "biochar" was drawn from, that is, using charcoal as a soil amendment and means to draw down carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it, either in soil or in various other materials.
The post goes into some detail about the "terra preta" soils (Portuguese for "dark earth") that are were left behind by the civilizations that once lived in the Amazon river basin. The main reason I wanted to write this post was to look into what might have been the practices of this forest-dwelling civilization that left behind these fertile soils. There is a lot of conjecture and speculation here, but I think it is fascinating from perspective of someone interested in green wizardry.
The original inhabitants of the Amazon river basin did not clear cut the land they wanted to live in and grow food on, they chose to live in the forest, and built a wide array of projects, from canals, weirs, dikes, ponds, bridges, roads, and raised garden mounds and ridges, in order to deal with floodwater from the Amazon, and to grow the gardens that supplemented what the food they could hunt and gather from the forest.
Their garden mounds and ridges had a high charcoal content included within them, along with food wastes like animal and fish bones, turtle shells, and also traces of human feces, and a lot of pottery shards. It could be that the peoples of the Amazon river collected their wastes, both kitchen and bathroom, in clay vessels of various sizes, and layered with crushed charcoal, in order to dry out wastes, and set up the conditions for fermentation. These clay refuse containers could have been built up, with soil, over time, to create mounds & ridges for new gardens within the rain-forest.
Anyways, this blogpost is the first in a series that I would like to write, from how biochar might help in various types of soils, to some biochar producing projects, and to how biochar could be incorporated into a number of materials that have economic value, from concrete, mortar and plaster, to bioplastics, marine arrays for kelp to grow on, as outlined in Albert Bate's latest book.
I don't place a lot of faith in high-tech carbon drawdown methods, the large-scale carbon capture and scale (CCS) plants, but I have a small amount of faith for draw down methods like biochar or afforestation, that can be attempted at personal, community, and regional scales (and I wonder if some CCS plants couldn't be implemented as well as these methods, to draw down really adequate levels of carbon from the atmosphere.)
In general, I only trust carbon sequestration activities that make economic sense in and of themselves, without government subsidies (though maybe the subsidized methods could help in addition to the more viable routes.) If biochar could be shown to really improve fertility in the climates of North America, that would be great. It may rely on inoculating the pores of the char with the right nutrients and soil microbiota. Similarily, if biochar could be accepted as a substitute for aggregate in concrete or as an additive in asphalt, that would have a positive economic value, then I think there could be a sustainable route to carbon drawdown, that could be added to resilient practices like reducing energy demand, and increasing renewable energy sources.