The Biochar Factor

Too Much of a Good Thing: What Hugs & Biochar Have in Common
April 28, 2009, 5:51 am
Filed under: Biochar Policy | Tags: , , , , ,

Too Much of a Good Thing:

What Hugs and Biochar Have in Common

Hugs are great.  Who doesn’t like a good hug?  Think of the last time a friend offered a hug because they noticed you looking blue.  Or the last tight warm hug you had with a dear friend before departing.  Or how about the hug after an exciting first date, where you’re wondering, “Will we kiss?  Will we kiss?”

But….all the time?  Have you ever had a girlfriend or boyfriend who wanted to hug you every time they saw you?  After you go to the bathroom, there they are, arms wide open, ready for the 50 millionth hug today.  Or how about the shmarmy new friend you just met who wants to hug you for 10 minutes until their heart chakra oozes all over you?

Yeah.  Everything in moderation.  Even hugs.

So when some advocacy groups started saying NO to biochar, I wasn’t exactly surprised.  I got into this industry a few years ago because I, like many others, realized it was The Best Thing Ever for climate change, soil fertility, and energy.  But as with all Best Things Ever, it must be tempered with Moderation.

Biofuels Watch and other concerned individuals do have a point.  And thank you, after 2,136 protest emails (, I GET THE POINT.  But one of the things you must realize is that WE ARE ON YOUR TEAM.  We are all striving for solutions to climate change, soil fertility, and energy, and see biochar as an invaluable player in the portfolio of solutions to these problems (NOT the Silver Bullet).

But, in the event that the biochar market completely takes off (which it is poised to do), and biochar is very Economically Attractive, the same minds that created Big Oil and could care less about biochar’s carbon sequestration potential could bastardize its benefit.

The root fear of these anti-biochar organizations is that creating a market for biochar will incentivize any profiteering schmoe to use up all the arable land to grow monocrops for biochar production, and/or cut down forests.

Raise your hand if you think biochar is cool AND you’d like to see this happen.

Yeah, no one’s hands are raised.  Mine aren’t, and it’s not just because I’m typing.  And I’m part of the “evil” biochar industry.  (I’ve seen anti-biochar blogs suggest that I , and all biocharians, are evil.  You can even ask my ex-boyfriends.  I am not evil.)

But who’s to stop this from happening?  What we need–and what we will get–is policy and regulations that define market conditions.

The International Biochar Initiative is working with the UNCCD (UN Convention to Combat Desertification) to develop the standards necessary to ensure this won’t happen.  The UNCCD has taken to biochar as a solution to help the folks affected by desertification (think climate change isn’t real?  Google desertification.)

See the UNCCD’s submission on Why Biochar Rocks (paraphrased) to the UNFCCC here:

The IBI and the UNCCD will be meeting with policy leaders, technology developers, academics, NGOs, and scientists during the June climate talks in Bonn, Germany, to develop standards to ensure that biochar is sustainable from “seed-to-socket” (as in “electrical socket”).  They will be bringing the draft policy standards to the UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December for public comment and refinement.

Thanks to the thorough critique from anti-biochar advocacy groups, we have a stronger understanding of the Worst Possible Outcome, and will use that to hone our approach on how to ensure that it is not a Nightmare Come True.

The end result will be a biochar certification standard required for any biochar product sold.  If you don’t have this seal of certification that illustrates Sustainability from Seed to Socket (SSS), you can’t sell your biochar.  Period.

Does this prevent black market biochar? (no pun intended)  It doesn’t.  But does it ensure that we don’t run into the coal or biofuels debacle, where an entire industry is based on being handsomely paid to thoroughly rape our resources for profit?  Good god, I hope so.

This is officially an invitation to make your voice heard.  Have an idea of how we can prevent such shenanigans?  Leave a comment.  I will make sure it gets into the right hands.

So when you read the negative biochar press out there, please take into consideration that the people involved in biochar are not idiots.  It is a diverse group of scientists, policy-makers, and businesspeople with a shared mission and consideration for a whole-systems ecology and economy.  Please.  Can’t we all just get along?

How ’bout a hug?


6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

viva lopa!

Comment by co-power

I agree that biochar has excellent potential as long as it is used appropriately. I would like to see more studies about the impact on co2, methane and other gas emissions once added to soil and allowed to affect new plant growth. Also, will it be stable if buried in the ground rather than dispersed on top of the soil? These studies should not be that difficult to complete. Since animal waste can be turned into char as well, this would be a way to immediately decrease all the runoff from factory farms that cause contamination of waterways.
Please keep us all informed! Thanks

Comment by SM

Hi, thanks for your thoughtful response. There have been more studies done, and ongoing, about NOX & CH4 emissions from soil, some of which I believe will be released this summer. It is stable in the ground, though it has been shown to increase CO2 emissions from soils slightly. (It is a small percentage in comparison to what is being sequestered). Yes, these studies are not difficult to complete, but they do require funding and much of that must come from grants. However, there are many universities working on biochar research, including of course Cornell, Iowa, Hawaii, Georgia, Colordado State, and several others.

And yes, biochar production from manure is an excellent thing for water quality, as well as methane emissions. Apparently it makes some darn fine char, as well, due to the nitrogen content of the manures. Josh Frye in West Virginia has had great success selling his chicken manure biochar to his neighbor, who says he can now get 3 hay cuttings a year instead of 2.

Keep on charleading! 🙂

Comment by lopabrunjes

Sold! Me, that is! See you soon I hope!

Comment by Tara

I would like to introduce a concept that needs some tire kicking . The task is to promote the use of biochar by the average home owner in their yard. My idea is for all the stack holders who have char to sell, to share the cost of a generic packaging bag that tells the story of biochar right on the side of the bag, then invites the customer to participate in the larger project of carbon sequestration and to report their results to a central web site. At that site it might be possible to open a carbon credit account. Patriotically shares of credits would be bundled and sold on the volunteer market. The individual credit holder would have the choice of selling at that time or waiting for the market to change. This would be a way for us to get this ball rolling soon and enlisting the leg work of lots of willing experimenters. It’s one approach, jump in. Don Hennick AKA Donnie Char

Comment by Don Hennick

You want to know all the secrets about biochar ?
This book will help !

Here practice and theory merge under a single cover of “The Biochar Revolution” and reveals hidden secrets of science called Biochar

Comment by new_biochar_land

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