[permaculture] Biochar

Dieter Brand diebrand at yahoo.com
Thu Nov 17 05:40:17 EST 2011

My objection is that we can use a given biomass only once: we either return it to the soil to maintain humus and feed the microbes and other soil organism or we turn it into charcoal. 

Humus is capable of providing both the living environment and the food for microbes.  There is no reason to assume that the microbes and other soil organisms in my soil would suddenly want prefabricated charcoal “apartment buildings” after having evolved without them for billions of years.  

I live in a semi-arid climate on heavy clay soil.  The positive effect on fertility of adding biomass to the soil is immediately visible.  According to a figure I came across recently, there can be 10 tons or more of soil organisms in 1 hectare of rich soil.  These organisms need to be fed!  I return every ounce of biomass available in my place to the soil.  To turn biomass into charcoal would reduce the food I can provide to the soil organisms.  

The last 100 years have seen an unprecedented destruction of biomass.  Many of our environmental, health and other problems can be directly or indirectly traced back to this destruction of biomass.  Not aware of the importance of biomass for maintaining humus and soil fertility, the public is likely to favor any plan to destroy even more biomass - considered a waste by most – that, like biochar or biofuel, promises a quick fix to our environmental problems and allows us to continue the wasteful lifestyle made possible by industrial methods.

On a global scale it doesn’t matter if someone wants to try out charcoal in his backyard.  However, to have the effect on global warming that is claimed by biochar advocates, we need to turn biomass into charcoal on a large scale.  Added to the destruction that is already ongoing and the devastation caused by biofuel production, this will greatly reduce the future prospects for organic farming, which relies on feeding the soil with biomass.  


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