Biochar versus aliens…

A sustainable energy manager I know just came across another report on some of the findings from Stonelaws Farm in Scotland where the benefits of biochar are currently being assessed. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, biochar is plant waste which is heated at very high temperature in an oxygen free environment so that it does not burn. The result is gases/ liquids which can potentially be used as fuel or agricultural treatments and a dry, carbon rich solid similar to charcoal which when added to fields can enhance crop yields whilst retaining the carbon it contains for years…

As the article mentions seemingly “Win-Win-Win-Win”. Sceptics do remain (and in any case it is probably good to make sure we really understand the full impact of biochar before we heat all our plant waste), but generally the prospects are good. I have to admit I like the solution – the simplicity of it and the fact that it seems to replicate the regular cycles of fertilisation are really appealing. Unfortunately the simplicity might actually be what kills it – a lot of money will flow into climate change mitigation and adaptation and some of the investors are looking for overarching solutions and this one would require coordinating a lot of farmers. It also seems we are not very good when it comes to changing our day to day behaviour – after all energy efficient lightbulbs and insulation have some of the best business cases in terms of sustainable investments (especially in colder countries), and yet we are still loath to make the change…

Now me… I think biochar offers interesting prospects when thought of as a mechanism to tackle alien invasive plants and promote indigenous ones, as well as sustainable livelihoods. I am asking a lot of it and granted, the technology will probably remain quite expensive for a good while but imagine the following scenario / equation:

1) A (municipal?) task team removing alien invasives like Syringas and planting indigenous plants in their place..

+

2) A centralised Biochar Processing Unit where alien invasives are made into biochar…

+

3) Biochar is then redistributed to the communities from which the alien plants were extracted… Excess can be sold (there are a million and one Syringas in Durban, for example)

=

Control of alien invasive plants, communities with indigenous plants and a carbon rich solid that can enhance crop yields, which will help them to grow their own food…

Too idealistic? Probably… What are your thoughts?

 

,

11 Responses to Biochar versus aliens…