CAN THE UK REACH EMISSIONS' TARGETS QUICKER THANKS TO BIOCHAR?
WE BELIEVE IT CAN, BY LOCKING UP CO2, WHILST ALSO REGENERATING SOIL CARBON
Biggest global threat to mankind
Our current reliance on fossil fuels is driving an ever increasingly bleak future. Our cumulative actions are affecting our planet in very clear ways, including intense mega forest fires, more destructive hurricanes, melting ice caps, receding glaciers and temperature records being broken. There is consensus between many scientists that these events are going to become more common and more extreme as our planet continues to warm up. It affects many systems including local biodiversity decline, degraded land leading to reduced crop yield and mass species extinction.
We need a collaborative global effort to make real change, which demands us all to participate.
In the UK the government has set a target of Net Zero by 2050, ending its contribution to global warming by this date.
but 2050 is too late...
We must continue to reduce emissions and sequester carbon at the same time
It’s not all bad but we need much more collaborative action and quickly. The most obvious answer is to stop burning carbonaceous materials. This isn’t an easy answer given our investment in combustion engines, industrial processes and the need for domestic warmth and cooling. Making more land available for agriculture typically involves clearing forests or draining swamps with both approaches liberating carbon dioxide and reducing carbon sequestering capability, all of which needs to be tackled.
As well as investment in renewable energy infrastructure, electric vehicles and growing efforts to reduce energy consumption eg better building insulation there is growing interest in carbon sequestration.
Planting forests has received a lot of attention towards the end of 2019 with politicians trying to out do each other with every greater tree planting promises in the run up to the UK’s general election in December 2019. However, for carbon offsetting it’s a slow business. The Woodland Trust show that mixed woodland can store 400 tons of carbon per hectare at maturity. If maturity takes 100 years that is equivalent to 4t/hectare per year or 8t/hectare per year if maturity arrives after 50 years. So tree planting will have its place, an important one, but it cannot be our saviour on its own.
The world is finally taking carbon sequestration seriously together with efforts to reduce hydrocarbon consumption and generally decarbonise the economy. We have though a very long way to go. The UK produced ~354Mt of carbon dioxide in 2019, that is equivalent to ~98Mt of carbon. The task is enormous, but the solutions do/can exist:
Biochar is a lever we must pull now
It offers a scalable carbon capture technology today
Biochar production is a powerful and direct method for locking up carbon for a very long period, at least 100+ years. While it is energetically expensive to create biochar, with a small amount of off gases, the alternative being explored by governments and the oil industry capturing CO2 from industrial processes and pumping it into sub-surface reservoirs is more costly. In this case there is a lasting liability to monitor the wells and manage leaks.
Carbon dioxide is a liability, whereas biochar has real value.
Manufacture of biochar is a Negative Emissions Technology (NET), meaning that it sequesters more carbon dioxide than it releases. Along with tree planting it is the only NET solution that is proven and can be scaled today.
Turning green waste...
The decomposition of green waste produces carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen oxides. Instead this green waste from gardens, agriculture or forestry, can be converted into valuable biochar. Simultaneously this fugitive source of greenhouses gases can be greatly reduced.
...into a brilliant soil improver
Soil degradation through years of intensive agriculture in many areas, has led to poor soil fertility, fertiliser run off and reduced crop yields. Biochar has been shown through many studies to improve soils. It works particularly well on poor soils. Our modest experience and others shows it can work well on good soils also.
Gardeners, horticulturists, foresters and farmers can all benefit from this technology, where agriculture probably represents the largest opportunity.