Groundbreaking research has highlighted the potential of biochar as a solution for scaling carbon removal, benefiting both the environment and people. Biochar, which was developed thousands of years ago, is a material made by heating organic matter like crop residues that would otherwise emit greenhouse gases when decaying. By turning these organic materials into biochar, carbon gets trapped for hundreds to thousands of years. This not only mitigates climate change but also enhances soil health, water retention, and nutrient levels, helping communities adapt to the effects of climate change.
Biochar has been hailed as “nature’s black gold” and has been gaining momentum as a solution for global decarbonization. A new peer-reviewed study has reiterated the importance of this ancient farming practice. According to the study, biochar has the potential to remove up to 6% of global emissions each year, which is equivalent to about 3 billion tonnes of CO2. This is comparable to the emissions of 803 coal-fired power plants annually. Additionally, biochar offers a minimum removal potential of 10% in more than 25 countries, primarily in Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe. It can significantly cut down CO2 emissions in countries like Eswatini, Malawi, Argentina, and Ghana. The world’s major emitters, including China, the United States, Brazil, and India, have the largest potential to lead the way in sustainable emissions reductions using biochar.
A study commissioned by the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) and published in the peer-reviewed journal Biochar has quantified biochar’s carbon removal potential across 155 countries. The results highlight biochar as an affordable, scalable, and readily available solution that also provides environmental and social co-benefits. Improved soil health and increased crop yields are among the various benefits of using biochar as a soil amendment. Dr. Thomas Trabold, co-author and research professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, emphasized the significance of this breakthrough discovery, stating that it is the first research to quantify the significant role biochar can play in worldwide climate action and carbon removal strategies.
The study also emphasizes the relevance of biochar to small-emitting countries, which are disproportionately experiencing the impacts of climate change. These countries can maximize carbon removal while increasing national and local revenues, promoting sustainable agriculture, and providing employment opportunities through the use of biochar. For farmers facing climate change issues, biochar could be a game-changing solution.
Despite being referred to as “nature’s black gold,” biochar has faced historical challenges in terms of attention and investment. Addressing these challenges requires collaboration at all levels to accelerate investment and amplify demand for biochar on a global scale.
Recent developments in the industry are showing a promising outlook for biochar technology. For instance, a leading carbon rating agency, BeZero Carbon, has given its first biochar project the rare “A” rating, signifying a high likelihood of avoiding or removing 1 tonne of CO2. Furthermore, a Canadian biochar producer has raised $38 million to expand production of this carbon removal technology. The company plans to produce biochar from compost or residual matters from municipalities.
With the upcoming international climate change conference, COP28, this scientific study serves as a compelling call to action for world leaders to consider biochar in their decarbonization strategies. Biochar’s ability to sequester carbon while providing other benefits makes it a critical component of the climate change toolbox. It could be the time to accelerate its use to stay on a 1.5°C pathway.