Biochar: Panacea or peril?

Biochar has emerged over the last couple years as a ray of hope on the otherwise bleak horizon of the planet’s environmental future. It has been hailed as a possible solution to climate change, world hunger, and rural poverty — though doubts are being raised in some quarters.
Last year, some of the world’s most eminent biochar experts gathered for a biochar conference at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to discuss this ancient technology that is getting a new look by scientists, governments and investors. To the packed audience, this promising technology sounded like a panacea for a whole host of problems. Biochar, the speakers said, could soak up large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, supercharge soil fertility to feed the world’s hungry, promote jobs and economic opportunities for farmers, safely get rid of animal and plant waste, heat buildings greenly, and slash the kind of fertilizer use that is creating vast dead zones in coastal waters from nitrogen runoff.

Rice University team will turn Hurricane Ike waste into soil-enriching “biochar”

By Julie Bonnin and Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

At this time of year, when many municipalities are gearing up for holiday tree recycling programs, the city of Houston is dealing with something far more monumental – more than 5.6 million cubic tons of tree waste left behind after Hurricane Ike swept through Southeast Texas in early September.

The city turned some of the debris into mulch, but launched a contest in October, Recycle Ike, to spark ideas for keeping the remaining tree waste from simply being disposed of in landfills.

The winners, announced last week, are a Rice University team of students and scientists who will create a biomass charcoal from the tree remains. The group was among more than 200 entrants from around the world that submitted ideas.