How biochar goes to work for the climate
Posted by Aiden McRae on
When you care deeply for the planet, the climate crisis can feel daunting and hopeless. There are many things we can do, but they can feel like too much for one person to act on alone.
At YukonGrow we hold a deep reverence for the land, and we’re committed to sharing tools and knowledge we can all harness for the health of our local and global systems. We look at climate action through the lens of regenerative agriculture, and there is one key ingredient we think everyone should know about.
Biochar (biological charcoal) is a stable organic material that has been used for thousands of years, and has been studied thoroughly for its powerful benefits for agriculture and carbon capture.
Big businesses are taking notice as biochar gains market traction around the world. E-commerce website Shopify has included biochar in its annual $5 million Sustainability Fund, by purchasing carbon removals from three biochar providers in order “to remove bottlenecks in their production and scale more quickly.” Around the world, organizations like the Climate Foundation, scientists, innovators, and businesses are intent on putting biochar solutions to work.
How does biochar go to work for the climate?
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognizes the pyrolysis process - the cooking of organic matter in a low oxygen environment - as one of six carbon-negative processes required to limit global emissions to 1.5°C by 2050. Biochar is naturally produced by this process, and has been proven to remain in the soil for millennia, in places such as “terra preta” of the Amazon Basin and the “plaggen soils” of the Illinois Plains and Russia. Biochar can also be produced safely in kilns, and there is growing demand for more facilities to convert organic waste into biochar.
The beauty of biochar is found in its natural cycle. Plants and trees naturally remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and will continue to store that CO2 when converted to biochar. There are many applications from that point, and anyone can add biochar to the soil to improve agricultural productivity, while providing a long-term solution to keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere for decades to centuries (American University).
The true magic kicks in with benefits to your growing projects: biochar provides habitat for microorganisms, bacteria and fungi, which in turn support improved plant growth. It also promotes moisture and provides structure, holds nutrients and conveys them to plants.
The bottom line is that biochar is a remarkable, hard working material that serves to keep CO2 out of the atmosphere, and power up food production, at a time when both actions are imperative.
The climate crisis may show up in the Yukon in the form of alarmingly low salmon runs, abnormal temperatures, increased flooding and wildfire events - factors that are intimately tied to food security in communities across the Yukon.
The key to putting biochar to work is understanding how it can be harnessed in a local context. YukonGrow founder Michel Duteau has been passionate about studying the multi-functional potential of biochar, including here in the Yukon. In fact, Michel’s studies led in part to the launch of YukonGrow; our specialty soil blends are based on inoculated and charged up biochar to boost your growing projects from the get-go.
We source high quality biochar from within Canada, and we also strive to someday capture the potential of woody waste from forestry management activities into local biochar. For instance, when clearing land for agriculture, slash piles are produced that sit unused and can take up to 20-30% of the cleared space; eventually these piles are often burned, which rapidly releases large quantities of CO2 back into the atmosphere. Alternately, “pyrolysis has the potential to take what is presently considered a ‘waste’ product, the removal of which causes significant pollution, and changing it to a valuable soil amendment with significant pollution reducing capability” (Duteau, 2021).
Unsurprisingly, the issues and solutions are intertwined, and it will come down to collective efforts as communities, businesses, experts and governments gear for simple and innovative solutions like biochar. The more food we can grow locally, the less we need to rely on food transported long distances.
We’ve shared a glimpse into the wide-ranging potential of biochar to draw down CO2 from the atmosphere, store it in the soil, and boost agricultural activity along the way. It can begin in your own backyard!
Get in touch if you have any questions about biochar, and explore our high quality sources of biochar below.
Learn more: yukongrow.com/collections/biochar
Photos: Canva & Aiden McRae
“Biochar,” YukonGrow website.
“Biochar, A Negative Emissions Technology,” Geraldi, Danielle (Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research).
“Fact Sheet: Biochar,” American University.
“Five things you should know about biochar,” YukonGrow website.
“Land Carbon Sequestration - Biochar,” Climate Foundation.
“Pyrolysis for remediation of slash piles in Yukon: use case, and equipment options,” Duteau, Michel. Cold Climate Innovation / Innovation & Entrepreneurship. 2021
“Shopify invests $5M in breakthrough sustainability tech,” ecommerce.co.za.
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