The Problem: Too many people, too little food.
Global demand for food is projected to double between now and 2050, when the UN estimates that the world population will reach 9 billion. The amount of arable land in the world is finite. For 6000 years, Man has been effectively converting forests into desert, but now we have technologies that can restore depleted lands back to productivity. Agribusiness companies will need to harness these key aspects to produce more food more effectively.
A Solution: Biochar
Biochar (biological charcoal) draws carbon from the atmosphere, providing a carbon sink on agricultural lands. Biochar is biologically unavailable, sequestering fixed carbon in the soil for centuries to millennia, providing a tool to absorb net carbon from the atmosphere. Biochar also lowers the need for fertizlier and slows down water runoff.
Each year, agriculture fixes 30 gigatons of carbon, but when the plants die, 30 gigatons of carbon return to the atmosphere, resulting in little net change. When Biochar is mixed with compost, soil and has plants growing in this combination, Biochar recovers and stores a large fraction of carbon in the ground, which makes an ongoing and significant reduction in atmospheric GHG levels. Biochar also reduces the need for fertilizer and raises agricultural productivity in marginal soils. And because Biochar acts like a sponge, it significantly reduces runoff, (which helps streams, rivers and the oceans, and reduces the need for petrochemical fertilizers.
Biochar Fueling Agriculture
Biochar can alter the soil in several ways, and biochar made at different temperatures (between 300-700C) has varying properties.
Plant uptake of fertilizers in East Africa is often only 50%, which is costly and inefficient for the farmers. Biochar as a substrate for nutrients could raise that efficiency. Current trials in Kenya are researching the effect of biochar on soil pathogens. Biochar can buffer the soils and make them more resistant against crop diseases.
Converting Human Waste to BioChar on a Community Scale
Biochar can be made from agricultural waste and/or human waste. Since 2011, the Climate Foundation has developed biochar reactors for human solid waste (HSW) applications. The reactors were designed in the United States and built simultaneously in Connecticut and India. Working independently of the grid, they can process the solid waste of 2,000 people per day or up to 800 kg. The following is a quick rundown of the Climate Foundation biochar reactor
Where Do We Go from Here?
Science has shown that biochar improves poor soil, reduces the quantities needed of fertilizer and water and holds gigatons of carbon for hundreds to thousands of years.
By restoring natural carbon cycles, we can restore food productivity on the Earth while concurrently balancing carbon. Once we reduce the carbon intensity of our own lifestyles, natural biogeochemical processes can take our civilization carbon negative using technologies comprising biochar to withdraw gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere for millennia.
To date, the team organized by Climate Foundation has built multiple biochar reactors. The second generation reactors are completed, functioning, site tested and ready to launch.
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