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Biochar: Climate change solution or threat? Biofuelwatch www.biofuelwatch.org.uk 1 st June 2009.

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Presentation on theme: "Biochar: Climate change solution or threat? Biofuelwatch www.biofuelwatch.org.uk 1 st June 2009."— Presentation transcript:

1 Biochar: Climate change solution or threat? Biofuelwatch 1 st June 2009

2 What is really known about it's impact on soil carbon and soil fertility? What will the new demand for a global biochar programme mean for climate and people? Biochar

3 Claims made about biochar “By driving, you will be saving the planet. And the more you drive, the more you prevent catastrophic climate change.” Biopact (founders of Biochar Fund)‏ “Biochar could be a solution for: ·Hunger and Food Insecurity ·Deforestation and Biodiversity Loss ·Excess Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere ·Methane and Nitrous Oxide emissions from soil ·Renewable Energy” replantingtherainforests.org

4 What is biochar? BEST Energies pyrolysis plant at Somersby, New South Wales Biochar is fine-grained charcoal which is applied to soils. It is derived as a by- product of pyrolysis (heating biomass with little or no oxygen)‏ Picture: Biochar Fund

5 What evidence exists on biochar? Comparisons with terra preta – fertile and carbon rich soils created by indigenous farmers in Central Amazonia 500-2,500 years ago. Results from laboratory studies and greenhouse studies, some of which use sterile soils. One single published field study which looked at biochar impacts on both soil carbon and soil fertility.

6 Field studies in agriculture are the equivalent of clinical studies in medicine. In medicine, no drug could be released or promoted without comprehensive clinical studies. The Congo Basin Forest Fund has awarded funding to Biochar fund and ADAPEL to replace 'slash and burn' farmingwith biochar. Will the biochar keep the soil fertile for longer than the ash from vegetation burning? Nobody knows – the only published field study, in Brazil showed that after two harvests soil to which only biochar had been added sustained no plants at all. Fertiliser field trial,

7 Terra preta and biochar - 1 Terra preta – Amazonian Dark Earths, Brazil Terra preta is carbon rich and highly fertile soil created by communities in Central Amazonia years ago. It is characterised by - highly diverse biomass residues (compost, manure, fish bones, animal bones, weeds, etc)linked to high agro-biodiversity; - organic phosphorous and calcium additions; - charcoal additions FAO: The knowledge systems and culture linked to the Terra Preta management are unique but have unfortunately been lost.

8 Terra preta and biochar 2 Field installation for biochar trial, Photo: C. Hyland, Biochar involves taking one element out of the terra preta system and ignoring the rest: - diverse organic residues - soil formation over a long time scale - no agro-chemical use - adaptation to local soil and climate conditions Chemical analyses have shown that soil with modern biochar is not identical to terra preta

9 Can we rely on biochar carbon to stay in the soil? Laboratory studies show that 1-20% of the carbon in biochar is 'labile' and will soon be turned into CO2. The rest is supposed to be very stable. BUT One study shows that if this much charcoal from wildfires was retained in soils, far more charcoal would be found in soils and marine sediments. Nobody knows what happens to the rest.

10 What does biochar do to soil organic carbon Biochar needs to be tilled into soil. Tillage causes the loss of soil organic carbon. In a study which looked at the fate of biochar in boreal forest soil suggested significant losses of soil organic carbon. Other research shows that chrcoal and boost soil microbes which turn carbon in the soil into CO2. The central argument for promoting the burning of biomass to make charcoal to put into soil is based on totally false assumptions These assumptions go against all scientific evidence that shows that organic farming increases soil carbon, and the carbon stays in the soil. “Soils need Humus”, Vandana Shiva April 2009

11 Potential impacts on Albedo Representation of an image for a study by BlueLeaf Inc, published at According to James Hansen the global warming potential of black carbon in soot is 500 times that of carbon dioxide. Black carbon particlesin biochar are on average larger than those in soot, however pictures from a recent trial show large clouds of charcoal dust. 30% of the biochar was blown away. Dust can travel over large distances, for example from the Sahara to the Amazon Basin. The likely impacts of a large- scale biochar programme have not been assessed.

12 Where will all the biomass come from? Biochar lobbyists like to speak of 'agricultural and forest residues'. Some also speak of 'degraded and marginal land'. Scientific studies show that, to meet ambitious biochar targets, at least 500 million hectares of plantations will be needed (1 ½ times the size of India).

13 The reality of industrial charcoal production Plantar's eucalyptus plantations for charcoal as fuel for pig iron in Minais Gerais, Brazil: Deforestation, Erosion,Water Pollution, Evictions Photos: World Rainforest Movement,

14 Forest 'residues'? Removal of dead wood and 'residues' for bioenergy in Germany Photo: Peter Wohlleben Industrial removal of dead wood and other forest 'residues' causes - serious damage to soils through compaction and removal of nutrients: This may be irreversible - higher risk of drought and flooding, as the soil absorbs less water - insects, fungi, birds and other species facing extinction.

15 The myth of “marginal and degraded lands” West Kalimantan, Indonesia: A man sits on land that was once his rubber garden – classed as 'degraded' and 'unproductive and bulldozed to make way for an oil palm plantation. Photo: Marianne Klute, Watch Indonesia! We strongly challenge the myth that there is plenty of free land, going spare in Africa. Farmers, pastoralists and indigenous peoples use these so-called 'marginal' territories but their existence and rights are often not recognised by their own governments” African Biodiversity Network According to the FAO, marginal lands provide key subsistence function to the rural poor and are often farmed by wom en.

16 500 million hectares of biochar plantations? Shiselweni plantation, SwazilandBurnt Western Shores Plantation, South Africa Burnt tree plantation, St Lucia Photos: Wally Menne

17 The biochar blueprint: Unprecedented land conversion “Biochar can take 6 billion tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere every year” Tim Flannery, keynote speaker at the 2008 International Biochar Initiative conference. “Land use improvements on the scale envisaged – on average, an area the size of France in warmer regions and of Germany in temperate zones each year for 25 years – is a daunting organisational prospect” Peter Read, contributor to IPCC Assessment Report 4, 2007, member of the International Biochar Initiative

18 The Draft Negotiating Next states: "Agriculture 134. Parties shall cooperate in R&D of mitigation technologies for the agriculture sector, recognizing the necessity for international cooperative action to enhance and provide incentives for mitigation of GHG emissions from agriculture, in particular in developing countries. Consideration should be given to the role of soils in carbon sequestration, including through the use of biochar and enhancing carbon sinks in drylands." If adopted, this is likely to result in CDM credits for biochar. Biochar and UNFCCC

19 “We are well positioned to win the current land-grab in next- generation fuels” Best Energies, a leading company involved in pyrolysis and the development and patenting of biochar.- represented on the International Biochar Initiative Science Advisory Committee

20 Declaration by 156 organisations urges caution and opposes inclusion of soils in carbon trading 'Biochar', a new big threat to people, land, and ecosystems Keep 'biochar'; and soils out of carbon trading Caution urged against proposald for large scale use of charcoal in soils for climate change mitigation and soil reclamation


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