SLDI Project Goes Carbon Negative

Biochar permanently sequesters carbon and promotes plant growth.

“Climate change is inevitable, proceeding and even accelerating.”

With those alarming opening words, British scientist James Lovelock, author of the new book, “The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning,” is delivering a sobering message to large and influential audiences around the world. He says there’s nothing we can do now but adapt and survive. He claims it is too late for sustainable development and says civilization’s best strategy is “sustainable retreat.” If we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, he explains, it wouldn’t do much. We’ve already released enough carbon over the past hundred years to push us past the point of no return.

When pushed, Lovelock says, the only way we could do something meaningful to avoid catastrophe is to extract and permanently store CO2 from the atmosphere, in addition to dramatically reducing our emissions. And the approach with the most potential, says Lovelock, is to turn biomass material into charcoal, now re-branded as “biochar,” in a process known as “pyrolysis” and then bury it. The biochar, unlike the original biomass, can’t rot and release CO2 into the atmosphere. It doesn’t oxidize. It is chemically stable for hundreds of years, meaning the carbon is permanently sequestered. “This makes it safe to bury in the soil or in the ocean,” writes Lovelock.

Lovelock isn’t alone in his enthusiasm for biochar sequestration. Australian biologist Tim Flannery, author of the bestselling climate-change book, “The Weather Makers,” is an avid supporter of the approach. James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a professor of Earth sciences at Columbia University, also sees an important role for turning biomass into charcoal as long as it’s done responsibly.

If we’re serious about halting the rise of – and eventually lowering – CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, biochar could prove the best way. It also allows us to more sustainably manage organic waste from municipalities, croplands, wastewater treatment plants, and a certain amount of residues from forests. The problem, as with all other climate-mitigation approaches, comes with reaching scale. Can biochar be produced to a large enough scale to make a measurable impact? The answer lies in the triple-bottom-line perspective. In other words, the only way this will happen is if it can be produced in ways that meet the needs of people, planet and profit.

Biochar and Sustainable Land Development

Key factors in developing the social, environmental and economic potential for biochar lie not only in its carbon-sequestration abilities, but in the other valuable properties that the process brings to sustainable land development best practices.

Biochar production is modeled after a process begun thousands of years ago in the Amazon basin, where islands of rich, fertile soils called “terra preta” were created by indigenous people. Anthropologists speculate that cooking fires and kitchen middens along with deliberate placing of charcoal in soil resulted in soils with high fertility and carbon content. These soils continue to “hold” carbon today and remain so nutrient rich that they have been dug up and sold as potting soil in Brazilian markets.

When added to soils, biochar’s impressive capacity to retain nutrients can reduce fertilizer requirements while increasing crop yields. It can also be used for commercial potting soils. Research is now confirming benefits that include:

  • Reduced leaching of nitrogen into ground water
  • Possible reduced emissions of nitrous oxide
  • Increased cation-exchange capacity
  • Moderating of soil acidity
  • Increased water retention
  • Increased number of beneficial soil microbes

 Plants simply grow better – far better – in biochar enriched soil! Biochar can improve almost any soil. Areas with low rainfall or nutrient-poor soils will benefit the most. Biochar systems can reverse soil degradation and create sustainable food and fuel production in areas with severely depleted soils, scarce organic resources, and inadequate water and chemical fertilizer supplies. Low-cost, small-scale biochar production units can produce biochar to build garden, agricultural and forest productivity. And with the addition of an engine or turbine, these systems can produce a biogas that creates distributed systems for heating, cooling and electricity.

The total benefits that potentially flow from biochar production and use include waste reduction, energy co-production, improved soil fertility and structure, and climate change mitigation. Not all of these benefits are well accounted for under current economic systems, but under the carbon-constrained economy most are projecting for the near future, the climate mitigation benefit is likely to be accounted for as an economic benefit.

Profitability of biochar systems will be especially sensitive to the cost and quality of the biomass feedstock that goes into the system, as well as to prices for energy and the carbon capping and trading markets. Farming and gardening systems stand to profit from the soil and water quality benefits biochar provides. Forested, preserve and agricultural land provides ready supply of the needed biomass feedstock. And as waste management systems and regulations “catch up” to this opportunity, therein lies another virtually unending supply of needed biomass.

International Biochar Initiative

The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) was formed in July 2006 at a side meeting held at the World Soil Science Congress (WSSC) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the 2006 meeting, individuals and representatives from academic institutions, commercial ventures, investment bankers, non-governmental organizations, federal agency representatives, and the policy arena from around the world acknowledged a common interest in promoting the research, development, demonstration, deployment (RDD&D) and commercialization of the promising technology of biochar production.

The mission of the IBI is to provide a platform for the international exchange of information and activities in support of biochar research, development, demonstration, and commercialization. IBI advocates biochar as a strategy to:

  • improve soil quality;
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon; and
  • improve water quality by filtering agrochemicals.

 IBI also promotes:

  • sustainable co-production of clean energy and other biobased products as part of the biochar process;
  • efficient biomass utilization in developing country agriculture; and
  • cost-effective utilization of urban, agricultural and forest co-products.

 SLDI partners with Ocean Mountain Ranch in effort to go “Carbon Negative”

Fossil fuels are carbon-positive — burning them adds more carbon to the air. Ordinary biomass fuels are carbon neutral — the carbon captured in the biomass by photosynthesis would have eventually returned to the atmosphere through natural processes — burning plants for energy just speeds it up. Biochar systems can be carbon negative because they retain a substantial portion of the carbon that would otherwise be emitted by the plants or waste matter when it rots. The result is a net reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Located in the headwaters of the Port Orford Community Stewardship Area in Southern Oregon, Ocean Mountain Ranch (OMR) is a mixed-use development project that incorporates residential, agricultural, educational, recreational, and industrial uses. It overlooks the newly-designated Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve and the largest remaining old growth forest on the southern coast in Humbug Mountain State Park. OMR is planned to be developed pursuant to a forest stewardship management plan which has been approved by the Oregon Department of Forestry and Northwest Certified Forestry under the high standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). OMR will provide for long-term yield of high quality hardwood, softwood, and wildlife habitat. OMR is also serving as a pilot program and is expected to achieve carbon negative status through the utilization of low impact development practices, energy efficient buildings, renewable/clean energy systems, distributed waste management systems, and biochar production, with certification as a SLDI-Certified Sustainable Project.

The land development industry is uniquely positioned to utilize SLDI best management practices to take advantage of emerging ancient and new biochar technologies to help address a multitude of pressing environmental, social and economic concerns by balancing the needs of people, planet and profit – for today and future generations. We encourage you to learn more about these opportunities for your projects by contacting SLDI Executive Director Terry Mock at

 Learn More About Integrating Biochar into Your Projects           

First, go to the IBI webpage at: to learn more about the substantial benefits of biochar.
Then contact SLDI to talk about making it happen.
Republished from August, 2009 issue of Sustainable Land Development Today magazine.

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35 responses

  1. The world is a great place, but it is falling apart and we all are responsable for this. Be responsable now and try to make it better.
    Biochar, one of the newest option can contribuate to atmospheric CO2 reduction. Find out more:
    The Biochar Revolution is exactly what it says !

    1. UPDATE:

      Virgin Earth Challenge Finalists Unveiled

      CALGARY, Nov. 3, 2011 /CNW/ – …a multinational announcement was made at the Global Clean Energy Congress 2011: the Virgin Earth Challenge unveiled 11 finalists from an original 2,600 submissions to the world for the first time.

      The purpose of the Challenge is simple and clear: $25 million for the first to establish a safe technology and business to capture carbon from thin air.

      After a diligent technical review process, the 11 leading organizations are: Biochar Solutions (US); Biorecro (Sweden); Black Carbon (Denmark); Carbon Engineering (Canada); Climeworks (Switzerland); Coaway (US); Full Circle Biochar (US); Global Thermostat (US); Kilimanjaro Energy (US); Smart Stones (Netherlands) and The Savory Institute (US).

      The leading organizations bring expertise and solutions from a wide range of areas which includes air capture, biochar, bio-energy with carbon capture and storage, enhanced weathering on land, and land management…

  2. UPDATE:

    Oregon State University
    Climate change causing massive movement of tree species across the West
    Public release date: 3-Nov-2011

    CORVALLIS, Ore. – A huge “migration” of trees has begun across much of the West due to global warming, insect attack, diseases and fire, and many tree species are projected to decline or die out in regions where they have been present for centuries, while others move in and replace them.

    In an enormous display of survival of the fittest, the forests of the future are taking a new shape.

    In a new report, scientists outline the impact that a changing climate will have on which tree species can survive, and where. The study suggests that many species that were once able to survive and thrive are losing their competitive footholds, and opportunistic newcomers will eventually push them out…

  3. Science
    Earth Warming Faster Than Expected
    25 March 2012

    By 2050, global average temperature could be between 1.4°C and 3°C warmer than it was just a couple of decades ago, according to a new study that seeks to address the largest sources of uncertainty in current climate models. That’s substantially higher than estimates produced by other climate analyses, suggesting that Earth’s climate could warm much more quickly than previously thought…

  4. I agree biochar is a good thing, however would it not be better to direct replace coal in our fossil fuel power stations with the charcoal, (must be a near energy equivalent to coal)? That would eliminate the many deaths from coal mining (6,027* in China 2004 alone) and also the extensive energy consumption in processing and transporting it.
    Then, make biochar as production rises, after coal is replaced -*So far, no deaths from Fu Ku Shi Ma!

    1. This is not a good idea, because the biochar is best placed just in the soil to enhance the fertility and water storage capacity. So the trees will collect more CO2 and can build more biomass. This is a self promoting process, which will help to produce more food, biofuel and at the same time reduce CO2 in the air. Any long transport around the world to replace fossil coal has minor effect on carbon dioxide reduction.

  5. Climate Change: An Information Statement of the American Meteorological Society

    (Adopted by AMS Council 20 August 2012)


    This statement provides a brief overview of how and why global climate
    has changed over the past century and will continue to change in the
    future. It is based on the peer-reviewed scientific literature and is
    consistent with the vast weight of current scientific understanding as
    expressed in assessments and reports from the Intergovernmental Panel
    on Climate Change, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the U.S.
    Global Change Research Program. Although the statement has been drafted
    in the context of concerns in the United States, the underlying issues
    are inherently global in nature.

    How is climate changing?

    Warming of the climate system now is unequivocal, according to many
    different kinds of evidence. Observations show increases in globally
    averaged air and ocean temperatures, as well as widespread melting of
    snow and ice and rising globally averaged sea level…

    Why is climate changing?

    Climate is always changing. However, many of the observed changes
    noted above are beyond what can be explained by the natural variability
    of the climate. It is clear from extensive scientific evidence that
    the dominant cause of the rapid change in climate of the past half
    century is human-induced increases in the amount of atmospheric
    greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), chlorofluorocarbons,
    methane, and nitrous oxide. The most important of these over the long
    term is CO2, whose concentration in the atmosphere is rising
    principally as a result of fossil-fuel combustion and deforestation…

  6. How Burning Trees Can Improve Biodiversity
    September 27, 2012
    By David Warne, Project Leader – Bioenergy, Greening Australia and Doug Phillips, Portland Seedbank Manager, Greening Australia

    …In Greening Australia’s plan, these mixed native species tree plantations are grown specifically for the purpose of burning. Innovative new technology allows wood chips to be burned in a low-oxygen gasifier machine, which produces two outputs from the process: syngas (a combustible fuel) and biochar.

  7. New York Times
    To Slow Warming, Tax Carbon
    Published: November 11, 2012

    …Putting a price on carbon is fundamental. If consumers and businesses do not bear the cost of their carbon pollution, they won’t do much about it. This carbon price should not discriminate between locations: global warming is global. If China does not put a price on carbon, and Europe does, then China will effectively receive a huge export subsidy.

    The good news is that many new energy technologies are coming down the track…

    1. If Eu puts a price on carbon dioxide and China does not, EU can put tax on every good imported from China according to the Carbon dioxide emissions of these goods. So the outsourcing of industries to China to avoid CO2-emissions in the EU will be stopped. It will be no longer cheaper to produce in China with low environmental standards.

  8. Wall Street Journal
    After Sandy: A Change in the Weather on Wall Street?
    November 7, 2012

    A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who works at an environmental
    organization. We were discussing the absence of any talk about climate
    change in the presidential campaign, and joked that the United States
    would decide to get serious only when Wall Street found itself under

    That turned out to be a very bad joke…

    Rogue geoengineering could ‘hijack’ world’s climate
    Techniques aimed at averting global warming could lead to an unpredictable international crisis, a report has warned
    Tuesday 8 January 2013

    The world’s climate could be hijacked by a rogue country or wealthy individual firing small particles into the stratosphere, claims a warning that comes not from a new Hollywood movie trailer but a sober report from the World Economic Forum (WEF)…

    According to the report, the cumulative economic cost of changes to the physical environment as well as health and food security from climate change, range from US$2 trillion to $4tn by 2030.

    The authors fear that climate change could become a centre of litigation. “Although the Alaskan village of Kivalina – which faces being “wiped out” by the changing climate – was unsuccessful in its attempts to file a $400m lawsuit against oil and coal companies, future plaintiffs may be more successful. Five decades ago, the US tobacco industry would not have suspected that in 1997 it would agree to pay $368bn in health-related damages. For some businesses, investing in climate change mitigation now could be as much about enterprise risk management as about mitigating a global risk.”

  10. January 11, 2013
    Federal Advisory Committee Draft Climate Assessment
    Report Released for Public Review

    The “National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee” (NCADAC) has overseen the development of this draft climate assessment report, engaging over 240 authors in its creation. Click here to access the report:

  11. Biochar crops thrive in experimental terrace structure
    January 14, 2013 –
    By: Richard Thornton

    A technique for dramatically increasing the fertility of soil that was developed by the
    indigenous peoples of the Upper Amazon Basin and the Itza Mayas of southern Mexico…. Substantial evidence of biochar agriculture in the terraces at Track Rock Gap, Georgia was
    one of the strongest links to the former presence of Itza Maya farmers and possibly, also South Americans….

  12. Biochar on the Farm
    Initiative to Give Grower Guidance

    by Tara Maxwell
    You have most likely heard of biochar,
    but you probably have a lot of questions
    about how to successfully use this soil
    amendment on your fields. Biochar ad

    vocate David Yarrow is working to pro

    vide answers to sustainable farmers and
    gardeners across the country through a
    research and education project already
    under way in Kansas.
    The Growing with Biochar initiative
    will assist growers to use, properly pre

    pare and test charcoal (biochar) in soils
    on at least 28 test plots in the Lawrence,
    Kansas, foodshed with the ultimate goal
    of creating an instruction manual on
    how to produce and use biochar on the
    “Lots of scientists are doing hardcore
    scientific research into biochar. That’s
    not what we’re trying to do,” said Yarrow.
    “We’re trying to make this method ac
    -cessible and understandable to growers….

  13. Financial Times – Book Review
    ‘A Rough Ride to the Future’, by James Lovelock
    March 28, 2014

    People have two reasons to revere James Lovelock. For 50 years he has been Britain’s most prominent independent scientist, working in his home lab for a wide variety of organisations, without owing allegiance to any of them. And his idea of Gaia – Earth as
    a self-regulating system in which biology and geology, physics and chemistry maintain conditions suitable for life – has had a huge influence on the way we see our planet.

    Lovelock’s latest book, A Rough Ride to the Future, enhances our view of both from the perspective of his 95th year….

  14. There is a new product being promoted that could possibly taker the place of coal. This product is called enviracarbon. It burns, pulverizes, stores, cost, and ships like coal but has little if any emissions. The production of it inevitably produces a semi activated carbon as a by product that can be sequestered for a minimum of 1000 years. The by product also has other promising uses. It is essentially biochar but the producers have figured out how to use it to make capacitors with the ability to store an amazing amount of electricity. initial testing results show that they have the ability to power a car from coast to coast on one charge. This could be excellent news for auto emissions. They have also invented small homeowner electric power plants that are fueled by wood. check for info and an informative video.

  15. Redwood Forest Foundation Biochar Demonstration Project
    RFFI’s Biochar Demonstration Project officially began on November 11, 2013

    Introduction – The “Three Es”

    Step 1: Remove excess woody biomass from overcrowded forest stands in the Usal Redwood Forest.

    Step 2: Step 2: Chip and transport waste biomass to the biochar conversion unit.

    Step 3: Step 3: Convert biomass chips into biochar using the Semi-Mobile T-1000 Thermal Conversion Unit.

    Step 4: Step 4: Sell biochar locally as a soil amendment and or carbon filtration medium.

    Step 5: Step 5: Produce revenue; cover the cost of the project. Create an economically sustainable method of forest restoration.

    Step 6: Step 6: Share results with landowners. Help replicate this 3-E method for excess biomass utilization in the region.

  16. Biochar systems have so many market applications yet to be
    cultivated; “Carbon Fodder” feeds for Livestock, Plant Chemical
    Communications, (plant signaling), even Char building materials such as
    Biochar-Plasters which block Cellphone signals, the potential markets
    are massive.

    CoolPlanet’s investors & CEOs project (assert) that they will
    be the first Trillion Dollar Company, based on their $1.50/Gal. cost to
    produce Bio-Gasoline.

    For a complete review of the
    current science & industry applications of Biochar please see my
    2014 Soil Science Society of America Biochar presentation. How thermal conversion technologies can integrate and optimize the
    recycling of valuable nutrients while providing energy and building soil
    carbon, I believe it brings together both sides of climate beliefs.
    A reconciling of both Gods’ and mans’ controlling hands.

    Agricultural Geo – Engineering; Past, Present & Future
    Across scientific disciplines carbons are finding new utility to solve our most vexing problems

    2014 SSSA Presentation;
    Agricultural Geo-Engineering; Past, Present & Future.

  17. The StarPhoenix
    Soft geoengineering could mitigate climate change
    By Paul Hanley, The Starphoenix
    October 28, 2014

    … The American soil scientist Rattan Lal and others argue that restoring vegetation on degraded lands and increasing soil organic carbon (SOC) on existing farmland has the potential to sequester sufficient CO2 to substantially mitigate climate change if done on a large scale. This form of “soft geoengineering” is a safe, win-win solution, since land restoration and soil improvement also restore watersheds, foster biodiversity, improve productivity and assist with rural poverty reduction.

    The potential to reduce climate change by sequestering atmospheric C02 in soil and vegetation is huge…

  18. Outreach
    UNFCCC is a death sentence for coral reefs and low islands: The down to earth solution to reverse climate change
    Thomas J. Goreau, Global Coral Reef Alliance

    … Photosynthesis, along with carbon storage using ancient Indigenous Amazonian Indian biochar technology, could absorb the excess in a few decades, greatly increasing soil fertility, retaining nutrients, minerals, and water. Increased soil carbon greatly increases food production, forestry, and groundwater recharge, reduces temperature, and produces carbon-negative biomass energy while reducing CO2. Large scale restoration of ecosystems and soils is the only way we can remove the carbon from where it is doing the most damage, and put it back in the ground where it does the most good – just in time to save coral reefs, islands, and low lying coasts from extinction. But, incredibly, it is not even being discussed at COP20…

  19. Bloomberg News Article –
    by Louise Downing
    February 2, 2015

    Oxford University scientists, after a year of research, have determined the best technology to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and try to reverse global warming…

    They considered methods ranging from capturing emissions from factories and power stations to extracting carbon dioxide directly from the air, and adding lime to oceans to increase their absorption of the gas, a study released on Tuesday showed.

    None were more promising than planting trees, or baking waste wood to form a type of charcoal that can be added to soil…

    Stranded Carbon Assets and Negative Emissions Technologies
    February 2015
    Authors: Ben Caldecott, Guy Lomax & Mark Workman

    “Biochar can be produced from a range of feedstocks through pyrolysis, the thermal decomposition of biomass when heated to several hundred degrees in the absence of oxygen. One form of the process, slow pyrolysis, can convert on the order of 50% of the carbon in biomass into stable carbon char, with the remainder converted to various gases and bio-oils that can be used for energy”…

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