NO LAUGHING MATTER: BIOCHAR MAY OFFER A SOLUTION FOR A BIG PROBLEM
THE NITROGEN PROBLEM:
While greening farms worldwide, much nitrogen washes into lakes, rivers, and the sea, causing rampant algae growth. More nitrogen billows from power-plant smokestacks, blowing in the wind until it settles as acid rain. Still other nitrogen gases remain in the atmosphere consuming the ozone layer. Nitrous oxide is nearly 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide – considered the leading cause of climate change – and the third most threatening greenhouse gas overall.
Concern about nitrogen pollution is increasing. Last September, disruption of the nitrogen cycle topped the list of global tipping points in this Nature study. Other scientists have ranked nitrogen pollution as one of the top threats to global biodiversity. The Christian Science Monitor reported on the many modes and moods of nitrogen here.
A BIOCHAR SOLUTION:
New Study Says Biochar Reduces Emissions and Runoff
Biochar proponents now have an additional benefit to tout, in addition to increasing crop yields and carbon storage of soil: According to a long-term study in Australia, biochar both reduces nitrous oxide emissions from soil by 73%, and reduces inorganic nitrogen runoff from fields by up to 94%.
The study in the Journal of Environmental Quality, done by Bhupinder Pal Singh of Industry & Investment New South Wales and Balwant Singh from the University of Sydney, found that initially biochar produced inconsistent effects. Early on it appeared that biochar increased nitrous oxide emissions. However, after four months the effect was reversed, with aging of biochar in the soil cited as a possible reason for the switch from adverse to beneficial effects, in terms of emissions.
"The impacts of biochars on nitrous oxide emissions from soil are of interest because even small reductions in nitrous oxide emissions can considerably enhance the greenhouse mitigation value of biochar, which is already proven to be a highly stable carbon pool in the soil environment," according to senior author Bhupinder Pal Singh. "This research highlights that impacts of biochar on nitrogen transformations in soil may change over time and hence stresses the need for long-term studies to assess biochar's potential to reduce nitrogen losses from soil." (Science Daily)
It's still way too early to claim that biochar is the proverbial silver bullet techno-fix but this news sure puts a smile on my face without a whiff of laughing gas.
NOTE: There's an excellent compendium of biochar reports covering everything from the backyard to the laboratory here.