Scientists advocate ancient soil replenishment technique in combating global warming

December 18th, 2008 - 5:10 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Dec 18 (ANI): Scientists, environmental groups and policymakers are advocating the use of an ancient soil replenishment technique used by former inhabitants of the Amazon Basin, in the fight against global warming.

Former inhabitants of the Amazon Basin enriched their fields with charred organic materials known as biochar, and transformed one of the earths most infertile soils into one of the most productive.

These early conservationists disappeared 500 years ago, but centuries later, their soil is still rich in organic matter and nutrients.

Now, scientists, environmental groups and policymakers forging the next world climate agreement see biochar not only as an important tool for replenishing soils, but as a powerful tool for combating global warming.

According to Christoph Steiner, a University of Georgia research scientist in the Faculty of Engineering, The potential of biochar lies in its ability to sequester-capture and store-huge amounts of carbon while also displacing fossil fuel energy, effectively doubling its carbon impact.

Steiner explained that almost any kind of organic material-peanut shells, pine chips and even poultry litter-can be burned in air-tight conditions, a process called pyrolysis.

The byproducts are biochar, a highly porous charcoal that helps soil retain nutrients and water, and gases and heat that can be used as energy.

But, because the carbon in biochar so effectively resists degradation, it also can sequester carbon in soils for hundreds to thousands of years, effectively making it a permanent sink - a natural system that soaks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Soils containing biochar made by ancient Amazon people still contain up to 70 times more carbon than surrounding soils and have a higher nutrient content.

Steiner said that scientists estimate biochar from agriculture and forestry residues can potentially sequester billions of tons of carbon in the worlds soils.

Biochar also avoids the disadvantages of other bioenergy technologies that deplete soil organic matter, according to Steiner.

Removing crop residues for bioenergy production reduces the organic matter accumulating on agricultural fields and thus the soil organic carbon pool, which depends on constant input of decomposing plant material. In contrast, pyrolysis with biochar carbon sequestration produces renewable energy, sequesters CO2 and cycles nutrients back into agricultural fields, said Steiner.

This unique system ideally utilizes waste biomass, and thus does not compete with food production, he added.

Biochar can capture up to 50 percent of the carbon stored in biomass and establishes a significant carbon sink, as long as renewable resources are used and biochar is used as a soil amendment. (ANI)

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