Benefits of biochar explored

Trevor Drew

The Northern Climate Network brought another environmental expert to Marquette on Friday, Jan. 29 to discuss biochar and its many environmentally-friendly properties.

Heather Nobert, who works with the Nebraska Forest Service, gave a lecture on her experience with biochar and what her findings could mean for the planet. But what exactly is
biochar?

Biochar is a charcoal produced to be a soil additive instead of a fuel. Biochar is usually a finely ground powder that one can apply to soil to help improve the soil’s fertility.

Because of its porous texture, biochar is perfect for attracting microorganisms and is very efficient in storing water, which aids plant growth. Biochar is naturally prone to having a negative ionic charge that attracts nutrients such as nitrogen to the plant.

Nobert stated that she first observed biochar’s positive effects on crops while studying Amazonian soil in Cusco, Peru.

“At the end of the first year I measured growth of the plants with biochar plots versus the unamended plots,” Nobert said. “The biochar amended plots [were] 81 percent higher than the reference plots.”

Nobert also added that the process of making biochar is carbon negative. This means that the carbon that otherwise would have been sent to the atmosphere is instead transformed and used to increase the growth of crops. According to the International Biochar Initiative, biochar could potentially offset a maximum of 12 percent of greenhouse gas emissions on an annual basis.

“When [a] tree dies it begins to decompose, and all that carbon is released into the atmosphere,” Nobert said. “We can capture that tree’s carbon and turn it into biochar.”

Although biochar is in its infancy stage, some local Marquette residents, outside of
researchers, are experimenting with it and even implementing it into their own gardens to test out its supposed beneficial effects.

“I have gardened all my life, so when I went online and started reading about [biochar], I got pretty excited about it,” Marquette resident David Kallio said.

Kallio set up his own biochar experiment in his yard and found that his results lined up with Nobert’s findings. He has even continued to use biochar for the garden surrounding his gazebo.

“Those gardens are just productive beyond anything I’ve ever experienced,” Kallio said. “Last year was my first year using it, and I expect this year it’s going to find its way in a lot of other growing places in my house.”

The Northern Climate Network will host another presentation titled “How Should We Think about Culpability of Climate Change?” given by Zac Cogley, associate professor of NMU’s philosophy department, at noon on Feb. 19 in Jamrich 1320.