What even is Biochar...!?
Updated: May 9
Biochar is the subject of much research and discussion for it's potential for carbon sequestration and it's ability to improve soil fertility and plant health. This black, carbon rich, organic material has been used for thousands of years by humans. It has now come back into the spotlight for its unique properties and here we are putting it in our 'agricultural spotlight'!
We are running 8 workshops across Pembrokeshire in spring and summer 2023 as part of the Heath and Hedgerow project. Read on to find out what biochar is and how you can get involved.
What is Biochar?
Biochar is a charcoal-like substance that's made by burning organic material (also known as biomass) in a low-oxygen controlled process known as pyrolysis. It can be made from almost any organic material (arisings, brash, twigs, manure, wood chip etc.) which is why it's a great option for using 'green waste' from your land in a productive and positive way.
One of the aims of Heath & Hedgerow is to increase the value of wildlife habitats and the biodiversity they support. We are advocating small-scale harvesting of biomass and to preserve sites for biodiversity. Biochar production is one of the ways we are working on this.
How can it be used?
Common agricultural applications of biochar are:
Soil fertility and amendment.
What are the benefits of biochar?
Biochar can provide the following benefits:
Improvement of soil fertility and crop yields.
Reduction in costs by utilising readily available 'waste' products for onsite application (soil fertility, animal feed etc.)
Better water retention and drainage.
Reduction of soil acidity.
Adsorption of soil pollutants.
Reduction in nutrient run-off.
Improved viscosity and reduced odour of slurry.
Increase in plant disease resistance.
Capturing and storing carbon.
Reducing ammonia, and therefore greenhouse gas emissions, from animals fed biochar.
How is it different to charcoal?
Biochar is made at much higher temperatures than charcoal using the modern pyrolysis method. This method uses the heat released from the combustion of gases to facilitate pyrolysis and is much quicker and less smokey than producing charcoal. Biochar is very porous, has a much larger surface area than charcoal and a different pH.
Biochar production is considered a negative emission technology as it helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequesters carbon, whereas charcoal production does not. Charcoal is predominantly used as a fuel whereas biochar has many applications which ensure the carbon remains sequestered while being useful for land and agricultural purposes.
What happens at a biochar workshop?
A biochar workshop runs from 10am to 3pm. In that time we give you an introduction to biochar and do a real life biochar burn in a Kon Tiki kiln! The workshop covers:
What biochar is
The benefits and uses of biochar
How biochar is made
How biochar is 'inoculated' for soil amendment
The workshops are outside and involve both practical tasks, such as preparing feed stock (fuel) and maintaining the burn, and information to give you a better understanding of how biochar can help you.
You can bring your own feed stock to add to the burn and can take away some inoculated biochar to test on your own garden, land or farm.
The workshops will take place at different sites around Pembrokeshire. The dates below are confirmed events but check our 'What's On' section of the Heath & Hedgerow webpage or our Facebook and Tocyn for future dates!
☆ Friday 31st March at Swn y Coed (Whitland)
☆ Wednesday 12th April at Parc y Dderwen (Llangolman)
☆ Wednesday 24th May at Hebron Vineyard (Hebron)
Would you like to host a biochar workshop?
We still have availability to deliver biochar demonstrations across Pembrokeshire. If you are interested in hosting a burn, and have some materials on site then get in touch with Beccy to find out more.
Beccy can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.