Tuesday, February 6, 2007

A Novel Technology for Stable Soil Carbon Sequestration.

Debbie Reed, International Agrichar Initiative, 3012 Military Road, Arlington, VA 22207 and Johannes Lehmann, Cornell University, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, 909 Bradfield Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853.

As carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions trading systems continue to develop and emerge in this country and in others, agricultural capacity to participate and contribute to these systems becomes more attractive to potential buyers and sellers of carbon credits.  Enhanced soil carbon sinks, with multiple environmental and societal benefits, have been targeted as a potential source of carbon credits in GHG markets.  A carbon-negative production system that utilizes agricultural and forestry residues can create a fine-grained, porous biochar.  When used as a soil amendment, the biochar boosts soil carbon and organic matter content in long-lived, stable carbon pools, while also improving agricultural sustainability.  Application of the biochar to soils, with some added nutrients, can improve the structure, water retention capacity, cation exchange capacity and fertility of degraded soils.  This ability to improve soil quality has been most impressively demonstrated in the so-called Terra Preta (“dark earth”) soils of South America, where fertile islands of char-containing soils, dating back thousands of years, are found throughout the Amazon basin. Recently, it was demonstrated that such fertile soils can be re-created building on this ancient bio-char technology. The relatively inert bio-char remains in the soil for orders of magnitudes longer than any other organic amendments. Biochar/bio-energy production systems are one of the only existing tools to actually remove carbon from the atmosphere, making it one of the only carbon-negative options currently at our disposal.  An international consortium of agricultural and soil scientists, business entities with commercial projects underway, and people from the climate change and agricultural policy arena has joined forces to pursue the technical and policy applications of this important new area.  The speaker will describe the production system and progress of the consortium to date.