Biochar production in Oregon.
Tracy Robillard, Natural Resources Conservation Service

Ken Carloni of the non-profit group, Yew Creek Land Alliance, cleanly burns forest debris in a kiln that he designed himself, creating the end product, biochar. Biochar permanently sequesters carbon and returns nutrients to the soil to bolster soil microbial activity.

Biochar Production

Support SinksEngineered SinksRemove and Store Carbon
CO2 Equivalent
Reduced / Sequestered
Billion $US
Net First Cost
(To Implement Solution)
Trillion $US
Lifetime Net
Operational Savings
Biomass slowly baked in the absence of oxygen becomes biochar, retaining most of the feedstock’s carbon. It can be buried for sequestration and potentially enrich soil.

Solution Summary*

In ancient Amazonia, the waste disposal method of choice was to bury and burn. Wastes were baked beneath a layer of soil. This process, known as pyrolysis, produced a charcoal soil amendment rich in carbon. The result was terra preta, literally “black earth” in Portuguese. Today, terra preta soils cover up to 10 percent of the Amazon basin, retaining extraordinary amounts of carbon.

These ancient roots of what is now called biochar have modern promise for agriculture and the atmosphere. Biochar is commonly made from waste material ranging from peanut shells to rice straw to wood scraps. During the slow baking of biomass in the near or total absence of oxygen, gas and oil separate from carbon-rich solids. The output is twofold: fuels that can be used for energy and biochar that can be used to enrich soil.

When biomass decomposes on the Earth’s surface, carbon and methane escape into the atmosphere. Biochar retains most of the carbon present in biomass feedstock and buries it. Rendered stable, that carbon can be held for centuries in the soil—a much-delayed return to the atmosphere. Theoretically, experts argue, biochar could sequester billions of tons of carbon dioxide every year.

* excerpted from the book, Drawdown

Biochar can produce 2.2–4.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions reductions by 2050. This analysis draws on total life-cycle assessments of the many ways biochar prevents and sequesters greenhouse gases, while assuming the nascent biochar industry is limited by the availability of global biomass feedstocks.