Thursday, February 11, 2010

Biochar?

Image courtesy of Todd434 on Flicker

There's a perplexing story on the USA today website. The title is "Could chicken manure help curb climate change?" Here's the gist: A farmer is able to turn chicken manure into "...a charcoal-like substance known as "biochar" — which is not only an excellent fertilizer, but also helps keep carbon in the soil instead of letting it escape into the atmosphere..." Well, that sounds great!

Digging a little deeper reveals some contradictory info:
"Because biochar contains high levels of carbon, the element contained in all living things, it often serves as a very effective organic fertilizer..." BUT "the carbon in biochar is particularly resistant to that conversion, so it stays "locked into" the soil much longer than other, unprocessed substances — as long as 1,000 years in some cases." Fertilizer that doesn't break down?! How is that fertilizer? Maybe I'm missing something here?

I just hope that farmer (who paid $1 million for his biochar machine) can make some money from this venture...or at least break even.

4 comments:

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

Interesting, it must be chicken week this week! We just posted about our 'girls' yesterday. I actually have never heard of Biochar, but it does sound odd taking a perfectly biodegradable by-product of poultry rearing, and locking up the carbon. I think for now we'll stick to good old fashioned composting. The gardens love it, and it doesn't cost a million dollars to make!

Meredith said...

I've heard of biochar, and I had this picture in my head of it being something you bury deep down, sort of like the stuff that was buried in the now-melting permafrost, and hope it holds on and slowly, slowly releases for those thousand years. I think if you want it to be fertilizer, you compost it for a season and then spread it direct on your fields. (This is what my grandfather did with the results of his 8 chicken-houses starting in the late '40s and the soil quality was fabulous for this treatment.)

Hope the farmer didn't get screwed on this one. That happens so often...

Carol said...

Jackie, I am still trying to get my mind around this biochar matter. Further study is called for before I can comment. I must say however ... that is a gorgeous portrait of someone's chicken! Interesting and important topic for us to all learn more about. ;>) carol

Daphne said...

I've read about biochar in the past. Now I've forgotten most of it, but I think it holds onto the nutrients in the soil, so they don't leach out as much. You aren't supposed to have to fertilize as much.