International Biochar Initiative

Biochar 101: Climate Savior or False Hope?

If someone told you a charred black substance could help save the planet from the worst ravages of climate change, it'd be hard to believe, yet foolhardy to ignore.

Biochar, a form of carbon sequestration, has been sold by its promoters as an almost magical way to reverse climate change. Yet not only was the marketing protocol that would help scale up biochar production in the U.S. rejected by science peer reviewers in March 2015, but big oil companies like ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil — among the biggest climate change culprits — also have made a big bet that they can use biochar to “offset” their carbon pollution footprint.

Read time: 7 mins

Is Deploying Biochar as a Climate Geoengineering Tool Scientifically Premature?

Some of biochar's proponents say the substance will save us from climate change destruction, as we covered in Part 1.

At the very least, its proponents say it has great potential to simultaneously improve agricultural yields, produce clean energy, and mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon. Its most enthusiastic supporters have hailed it as “black gold.” 

But scientists call biochar a false climate change solution, leaving them with more questions than answers.

Read time: 18 mins

Biochar Lobby's Protocol Receives Blistering Peer Review, Casts Doubts on Serving as Climate Solution

For biochar's fiercest promoters, the sky's the limit for the seemingly mystical product — or at least that's been the pitch for years, ever since TIME Magazine referred to it as “black gold” in a December 2008 feature story. To some, it could do it all: pull carbon out of the atmosphere, enrich the soil, and be refined into a clean and green fuel source.

Yet a peer-reviewed study conducted by the American Carbon Registry (ACR) analyzing the science bolstering the biochar lobby's business plan calls all of these claims into question. Released in March 2015, the review concluded that “the scientific literature does not provide sufficient evidence of the stability of soil carbon sequestration in fields.”

Read time: 12 mins

How the Biochar Lobby Pushed for Offsets, Tar Sands, and Fracking Reclamation Using Unsettled Science

For the past several years, a well-organized, well-funded campaign has worked to include biochar in prospective carbon markets as an approved offset for greenhouse gas emissions.

The ardent push has occurred even though the non-partisan Government Accountability Office gave biochar a Technology Readiness Level of two out of nine in a July 2011 report and a 2015 National Research Council study on geoengineering came to similar conclusions about biochar. It also unfolded even though the climate change mitigation potential of sequestering biochar into the ground is far from a settled fact and long-term field trials are sorely lacking.

Read time: 13 mins

Biochar: A Geoengineering 'Shock Doctrine'

Biochar may be many things, such as a crop yield improvement tool and reclamation device for damaged land. But a climate change panacea, DeSmog's investigation has shown, is probably not among them.

Despite a lack of scientific proof supporting biochar as a long-term solution to sequestering carbon, a niche but fervent group has continued to push the so-called “black gold” to combat today's ever-worsening climate change crisis. The push continued despite the American Carbon Registry rejecting the biochar lobby's carbon sequestration business protocol, after a peer review found its underlying science lacked sufficient rigor.

Upon failing the scientific peer review, funding levels dropped for the main biochar advocacy group, International Biochar Initiative (IBI). This means for now, on a macro-level, biochar has hit a stand still.

Read time: 4 mins
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