Biochar and disinformation

Here’s a wild and formidable claim with no references by Dr. Mae-Wan HoTurning bioenergy crops into buried charcoal to sequester carbon does not work, and could plunge the earth into an oxygen crisis towards mass extinction”. Beware the Biochar Initiative. Apparently you can pay some money to see the references..

Beware what you read… This is another reason why I’m writing my own book about Biochar and Terra Preta, which explores topics beyond and entwined with charcoal/carbon and get’s into health, vitality, nutrient dense food, our wellbeing, healing local ecologies and communities through charcoal and other key ingredients and methods associated.

If you want a free copy of the book which will be ready shortly, subscribe, email or comment. I just ask for a review on Amazon in exchange if you feel so inclined. Stay tuned

Biochar make your own black EarthI found the article in question when I typed in ‘Biochar’ in video search and it came in at no. 2 in google search, and no. 6 in the web search. The article reads like Dr Mae-Wan Ho is being paid to justify why Biocar, or charcoal is useless, and detrimental to make and use to the environment and useless to plants.. It’s quite a read, and TBH it made me giggle as the claims were totally contradictory to what I’ve researched and experimented with, and many others, well he is a Dr (apparently), not a gardener. So I read all the comments and low and behold most of the readers had the same feeling. The comments provided far more quality information and links and I learn’t more there than the article itself.

You can see the article was written in 2010, and possibly at that time Biochar was still in it’s infancy, but it’s not now, and I don’t believe it was then either. I just think the article in question was crude and misleading disinformation, why I don’t know, possibly it was just a hack job to get views. But from what I and others have found, Biochar has enormous potentials, and we have seen enormous benefits from this natural product.

Some things to consider beyond the article’s explanation and why it’s flawed:

  • Use biomass that does not entail cutting down rainforests (east one ha!). Best to recycle ingredients, if you live in a fire prone area clean up your yard and nearby area then char it!

  • Inoculate your biochar before using (another easy one)

  • Use a biochar making technique to produce other products, either heat for house or cooking or energy, produce wood vinegar, or use for your dance party

  • Always ensure your biomass is very dry to ensure a smokeless fire

Below are some of my favorite comments from the post Beware the Biochar Initiative. There’s some interesting info in many of the other comments also, but yes it seems many people recognized this article as somewhat disinformation and this is not helpful when many of us know Biochar is really a key ingredient to re-building our soils, denuded of topsoil, humus and carbon..

It would be useful if the references also were available, for checking claims made in the article.

It seems to me that if you are going to make the claims that you do in this article– that the references should be available for less then 20 pounds– this is poor journalism lacking all sense of true unbiased investigation. You are clearly pushing you own agenda and making claims that have no basis in the reality of what people examining the production and utilization of biochar are doing or are about

You argue that biochar is different from the black material found in terra preta and your main argument is oxidation. If you read carefully your own sentences, you may see that oxidation of charcoal (biochar) is responsible for increasing the nutrient holding capacity in Terra Preta soils.

Mark Bigland-Pritchard says:

It’s not biochar that’s the problem. It’s unsustainable forestry and unsustainable agriculture. Dr Ho got it right about GM crops, but on this issue she’s just spreading confusion.

“All these supposed quick fixes do is have us making the kind of arguments that we’re seeing in this thread…”

Most arguments in this thread seem to make more sense than the original article. I guess I missed the memo about biochar supposedly being the silver bullet-solution to the world’s problems. I just thought it was a nifty way to vastly prolong the soil-enhancing effects of biomass C using century-proven techniques.

Apparently it’s also suspected of being part of a nefarious plot to allow humanity to get away with a host of evil deeds, excess “leisure” now being one of them. (When did “leisure” become a four-letter word?! I thought permaculture was always about getting things done the smart, less laborious way.)

Well this is the only article I have ever seen saying Biochar is bad. I am open to more if you have any. I have a website that is pro biochar and I have been working with it for 5 years now. I also see many mistakes made by many scientists so I am not a big fan of scientists and University researchers. I also sustain-ably manage a neglected plantation forest and biochar the thinnings.

It seems as though you are saying that the only way people are making biochar is to clear cut a forest and that doing so will deplete oxygen. What if people were making biochar without cutting down a single tree to make it? If you were to take that into consideration before writing your article, perhaps your conclusion (which is based pretty much on the fact that trees getting cut down depletes oxygen) would be a little bit different?

Yes Richard, making biochar is much better than burning it. Biochar is fine used this way. I think there was some hysteria about burning up all the worlds forests to make biochar. But that’s just scare-mongering. Small scale biochar especially when used instead of burning organic litter is a great benefit.

This article is an interesting phenomenon. It is some form of “viral”. It pops up on the first page of almost every key phrase search with the word biochar in it. That means that this article is very often the first thing that is read when “biochar” is searched.
In the light of current knowledge lent by time and comments posted, does the Permaculture Research Institute believe that it is responsible behavior, and in the best interest of humanity to leave the article as it is?
I urge you to please consider an update to the article. Even without an updated content revision by the author, an editorial disclaimer at the top could make a world of difference. In doing so, you would still maintain your prime status in Search Engines, and you could also maintain your integrity as an institute towards a greater good.
Biochar does not have the capacity for intention. It is humans that provide that. It seems clear enough now that biochar as a material and as a process offer great tools for us in farming, environmental management, and possibly even in climate change mitigation. It should also be clear now that the vast majority of those involved in biochar are doing so with good intention and with good practice. However, nothing is completely immune to bad intentions, so if you ever see entities acting with ill intentions, call them out. But, please review this article so that you do not throw the world of biochar out with the “bad corporation” bathwater.
Thank you,
– JosiahAmazonian Black Gold - How to make it and grow nutrient dense food

And here’s another slurry of disinformation from the same Forum ~ APC11 Presentation: Albert Bates on Biochar (Video) Despite this comment “I’m personally unsure about biochar. This is not because I have anything significant to say against it (at the small, localised scale, at least), but rather just because I find it hard to promote a technique I’ve never, myself, seen developed and applied in real-world circumstances. Albert Bates” Mr Bates however provides some invaluable disinformation.

Be discerning, below are some comments I enjoyed and were useful. It’s seems the people actually making and using Biochar correctly have great evidence of it’s value, yet those who postulate and research cannot wrap their minds around the benefits. Now why’s that I wander?

If anyone wants to see 7-8 years of Biochar used in an organic permaculture system you are more than welcome to visit my farm and talk one on one.

Barry Batchelor
barry.batchelor at biochar dot net
75 Browns Road
Kurwongbah 4503

I am also happy to debate in person or in a public place, anyone who has issues with biochar production, biomass sources and the effects on soils. I have to say the greenwash above is a little heavy for my liking.

I am a proud permaculturist, I understand the engineering and soil science (with in reason) I work with many of the world’s leading soil scientists and engineers working with in the field of Biochar research. I have given over 16 public presentations on Biochar including permaculture groups like Noosa Permaculture.

I run a small business supplying Biochar produced from waste streams like poultry litter and clean pine off cuts from plantation timbers.

I have developed an open source system so people can make their own Biochars. It’s called a Fatboy Gasifier, the plans and project are available on my blog

I have started a thread on the PRI forum as I would like to help answer many of the misconceptions presented above.

pyrolize waste… use biochar in agriculture and horticulture where prudent… burry the rest so deep that it cannot oxidize. put the carbon back where it came from… it seems like a no brainer. i live in the dessert where water retention, nutrient retention, habitat for microbes are very attractive attributes when considering tools for creating fertile soils. i see biochar as a positive technoledgy. i would like to see even more done with it. for instance, could biochar be used to absorb methane and then buried deeply. could it be used to absorb gases eeking out of landfills?

Charcoal is a natural component of soils, and soils with naturally higher levels of charcoal, like sedimentary soils, have higher level of biomass productivity than comparable soils with leess charcoal. I was trained to map and classify soils as a natural resource (as opposed to a nutrient and water delivery system, as opposed to soil as a filter or construction material) and naturally occuring charcoal was ignored by my instructors. Charcoal plays a tremendously important role in natural systems, and has for millions of years. This familiarity with charcoal is one reason why soils respond so easily to biochar additions, in such a wide variety of ecosystems, and with such mind-bogglingly complex and divers biogeochemical processes. We live in interesting times.

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