Popularly called “Biochar”, Europeans suggest re-naming to “Plant Charcoal” – A 2009 study shows even with massive mobilizing of 10% of all biomass to biochar only 1.6% of Germany’s carbon footprint would be offset.”Is it even worth the effort?”

The re-discovery of “Terra Preta” in the Amazon Basin marked for soil scientists a possible turning point: the idea that an ancient practice could provide insight into correcting CO2 build-up and staving soil decline.  “Millions of Euros have been spent now on biochar studies”: conference organizer for the Berlin October 2011 ANS-Symposium intoned.  Far from the near-panacea biochar in USA presents for saving climate and soil, the European lab tests along with tough EC climate regulatory debate  “cast doubt that significant progress will be made until many questions are answered”. The Institut für Agrarrelevante Klimaforschung presented data showing variable carbon-stability and summarized  soil-plant studies confirming that negative effects are almost as common as positive effects. The big topic was lab tests which suggest biochar carbon has as little as 35% stability or possibly “climatologically irrelevant”. Editor Dr. Kehres (Journal “Humus and Agriculture“) summed up the symposium: “Biochar appears over-rated … the biochar claim to 1,000 yr stability is revised downwards to 10-100 years, roughly the same as compost”.  Details on the fractions of carbon from pyrolysis, HTC and other carbonizing  methods weighed against the lack of  method standards, plus rankling over carbon legislative validation,  suggest a biochar future “if even economical”  faces many hurdles. The symposium eventually turned to name calling: it was proposed to drop the prefix “bio” from biochar, a “technical misnomer” – and a source of confusion in Europe where “bio” means certified natural farming. What’s the name to be?- “Plant Charcoal – Pflanzenkohle  – it’s more accurate”).