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Biochar: Ancient Secret, Modern Marvel

Buried in the soil of the Amazon basin lies the secret to an ancient custom that led scientists to a discovery that might help save humanity from the global climate crisis.

The Amazonian Dark Earth — named because of the dark shade of soil — was created by burying waste and burning it to create charcoal by the peoples who lived there before the Spanish conquistadors arrived. It not only removed waste such as food and fire-ash but also made the earth highly fertile.

But, more importantly for us today, the process stops the release of carbon and methane from the decomposing biomass into the atmosphere. Today, this dark earth, or terra preta, covers an estimated 3.2% of the Amazon1, storing a significant amount of carbon.

Research into terra preta and the secret process of the ancients, combined with modern technology, has provided us with a way to mass produce the most important component of Dark Earth, or biochar.

To create biochar, short for biological charcoal, everything from wood or peanut shells to manure or dedicated bioenergy crops is slowly baked in the near or total absence of oxygen. The biomass then separates into gas, liquid, and carbon. The gas (called “syngas”) and liquid (called “bio-oil”) are filtered off and used in energy, agriculture, pest management, transport and cosmetics. The solid carbon stores CO₂ in a stable form, preventing it from entering the atmosphere, and is returned to the soil to sequester the carbon and enrich soil fertility.

Carbon removal is something of which we are in desperate need. In its most recent report, the IPCC highlighted the challenges of meeting global net-zero goals. Their findings are clear: the need for carbon dioxide removal is “unavoidable.”2

Biochar has the potential to sequester over a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year3, and can store the carbon for centuries.

One of the problems in scaling the promise of biochar has been a lack of investment due to the high costs, which includes everything from the equipment needed to the high price of the biochar end product. Carbon credit financing is able to change this picture by bringing much needed capital to biochar projects.

Carbon Streaming recently announced its first carbon removal streaming agreement with a subsidiary of Restoration Bioproducts LLC to support construction of a biochar production facility in Virginia. The project is expected to remove over 161,000 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent emissions over the 25-year project life and generate an equivalent number of CO₂ Removal Certificates (“CORCs”), which are expected to be independently verified by Puro.earth, the leading standard for biochar projects. 

Carbon Streaming will receive and sell 100% of the CORCs generated by the project, with ongoing payments to Restoration Bioproducts for each CORC sold. CORCs from Puro.earth projects are currently selling at or above €100/tonne.

The biochar generated will be used to improve soil fertility, and the syngas generated will be used to produce power and offset energy use at a nearby manufacturing plant. The project is also expected to be a significant employer in the local community.

The Amazonians who created the Dark Earth are long gone, but their gift to us remains: a more fertile, sustainable earth. Together, let us achieve the same legacy.


1 Predicting pre-Columbian anthropogenic soils in Amazonia - PMC (nih.gov)

2 Removing carbon from air vital to reach climate goals, IPCC says |Reuters

3 Charcoal takes some heat off global warming: Biochar can offset 1.8 billion metric tons of carbon emissions annually |ScienceDaily

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