The history of Biochar and Charcoal is interesting and extends thousands of years.
Charcoal is produced by a process known as pyrolysis where biomass is heated in the absence of oxygen at high temperatures often over 450°C. The pyrolysis process leaves a solid residue, high in carbon content (approximately 70 to 80%). This solid carbon is known as charcoal and it has been used by human civilisations for thousands of years.
Earliest uses included art and medicine. Charcoal is the traditional fuel of a blacksmith’s forge and other applications where an intense heat is required. It has also been used for the production of iron since Roman times and steel in modern times.
Also, charcoal is still widely used as a fuel for cooking. The energy density of charcoal and the low emissions of smoke make it a perfect fuel.
Charcoal may be activated to increase its effectiveness as a filter. Activated charcoal readily adsorbs a wide range of compounds dissolved or suspended in gases and liquids. Our charcoal and biochar has properties that are often comparable to activated charcoal or carbon with activation levels of 200 to 400 m2/g often reached in our products.
The medical use of activated charcoal is mainly for the absorption of poisons. Charcoal has long been used for a variety of health-related applications. For example, it is often used to reduce discomfort in the digestive tract where it can remove unwanted gases.
Terra Preta – rediscovering Biochar
The importance of charcoal in agriculture and farming has only recently been rediscovered. Research on Terra Preta soils in the Amazon has found the widespread use of biochar by pre-Columbian people to turn unproductive soils into carbon rich soil.
This photo shows a cross section of soil one meter deep comparing Terra Preta with nearby soil typical of the region. [Photo: The Terra Preta phenomenon: a model for sustainable agriculture in the humid tropics. Naturwissenschaften 88, 37-41.]
These soils are high in charcoal content and the charcoal has resided in these tropical soils for millennia. The soils are highly fertile and the charcoal has enhanced agricultural productivity, structure and water holding capacity of the soil. These agricultural benefits and the carbon sequestration potential has generated much interest and research is now ongoing throughout the world into the use of charcoal as a soil amendment.