The Big Biochar Experiment

To all our readers in the UK, I’ve been asked to promote a great research project being conducted by Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute – The Big Biochar Experiment


The project’s aim is to get as many plots set up across the UK as possible, and the research team are hoping to publish a research paper from this study.


If you live in the UK and wish to participate in this exciting project, I please check out the website for The Big Biochar Experiment and play a part in making it happen!


Below is an extract from the press release:


Welcome to the Big Biochar Experiment

This is the first large-scale experiment on the use of biochar in British allotments and gardens. It aims to gather quantitative data on above- and below-ground productivity, and qualitative data on plant and soil health of widely used fruit and vegetable varieties in Britain. These data, combined with existing information on weather and soil quality, will be used to assess the effects of biochar on the productivity of soils across Britain.

Research on biochar is still in its infancy: we understand the long term benefits it has had on the Amazonian Terra Preta soils, however, long-term studies on European soils are only beginning. The Big Biochar Experiment aims to quantify the effects of biochar application on British soils.

The wisdom of Ancient Amazonians

Scientists recently discovered that the ancient Amazonian tribes used to mix biochar in their soil. Thousands of years later, the soil they left behind (Terra Preta) still stands out as pockets of extremely fertile soils in the otherwise relatively infertile soils of the Amazon rainforest.

What is Biochar?

Biochar is a carbon-rich product, created by the slow burning of plant material with little or no oxygen. Biochar is organic, increases crop yields [3, 4, 5], improves fertilizer efficacy, breaks down pesticides, suppresses methane and nitrous oxide (two aggressive greenhouse gases) [6, 7] and sequesters carbon [8]. On a large scale, it is proposed as a method for reversing the carbon dioxide (CO2) build-up in the atmosphere, thus mitigating climate change.

A Sustainable Solution

Whereas inorganic fertilizers increase crop yields in the short term, their production is energy and carbon intensive. Breakdown of these fertilizers in soils releases nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Globally, the production of fertilizers is the largest single source (38%) of emissions in the agricultural sector (EPA, 2010). Decreasing the use of inorganic fertilizers by enhancing the soil with biochar would therefore reduce GHG emissions even further beyond biochar’s intrinsic ability to store carbon.

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