In animal husbandry and fertiliser management
The main focus for achieving climate protection targets is on finding replacements for fossil energy sources. But renewable energies can only prevent more CO2 from being released into the atmosphere and thus avoid increasing our CO2footprint. With biochar it is also possible to bring the carbon back into the soil from the CO2-contaminated atmosphere.
During carbonisation of biomass, as the production process for biochar is also called, about half of the carbon contained in the biomass is bound in the biochar over the long term. This is another reason why it is important to pay attention to the quality of the coal used for biochar. Biochar is not just crumbly barbecue coal with a new label. Certified biochar may only be produced from certain biomass using climate and environmentally friendly carbonisation/pyrolysis processes. Only then is it free of carcinogenic substances and millions of hectares of forest are not simply “charred” while thousands of tons of CO2 are released. In clean processes, at least 50% of the carbon contained in the biomass is stably bound in the biochar and can thus be returned to the soil and removed from the atmosphere. Certified biochar is a real benefit for the climate and the soil.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a greenhouse gas that, according to the Federal Environment Agency, is around 300 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide (CO2) and 12 times more harmful than methane. Nitrous oxide reflects the heat reflection of the earth’s surface and prevents it from escaping into space. The heat is released back into the earth. In addition, nitrous oxide damages the ozone layer. This protects plants, animals and people from radiation damage and also regulates temperature.
Agriculture in particular makes a significant contribution to the release of nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. The main sources are the high use of nitrogenous fertilisers and animal husbandry. If too much fertiliser is used, or used at the wrong time, the nitrogen cannot be completely absorbed by the crops and is released into the environment. Part of the excess nitrogen is released into the atmosphere as nitrous oxide.
However, if the soil contains biochar or if biochar is added to the fertilizer, nitrous oxide emissions are significantly reduced (see, for example, Kammann 2012, University Geisenheim). In various planting experiments with biochar in the laboratory and in the field, up to 60 percent less nitrous oxide was released. The researchers explain the effect with the storage capacity of plant coal. It can absorb up to five times its own weight of water and the nutrients dissolved therein. This means that nitrogen is no longer available for the microorganisms that normally metabolise the nitrogen into nitrous oxide. It is stably bound in the numerous, small pores (< 100 nm) of plant coal and is released back into the environment only slowly and in small quantities.
According to the Federal Environment Agency, methane (CH4) is 25 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide (CO2). Just like all other greenhouse gases, methane reflects the heat reflected from the earth’s surface and prevents it from escaping into space. The heat is released back into the earth.More than one third of the world’s output comes directly or indirectly from livestock farming, mainly from large-scale farming of cattle and sheep. As ruminants, they produce large quantities of methane in their stomachs during digestion and release it again by “burping and farting”. In addition, methane is released as fertilizer in agriculture through wastewater and sewage sludge treatment and the application of sewage sludge.
Here too, biochar as a feed additive can reduce methane emissions (see, for example, Schmidt 2016, Ithaka Journal). Biochar has an adsorbing effect in the digestive tract of animals, i.e. it binds nutrients and toxins very efficiently. It has therefore been known for centuries in animal husbandry as an emergency treatment for indigestion and poisoning and is used there as a non-digestible carrier. In the animals’ digestive tract, however, biochar not only has a detoxifying effect, but also increases feed efficiency through its electro-biochemical interaction and reduces methane formation through nitrogen binding.
The volatilisation of ammonia (NH3) is one of the most important causes for the loss of nitrogen (N) in soil-plant systems worldwide. Nitrogen does not remain in the air, and rain causes nitrogen to flow back, which in turn promotes the formation of highly climate-damaging nitrous oxide emissions, the acidification of soils and the accumulation of nitrogen in water.
The large-scale release of harmful ammonia emissions occurs above all in agriculture. It is caused by the microbial decomposition of animal excrements in barns and fields when liquid manure is used as fertiliser. The pungent smelling gas is not only harmful to the environment, but is also harmful to the animals in the stable, as it irritates their mucous membranes, attacks the lungs, weakens the immune system and even accumulates in the blood of the animals (see Schmidt 2012, Ithaka Institute).
If biochar is used as a litter and feed additive, nitrogen losses can be significantly reduced. Biochar can absorb up to 5 times its own weight in water and binds toxins and nutrients very efficiently. The nitrogen binding and the continuous drying of the bedding deprives the microorganisms of their nutrient basis and thus reduces the toxic ammonia evaporation (see Schmidt 2012, Ithaka Institute).
Recent contributions on the greenhouse effect
About 10 percent of EU CO2 emissions could be offset by more productive use of biomass and plant residues through pyrolysis. This is the conclusion of Prof. Bruno Glaser from the University of Halle and author of the article “Biochar use…
There is great research interest in carbon © bound by pyrolysis (carbonisation), due primarily to the potential role of biochar (charred biomass) as a long-term carbon sink in soils and sediments. This is because biochar resists microbial…
“Biochar is neither black pixie dust nor a magic silver bullet – but in my opinion an incredibly multi-faceted instrument in the fight against climate change,” writes Claudia Kammann, Professor of Climate Impact…
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