I recently learned about biochar from the International Biochar Initiative.
Biochar is essentially a fine-grain, highly porous charcoal that helps the soil retain its nutrients and water. It is found naturally in soils where a vegetation fire has occurred, and resists degradation across surprisingly long spans of time. Where biochar is present, carbon can be retained by the soil for hundreds – if not thousands – of years!
Of course we can naturally mimic the biochar process, also called pyrolysis, by replicating historic soil-management practices where vegetation was intentionally burned with a high heat to nurture both earth and vine. One of the most impressive uses of this process comes to us from the Amazon Basin. Over two-thousand years ago, islands of biochar-rich, dark soil were created for crops, which to this day retain their supreme fertility and high levels of neutral carbon.
The International Biochar Initiative envisions using the process to remove carbon from the atmosphere and naturally store it in its inert form in the soil, as a nearly permanent soil enhancer. This simple, easily scalable technology they propose could also produce clean energy for heat and power as its byproduct.