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The UN declared 2008 the year of the Global Food Crisis (see [18] Food Without Fossil Fuels Now, Si S 39); food riots and fuel protests were rife.

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Biochar is not ‘terra preta’ The biochar initiative was inspired by the discovery of ‘terra preta’ (black earth) in the Amazon basin [22, 23], at sites of pre-Columbian settlements (between 450BC and 950AD), made by adding charcoal, bone, and manure to the soil over many, many years (see Fig. Besides charcoal, it contains abundant pottery shards, plant residues, animal faeces, fish and animal bones.Download Now The story goes that charcoal buried in the soil is stable for thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years and increases crop yields.The proposal to grow crops on hundreds of millions of hectares to be turned into buried ‘biochar’ is therefore widely seen as a “carbon negative” initiative that could save the climate and boost food production. Biochar is not what it is hyped up to be, and implementing the biochar initiative could be dangerous, basically because saving the climate turns out to be not just about curbing the rise of CO, both on land and in the sea [2, 3] (O2 Dropping Faster than CO2 Rising, and Warming Oceans Starved of Oxygen, Si S 44).A lifecycle analysis published in 2008 [21] by John Gaunt and Johannes Lehmann, principal biochar proponent at Cornell University, New York, in the United States, considered both purpose grown bioenergy crops (BEC) and crop wastes (CW) as feedstock.The BEC scenario involves a change from growing winter wheat to miscanthus, switchgrass, and corn as bioenergy crops.Intense lobbying is taking place for biochar to be included in the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism for mitigating climate change [9, 10], so people implementing that technology would be able to sell certified emission reduction (CER) credits.

Things have moved forward so fast with so little public awareness and debate that critics are alarmed, especially over the proposal from some prominent advocates that 500 million hectares or more of ‘spare land’ could be used to grow crops for producing biochar [11, 12], mostly to be found in developing countries; the same as was proposed in the biofuels initiative several years earlier.

IBI has encountered strong criticism as a “new threat to people, land and ecosystem” in a declaration signed by more than 155 non-profit organisations worldwide [8].

But patent applications have been made, and companies formed for commercial exploitation of biochar production.

Terra preta contains up to 70 times more black carbon (BC) than the surrounding soils.

Due to its polycyclic aromatic structure, black carbon is believed to be chemically and microbiologically inert (but see later) and persists in the soil for centuries, if not thousands of years.

Biochar is just charcoal, produced by burning organic matter such as wood, grasses, crop residues and manure, under conditions of low oxygen (pyrolysis).