Biochar offers an accelerated pathway to global decarbonization, says new research

  • Biochar can potentially remove up to 6% of global emissions annually – the approximate equivalent of 3 billion tonnes of CO2 or the total emissions of 803 coal-fired power plants in one year.
  • Biochar also has a minimum removal potential of 10% in over 25 countries, concentrated in Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe, and can potentially reduce carbon emissions by over 30% in Eswatini and more than 20% in Malawi, Argentina, and Ghana.
  • The greatest carbon dioxide removal (CDR) potential – rests with the world’s biggest emitters, including China, the United States, Brazil, and India, who can chart a pathway for sustainable emissions reductions through biochar.

Ground-breaking new research shows that carbon removal solution biochar can play a significant role in global emissions reductions at the global and national levels. The ancient farming practice can help countries mitigate climate change threats and decarbonize at scale while also adapting to the effects of climate change and unlocking economic and social benefits.

First developed by Indigenous communities in the Amazon thousands of years ago and now a rapidly expanding global industry, biochar is a material created by heating organic materials — such as forestry and crop residues — that would otherwise release emissions when decomposing. By converting these materials into biochar instead, carbon is locked for centuries to millennia. When used as a soil amendment, biochar can improve soil health and increase water and nutrient retention in soils, helping to both mitigate against and adapt to the effects of climate change.

Published in the peer-reviewed journal Biochar and commissioned by the International Biochar Initiative (IBI), the research quantifies biochar’s CDR potential across 155 countries, with net removal potential on a national and global scale, assuming a sustainable supply of no purpose-grown biomass quantities. Currently providing the vast majority of delivered carbon credits, biochar is an affordable, scalable, and readily available solution that, unlike other CDR methods, also provides environmental and social co-benefits like improved soil health leading to increased crop yields.

“This is the first research to quantify the significant role biochar can play in worldwide climate action and carbon removal strategies, at the level of individual countries. To scale biochar to its full potential, we now have a starting point of what is possible at the country level. By considering the climate impact of co-benefits such as fossil fuel displacement, improved crop yields, and healthier soil, we can also go farther, getting a better picture of biochar’s complete climate solution potential,” said Dr. Thomas Trabold, co-author and research professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Golisano Institute for Sustainability. 

The report’s consideration of small-emitting countries is particularly significant. Though many small-emitting countries have contributed the least to climate change, they are experiencing its impacts disproportionately, from soil erosion to extreme weather. Biochar offers a circular and sustainable approach to climate change mitigation, giving these countries the opportunity to maximize carbon removal while increasing national and local revenues. It makes agricultural production more sustainable at all scales, from protecting soil security to creating employment opportunities at the community and commercial levels. For farmers facing multiple challenges related to climate change, biochar is a game-changer.

Coined “nature’s black gold” by its advocates, momentum has been building around biochar for decades, though a historic lack of attention and investment has impeded industry growth. The research emphasizes that with climate urgency growing, now is the time for collaboration at all levels – from policymakers to farmers – to remove supply chain bottlenecks, accelerate investment, and increase long-term demand so the technology can be deployed at scale.

 “As the global community approaches COP28, this research presents an urgent call to action for world leaders to ensure this powerful solution is in every country’s climate change strategy. Biochar not only safely locks away carbon, but it is also a circular solution to help feed the world, decarbonize the built environment, and remove pollutants in water and soil. To stay on a 1.5°C pathway, we must accelerate biochar use and include it in our climate toolbox,” said Wendy Lu Maxwell-Barton, IBI Executive Director.

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