Biochar is Black Gold

May 5, 2009 07:00 PM

Jeanne Bernick, Farm Journal Crops & Issues Editor
When the Spanish conquistadors returned from the New World in 1542 with tales of great wealth along the Amazon River, they may have been talking about soil. Researchers have found the Amazon basin dotted with patches of rich, black loam soil known as terra preta del Indio, or "Indian dark earth.” Studies show these soils, which early farmers created by mixing charcoal and fish bones into their fields, can be nearly 10 times more fertile than unaltered soil.
Today, soil scientists are researching adding charcoal made from biomass (called biochar) back to agricultural fields as fertilizer. Iowa State University, for example, is researching biochar made from biomass feedstocks, like switchgrass and corn stalks. Several companies are already producing a biochar product for sale commercially to vegetable and row crop producers.
"Biochar is the perfect fertilizer for increasing crop yields,” says Troy Wragg, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Mantria Corporation, which produces a super premium biochar product through a system of advanced pyrolysis and gasification technology. "Not only does it require less fertilizer per acre, it lowers the negative impact that crops have on the environment by reducing nitrous oide emissions, phosphorus runoff and nitrogen leaching.”
The biochar process also can produce renewable oils and gases as a coproduct that can be turned into fuel and electricity, Wragg adds.
Mantria's product, called EternaGreen, sells for 25 cents per pound. Although field trials are currently in process, Wragg says the product is showing effectiveness at only 25 lb. to 50 lbs per acre.
In the end, the bigger benefit of biochar may be its potential to lock away carbon, helping to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combat global warming. Because biochar is high in organic carbon and largely resistant to decomposition, it creates nearly a "carbon-negative” footprint when recycled as a fertilizer product, Wragg adds. For more information, visit

You can email Jeanne Bernick at

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