Reducing emissions as far as possible, transforming our systems in anticipation of a warming world, and compensating for the carbon footprint we can't avoid: these are our main tools in tackling the climate crisis. But if we're to mitigate the soaring levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the face of government inaction and our continuing reliance on fossil fuels, are they enough?
The answer is no: it's becoming increasingly clear that additional solutions, like carbon removals, are a crucial complement to carbon avoidance technologies. Where avoidance means preventing carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, removal involves its actual withdrawal, locking the carbon away for generations to come by means of nature and technology.
It sounds bold, but it's on this basis that biochar has the potential to change the world. As a type of charcoal classified under the “biomass with carbon removal and sequestration" (BiCRS) approach, biochar enables us to reduce emissions and lock carbon down permanently, making it hugely significant in the fight against climate change.
Biochar is good for much more than your garden. We explain what biochar is, why it's good for people and planet, and how the new methodology under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), which South Pole helped co-develop, can enable us to harness biochar's climate-fighting potential..
Biochar is the name of the black material that remains after waste biomass is thermochemically converted (heated) in a very low-oxygen environment. This process is known as pyrolysis and locks the carbon dioxide (CO2) away in a solid substance, stopping the waste biomass from naturally decaying or being burned. Under closely measured conditions and applications, the biochar can then be used to generate carbon credits. The carbon stored is measured in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), where 1 tonne is equal is one carbon credit – a tradable certificate which, once generated, can be sold on the open markets or directly to clients who are looking to offset their emissions. In the VCS biochar methodology, emission reductions are not included, thus a 100% removal carbon credit is produced.
Biochar can be produced from agricultural waste, among other natural sources
The European Biochar Certificate defines strict conditions for creating biochar with a high climate benefit:
The climate benefit only occurs when biochar is is permanently stored (> 100 years) such that the long-term storage of carbon is ensured.
According to the latest IPCC report, biochar is one of the safest, most durable and fastest ways to draw down carbon today. Biochar's stable structure makes it possible to store it for a long period of time, resulting in long-term carbon sequestration, as well as a host of other climate benefits.
Biochar's large surface area and slight electrical charge are good for soil and plant health: they help it draw things into it that settle on its surface, like a kind of sponge. This is a bonus for plants because the biochar absorbs both the soil's water and its nutrients and acts as a type of storage facility, which the plants can access when they need to. Alongside drought-proofing the soil, biochar's sponge-like qualities are useful in absorbing heavy metals, preventing plants from sucking them in instead. Biochar can also be used as a water purifier, animal feed supplement and even in building materials.
Reducing the use of fertilisers presents a significant advantage for farmers. Not only does it decrease the cost of production, it also keeps the soil healthier
In places where pesticides, fertilisers and fungicides have been overused, the soil quality is often so poor it becomes unproductive. The immensely versatile biochar helps here to provide a home for beneficial microbes, improving soil quality and promoting plant growth. In biochar-supplemented soil, nutrient levels are more stable and resistant to environmental degradation, meaning farmers need to use less fertiliser, resulting in lower emissions.
In recognition of the pivotal role that biochar can play in combatting climate change, South Pole has contributed to a robust framework for biochar carbon project development under the VCS that ensures high environmental integrity. The so-called “methodology for biochar utilisation in soil and non-soil application" defines project-specific eligibility criteria and data requirements that projects must fulfill if they are to generate carbon removals from biochar.
The methodology will provide a detailed framework for quantifying a biochar project's real greenhouse gas benefits, helping project developers like you to determine project boundaries, establish baselines, and assess additionality. Crucially, the methodology allows you to access the voluntary carbon market, so you can benefit from climate finance and resources.
How can you get involved? Get in touch today to learn more about South Pole's grouped biochar project. We are actively seeking partners around the world to collaborate on scaling carbon removal projects under the new VCS methodology.
Have a look at our biochar factsheet for more information.