To hear some of its proponents talk, the substance known as biochar -- a form of charcoal made from logging and agricultural waste -- has properties that verge on the magical. It not only cuts down dramatically on the carbon emissions that cause global warming; it also has the potential to create millions of jobs, and helps soil retain nutrients and water to make crops grow bigger and stronger. You almost expect to hear the words "Just $19.99 plus shipping and handling! Operators are standing by!'
The truth, as usual, is a bit less extravagant.
"Biochar not going to solve all of our problems,' said James Amonette, a soil chemist with the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, in Richland, Wash. "But I think it's a positive thing in terms of soil fertility, especially in the tropics. And it does have the added benefit of sequestering carbon.'
How much carbon is a matter of dispute, but in a 2010 article in Nature ...