Uses of Biochar, Part 3: Farming & Agriculture
Welcome to part 3 in our series of five articles on the uses of biochar, charcoal and activated carbon, in this blog, we review the applications of biochar in cattle feed, farming and agriculture
Biochar in cattle feed to aid digestion
There is growing evidence that biochar helps improve cattle gut digestion which in turn increases weight gain and reduces methane released. In Germany and Austria, the addition of biochar into animal feeds is well recognised and used (see Ithaka, or Van et el, 2006, Gerlach 2014, Calvelo, Pereira 2014). We were pleased to hear about the Soil Associations' Innovative Farmers project. Richard Copley is the lead farmer feeding biochar to his 60 strong beef cattle. He recently featured on BBC Country File. (Towards the end of the episode about 40 mins). The analysis of results is ongoing and is being undertaken by Donna Uddal at Coventry University.
The biochar goes through the digestion into the dung, so the biochar is spread onto the fields to improve the soil and grass growth as well as locking the carbon into the soil to offset global warming.
Biochar to reduce methane in cows (meat and dairy farming)
BBC Country File featured the climate change issue related to dairy herd farming. Put politely, cows belch an awful lot of methane - a powerful greenhouse gas. One possible option not discussed was the apparent impact small amounts of biochar have on the anaerobic digestion in the cow stomach. This Australian report highlights that more food is converted to meat/milk, and hence less carbon (methane, leftover food) is belched out.
Biochar in animal bedding
Like activated carbon, biochar ‘mops up’ (adsorbs) urine into the pores. Unlike activated carbon, biochar is also a ‘house and home’ for bacteria. Aerobic bacteria will quickly start to consume (eat) ammonia and urea (urine odours) – they are bacterial food. The biochar quickly operates as a biofilter, reducing odour for you. You get a big upside as the bedding can be then composted and the biochar becomes activated and creates a ‘super compost’ which can be added back to improve soil health and increase crop yield.
Biochar as an additive in Anaerobic Digestion
Biochar is reported to increase the amount of methane produced from a given amount of organic matter – thus increasing the economic viability of anaerobic digestion plants.
Biochar can also replace activated carbon to scrub sulphur from the SynGas created during anaerobic digestion.
Decontamination of soil / soil remediation
Biochar can adsorb many toxins (eg pesticides, herbicides) from soils. When the pesticides and herbicide are contaminating the soil this effect is good. But, it is recognised that if the pesticides are active on the soil surface – biochar will reduce the effect.
Biochar will also absorb heavy metal toxic elements like chromium and mercury. However once absorbed, what happens next? There is a lot of research to do. Universities and staff looking to test the heavy metal adsorption of biochar should call - we can help supply small or large quantities of biochar.
Biochar use in composting toilets as a bulking agent and odour treatment
We are very interested in the growth of composting toilets – especially at events like Glastonbury and other music festivals. We are keen to catch up with compost toilet suppliers.
Normally sawdust is used to cover the faeces and reduce evaporative odour. Biochar can do so much more - it will cover the waste and it will also actively remove odour and support aeration so the bacteria can breakdown the material into high-grade compost.
Thank you for reading part 3 of our series looking at the use of Biochar. The other parts are available at the links below: