Today I read about how the NY DEC will be doing a controlled burn of 14.5 acres at a wetland to rid the area of phragmites australis (aka the common reed). Apparently this kind of controlled burn, also called a prescribed fire, is pretty common. Little did I know (till this morning actually) that every year hundreds of thousands of acres are deliberately torched for a variety of reasons, from habitat management to wildfire control. That’s a whole lotta CO2 going up in smoke, not to mention fine particulate matter which is no doubt aiding & abetting asthma!
I totally get the reasons for doing this, but I can’t help thinking that it’s a bit of a wasted opportunity. Time for another biochar intervention me thinks! Yes, charring would be far more labor intensive (read: expensive), but it would also be safer, less polluting in terms of air quality, AND provide a by-product that could potentially enable increased bio-diversity and improved water quality. Heck maybe they could even sell the standing invading or diseased biomass to a biochar producer for a few bucks and have the biochar companies come in to ‘CHARvest’ the lot. Seems like a fair trade to me.
There are already a few ways to convert invasive species or forestry slash into biochar. One interesting model is from Carbon Cultures, which looks something like a tent but acts like a mobile kiln. Another option from down under is the CharMaker, made by Earth Systems Bioenergy. The char produced could be used strategically within the area charred to help rejuvenate soils or remediate any toxins.
A third option which offers interesting possibilities for areas that drain down into a body of water, might be do dig a ditch and burn the biomass in the ditch (see great ‘how-to’ post here). Leaving the char in situ would help keep excess nutrients or toxins from polluting wet lands and other water bodies.
That food versus fuel argument sometimes bandied about to quench the hope for biochar is looking sillier and sillier…