These days there is a lot of interest in biomass as a substitute for fossil fuels, the idea being to get off the 500-million-year savings account and into the checking account that comes from sunshine in order to stop screwing with the atmosphere. This likely won’t work if the biomass is grown in lieu of either food or forested ecosystems. It has to come from carbon wastes. Fortunately there is no shortage. It also won’t work if the biomass is just burned, sending long-lived greenhouse gases skyward. The only way it can work is if the biomass is converted to stable biochar, with energy and potentially food as (profitable) byproducts.
Put biochar in the ground, and regardless who the next farmer is, or what the weather decides to do, the biochar carbon will stay in the ground. That is possibly our strongest asset in relation to other options that are only as good as the management that maintains them. Forests can be bulldozed, soils can be ripped up and oxidized, biochar is stable in soil.
— Josiah Hunt
|from The Biochar Solution (2010)|
Some biomass energy equipment also produces pyrolysis oil, also known as wood vinegar, biocrude or bio-oil, that can be burned in boilers, furnaces or turbines, or transformed into useful chemicals, plastics and adhesives.
This kind of storage is particularly good for products that require many charge/discharge cycles for relatively short-term power needs — consumer electronics, braking systems, and data storage, for instance. Graphene and activated carbon are already used in capacitors but biochar is coming in at a lower price point. This is helpful for biomass energy producers and indirectly for farmers and foresters.
Biochar can be used as an environmentally-sustainable electron donor, acceptor, or mediator. It can enhance the reduction of oxidized contaminants and participate in elemental cycling in terrestrial, groundwater, or waste water ecosystems. We illustrated that it is possible to tailor the redox characteristics of the biochar by selecting specific feedstocks, pyrolysis temperatures, and post-treatments. Further understanding of the factors impacting these redox properties will allow production of biochars for specific redox applications.