Thursday, November 25, 2010


Biocharculture is the production and use of charcoal. This charcoal used for purposes other than as fuel is called Biochar. Biochar is the carbonaceous matter formed from pyrolysis of biomass that is under less oxygen conditions the combustion of biomass leads to formation of Biochar. Biomass includes – wood / sticks / leaves / seeds / fruits / cow dung / bones / chitin / etc. During natural / accidental / incidental fires in forests, grass lands, crop residue burning in fields, etc., Biochar is one of the important byproducts. The quality and quantity of Biochar formed in controlled systems depends on the type of biomass, humidity, temperature of the fire, air availability, etc.

Biochar formed as by-product in cook stoves is the common accessible source in rural areas. This Biochar formed around 300 to 600 degrees centigrade has the maximum benefits. Biochar because of its physical and chemical property imparts value for various applications for the present and future challenges on earth. Due to exploitation of fossil fuels and many other ongoing practices there is accumulation of green house gases leading to Global warming and climate change. To sustain life and livelihoods on earth Biocharculture is one of the means.

Biocharculture is not new, it is as old as the first fire from biomass and the charcoal formed as a result. Human beings used charcoal since ancient times and even during civilizations existed on earth. Many such uses are still ongoing and / or yet to be discovered. In the first art forms charcoal was used for expression in the caves. Charcoal benefited many life forms on earth.

Biochar application to the degraded infertile / acidic / alkaline soils improves the soil condition. It is observed that there is 150 to 200% increased crop yields after application of Biochar plus amendments. Biochar also reduces the green house gas emissions from soil, lessens the impact of pesticides and complex fertilizers residue in soils, prevents leaching of nitrogen and phosphorous in soil, enhances the soil microbial activity, increases the soil moisture retention capacity, improves soil aeration, and regulates the soil temperature. Overall it improves the physical, chemical and biological environment of the soil. The application of Biochar not only benefits the farmer, but also addresses the carbon sequestration, because of its recalcitrant nature of remaining in soil, even up to 1000 years and more.

Biocharculture is also to understand the production and use of charcoal for many purposes. Evidences of charcoal use are observed in almost all parts of the world. Biochar application to the soil after its use for many purposes is better than direct application as a product. Considering applications of Biochar by humans, the day starts with cleaning teeth with Biochar of wood / cow-dung cakes in rural areas. The teeth are usually white, stronger and the mouths are free from bad breath. The charcoal has the capacity to absorb all the bad breath. Even if small amounts of charcoal is swallowed while cleaning it is good for health. This charcoal plus saliva spit after cleaning teeth is more beneficial to the soil. For kitchen gardens everyday spitting with Biochar while cleaning the teeth in them has more value. When stoves are used always some charcoal is formed at the end, by quenching / with earth spilled on embers more charcoal can be retained. This charcoal plus ash has multiple values, it can be dumped into the farm yard manure pits or can be used for cleaning utensils, applied in the kitchen gardens and most often used for cleaning utensils. Very little water is required for cleaning utensils if Biochar is used and no chemicals need be used to clean even the non-veg / oily utensils. The plates become just like new plates, without traces of oil and any odor. This Biochar after washing eaten plates has more value as a soil amendment, because of pre-charging with food material / oil etc., a source of food for soil microbes. For preserving the non-vegetarian food, fruits and any other food from fast purification, some addition of Biochar always helps.

The Biochar is a common component formed in the preparation of foods especially during roasting / frying / barbeques etc i.e., making rotis, preparation of kababs / chicken tikkas, roasting peanuts, double toasted bread, etc. Eating some Biochar along with food, keeps health good, even if oily, high calories and other junk food are consumed. Biochar if taken as part of food or separately will lessen the impact. For the food poisoning, dysentery and even if poison is consumed impacts are reduced if Biochar is consumed immediately along with first aid and while on the way to the hospital. Even for snake / scorpion / insect bites along with recommended first aid measures, Biochar can be applied a the bitten parts for reducing the impacts of poison.

At household level to repel ants and termites Biochar powder can be used. To keep the indoor air fresh and reduce the CO2 and methane emissions, charcoal pieces can be kept in the house – in windows, near air coolers / air conditioners, in fridges, toilets, etc. Charcoal can be used in pillows and mattresses to reduce the impact of our own emissions. Biochar in diapers and sanitary napkins benefits a lot. The Biochar in the form of terrapreta nuggets / Biochar can be applied in the aquariums / terrariums / flower pots for multiple benefits for clean water, improving soil and removing the emissions in the immediate milieu. Important place to use Biochar is in urinals for removing the bad odor as well tapping the useful nitrogen and other components for application to the plants. Within septic tanks application of Biochar helps in reducing the CO2 and methane emissions. The Biochar bricks if used in construction of buildings make them breathing walls, lessen the weight on the structure and at the end of life-cycle does not burden on the waste dumps and contribute positively as carbon sink. The far infrared radiation emitted form Biochar keeps the health of the people better. It is observed that the presence of Biochar repels many insects. In urban areas for light weight roof gardens Biochar is an ideal material. For soak pits the Biochar addition in the pit at the bottom would remove the bad odor and also purify the water.

Biochar is used in poulty sheds to reduce the methane emissions and as well in the eggs storage areas. As medicine it is fed to many domestic animals intentionally. In nurseries as a media along with other material Biochar is used most often. The presence of Biochar in soil helps in higher germination of seeds. Many orchids can be best grown in a mix of Biochar, gravel, brick pieces and tree barks. Pottery shards and Biochar mix is the best possible media for soil amendments. For managing the livestock sheds, to keep the place clean and reduce the emissions, Biochar addition as a spread every day, helps in absorbing the urine and dung. The addition of Biochar in the compost pits also helps in overall reduction of emissions and taps nitrogen. Biochar as activated carbon is an important media used for purification of water. The application in soils too helps in purification of the water in soil, the pure water will help in accessing more minerals and nutrients to the plants.

Traditionally the holy altars and rituals Biochar and ash was a common product. In many Indian festivals burning of biomass is one of the activities, this always generated Biochar and ash. The fire, smoke, Biochar and ash are the four important aspects in all almost all the religions and spiritual practices. They always brought sanctity and purity to the environment. During cremation of the bodies, Biochar from wood and bones is a very good source. Often cremations are done in the fields or along the banks of rivers which fertigated the fields with the Biochar and ash matter. The immersion of bones and ash in the places where rivers meet had been traditionally observed in Hindu culture.

Biocharculture is simple, easily adoptable and a panacea for many challenges on Earth. It can be accessed from many sources easily. Discovering and appreciating the traditional and cultural uses in different parts of the world and through scientific studies it can be brought to innumerable applications for multiplier effects including mitigation of climate change and global warming. Biochar is simple to understand and adoptable by all as Biocharculture.