Turning carbon footprints into healthy soils

by Camino Verde
Vetted
Jun 22, 2012

How does charcoal make a difference?

Dear friends and supporters,

It goes like this: a plant grows, breathing in carbon dioxide from the air and turning it into solid mass, the "organic matter" that the plant calls its very own body.  By simply living, a plant pulls suffocating CO2 out of the atmosphere.

If the plant is allowed to fall back to the ground, to decompose, to compost, much of the CO2 it inhaled when alive is re-released into the atmosphere as the plant rots away-- carbon neutral: inhaled when alive, released once more in decomposition. 

But, if the carbon that makes up a plant´s body were to somehow be kept from decomposing, it could be "captured," "sequestered," or "sunk," that is, kept from returning to the atmosphere-- carbon negative.  In fact, one of the most reliable ways to keep a plant´s trapped stowage of CO2 is to char the plant matter (not burn, but char), creating something called biochar, or simply, charcoal. 

To make charcoal, organic matter is subjected to a low-oxygen burn.  Burn probably isn´t even the right word-- it´s pyrolisis rather than combustion, and produces charcoal rather than ash and smoke.  Little CO2 or methane is released in the process, and the carbon trapped in the organic matter remains trapped-- charred carbon can remain stable (ie, isn´t re-released) for hundreds or even thousands of years. 

We took a look at the sawmills and brazil nut processors in our area and a light bulb went off... if we could take sawdust and brazil nut shells, the widely available materials that are considered trash-- which is usually burnt or dumped into rivers-- and then char them, we could take the CO2 captured by plants during their life and make them semi-permanently a part of healthier soils, rather than returning them to the atmosphere as harmful greenhouse gases. 

And that´s just what we are doing.  With your help.

Next report, we´ll take a glance at why charcoal is good for the soil.  In the meantime, please enjoy a little piece of Camino Verde propaganda: a short documentary made by our friend Lara Weatherly.  It focuses on our primary mission: planting trees.  But rest assured, your support for Turning carbon footprints into healthy soils is helping our trees to grow even stronger and healthier.

Thanks once again for giving us a hand.

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Organization Information

Camino Verde

Location: Concord, MA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.caminoverde.org
Project Leader:
Robin Van Loon
Concord, MA Peru

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