Ithaka Institut

Biochar as key material for the future of civilisation

Biochar is much too valuable for it to be just tilled into soil without having used it at least once for more beneficial purposes giving this plant-based raw material the chance to make the most of its positive properties. Whether as storage for volatile nutrients, as an adsorber in functional clothing, as insulation in the building industry, as energy storage in batteries, as a filter in a sewage plant, as 3D-printer ink, as a silage agent or as a feed supplement, biochar can be used in various cascades.

At the end of 2012 we published an article in the Ithaka-Journal called the "The 55 uses of biochar". Eventually it became our most successful and most cited article. We were never terriby convinced that simply tilling biochar into soil as a CO2 abatement with certain soil improving side effects was the best path forward for biochar. For us, biochar was always an advanced, multi-functional material that needs to be discovered and understood better to use it to the best of its capabilities.

The first biochar we ever had in our hands was mixed into compost. When we started with this, it was more a practical intuition and perhaps scientific fantasy about reduced leaching, housing for microbes, slow release fertilizing, though we were already most intrigued about the functional material properties that make biochar work in biologically active media. In more and longer biochar-compost trials with better and better characterized and designed biochars, more and more ideas on how and where biochar could be used came to mind both in terms of how it could be useful given its various properties and how to design it for optimal properties for specific end uses.  Our next step was the invention of the cascading use of biochar in animal farming. In 2012 we went to demonstrate its use as a building material. Learning more and more how to create special properties within biochar we moved on to enhanced filtration and adsorption materials for decontamination of liquids and remediation of soil. Currently we are working on organic adhesives to make biochar appropriate for 3D-printing. 

We are convinced that biochar will be one of the key materials for a new bio-based materials future. Be it in (3D-printed) solar panels, electric batteries, food conserving packaging and all sort of bio-intelligent consumer goods. All of these proposed biochar uses are carbon sinks. After its initial or cascading use, the biochar can be recycled as a soil conditioner. Fully depreciated when finally returned to the soil, the black carbon will slowly build up in the soil – and over a few generations the soil’s biochar content could easily reach 50 to 100 t per ha.  

Many additional uses can be found in the original Ithaka Journal article: The 55 uses of biochar.