Aug. 26, 2010 -- An ancient process used in the Amazon called pyrolysis is offering new hope in the fight against climate change, soil depletion, and even our addiction to oil.
Using pyrolysis an organization called re:char is using a soil amendment called biochar that not only improves production, but helps in the fight against carbon emissions.
Tim Callahan, vice president of international development at re:char, stopped by "Good Morning America" today to talk about biochar.
"Biochar can be mixed in with your fertilizer, and when you're planting to increase crop production up to 200 percent," Callahan said. "As an added bonus 2.2 lbs of biochar offsets the carbon produced from three hours of your washer/dryer, 8.5 hours of a room air conditioning unit, or over two days of watching television."
A new study featured in Nature found that biochar is the real deal, with the potential to sequester over a billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year, or 12 percent of the world's carbon emissions.
The process of pyrolysis actually creates three things: A fuel known as pyrolysis gas that powers the pyrolysis process, the biochar that helps your soil and a biofuel that Prof. Robert Brown of Iowa State University said can be refined to run an automobile engine for $2 to $3 per gallon.
Biochar itself is essentially highly-refined charcoal.
"What's great is you're essentially creating a carbon negative fuel," Brown said. "Charring half the crop waste from one square mile of farmland would lock away enough carbon to offset the emissions from 330 vehicles."
Brown has been testing biochar in his backyard in Iowa on a pepper plant and has seen the impressive results for himself.
"It's over 5 feet tall. I've never seen peppers grow like this," he said.
re:char Takes Aim at East African Farms
In Iowa the soil is generally dark and rich with nutrients. But that's not the case everywhere on the planet. Millions of farmers around the world must work with nutrient depleted soils.
That's where re:char hopes to make a difference. Callahan and his business partner, Jason Aramburu, are commercializing biochar in an area of East Africa where soil depletion is prevalent, and where more than 75 percent of the people's livelihoods come from farming.
"Biochar works best on nutrient depleted soil," Callahan said. "In East Africa there's been massive deforestation due to the search for fertile land and wood to make charcoal."
Their plan is to help the world's poorest move toward using agricultural waste to create biochar instead of chopping down trees.
"We're launching kilns in East Africa, acting as a service model, owning and operating the kilns we convert the farmer's waste into biochar and sell it to them as a service," Aramburu, founder of re:char, said. "It costs them the same as regular charcoal but ends up being cheaper than chemical fertilizer. We're hoping to bring this to a million people eventually."
CLICK HERE to learn more from the re:char website.